How can I tell the difference between an emotional story and a therapy session? When does the story go too far?
This is a difficult question. True, personal storytelling is emotional by nature. A story without an emotion tying all the pieces together isn’t a compelling story.
But I have heard stories told, mostly at open mics, that describe the most dire of pasts and circumstances, far beyond what one person should ever have to handle. There isn’t a resolution to the story. The teller is still living and feeling the emotions deeply, as the story is being told. There might still be questions if the teller is OK, if she needs a ride home or a place to stay.
After a story like this, I feel like storytelling open mics should have therapists in the house, the same as football games have an ambulance.
I have mixed feelings about this type of story. I feel empathetic and sad. I feel grateful for my relatively easy life. I wish all forms of abuse, neglect, fear, rape, assault, desperation and loss could take a rest just long enough for everyone to catch their breath.
I also feel that this type of story doesn’t make sense for most performances. The energy of this story is centered on the performer and her needs, and not on the audience, where it should be. The inherent agreement of the stage is that the audience gives its attention and the performer gives her story in return, for the benefit of the audience.
How do you know when a story has crossed that line? When I tell especially emotional stories, I tell them after some time has passed and I’ve had time to reflect on a greater meaning, something more than my immediate feelings. When my story is focused on that greater meaning, it is less about me and more about the audience.
(Un)Spoken, a new storytelling show in Austin, from the producers of BedPost Confessions, explores this boundary by focusing on especially emotional stories that are difficult to tell.
Sadie Smythe, one of the show’s producers, calls (un)Spoken’s stories “emotional justice” because the show allows the teller to explore something heavy and important while creating a space for the audience to meet them in that process.
Julie Gillis, another (Un)Spoken producer, says “In this space, time plays an important role. I might not, as a producer of the show, want to program a story that “just now” happened to someone without allowing some time for reflection, for processing, for letting the story find it’s place in the bigger narrative of the storyteller’s life.”
(Un)Spoken’s next show is in November 8, 2015 at the Spiderhouse Ballroom.
Dear Storie is a storytelling advice column written by Carol M. Ramsey, a writer and performer in Austin, Texas. If you have a question or if you are a storyteller who would like to write a guest post for this series, email email@example.com.