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Storytellers as Thieves

Storytellers as Thieves

So, storytellers as thieves …

  1. Seems like there are several ways to address this premise.

First, of course all storytellers are thieves! Unless the artist/orator in question developed the story in question entirely by themselves while serving tour of solo duty inside BioSphere X, then any good storyteller will have collected a variety of story crafting, narrative writing, and presentation nuggets from others they have observed. Just like any good performer is a serious study of others on stage, storytellers are no different. I’ll never forget being at the International Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, TN some 20-years ago or so, and watching master storyteller Jay O’Callahan keeping a standing room only large festival tent wrapped around his finger as he wove his tale. In the middle of his wonderful craftsmanship, the straining sounds of a freight train’s horn wafted into the tent from off in the distance. The way the festival tent had been set up, the railroad tracks through town were right behind the stage where Jay was telling his story perched on a stool in front of a mic on a stand. There was no way he would finish his story in time, nor be able to talk over the train being that close using the PA system. So, instead, he wove the oncoming train into the story as if it were a completely intended and well-timed character joining the tale. It was magnificent and completely believable as it thundered by fully embraced into the story with such visceral effect. Looking around the room, you could see all the other storyteller there to watch the master at work make their mental note to add that simple trick into their bag of storytelling gags for some other time in the future. Just ask any comedian … it’s only wrong if you get caught.

I can also see storytellers as being thieves in the same way that some cultures view the taking of a photo as a means to steal the soul or spirit of the individual. Not that being the instigator or playing a part in the formation of a story means you lose any semblance of yourself once the storyteller shares their recollection, but therein lies the thievery. The storyteller has complete control over how that situation, experience, or event is carried into the future. The tale becomes the reality. This seizure of what really happened and deviations from it to maximize the impact or entertainment value of the story is akin to an omniscient narrator rewriting history. The storyteller has no responsibility to protect the truth, only to engage and hopefully entertain the listener. Riveted audiences and delighted applause are the only currencies here. Unfortunately, the truth can become a fictional concept when it comes to telling a good story. So, in the same way that some spiritual societies worried that capturing an image of themselves would in some way also harness or confine their inner being or soul, the same can be said about the storyteller and how they shape/craft/hone a tale for optimum effect. What once was may no longer be recognizable or even remain. Think of the persuasive power that town criers and news readers back in the day had to sway an audience in how they reported the news. It continues today in how we now screen sources of news first to recognize/understand any potential bias and then filter what is shared with us in order to discern meaningful or actionable truth. Shameful, but that’s how it is.

Finally, storytellers can often be thieves of our own imaginations. The power they wield in conjunction with our own innate laziness and herd-like habits enables them to shape, if not command, the story universes we allow ourselves to conceive and co-exist within. George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry, and Ray Bradbury are masterful storytellers. Yet their disparate visions of fictional futures whether a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, or out along the final frontier, or atop a bonfire across the street have dominated a seemingly preordained conceptual space that allows the rest of us to envision our own imaginative depictions of the future. Being a prolific writer can over time generate torrential singularities that overwhelm genres. Try telling a horror story while Steven King was actively commanding that category to satiate his penchant for crafting scary tales, or recount a legal conundrum in the days of John Grisham, or share a crime drama while Dick Wolf was at it, not to mention describe a potential military or intelligence stand-off courtesy of Tom Clancy. Not that any of these talented and successful storytellers were bad people or had ill intensions. But the powerful expanding story universes they created became so massive that they absorbed an incalculable number of nascent ideas or concepts that never got to form in this finite metaphor. There’s always plenty of room in the real universe cause it gets to make the rules, otherwise expressed as, it is what it is. Maybe this has more to do with studio executives and network gatekeepers, but the resulting gravitational impact these storytellers have had on any alternate creative thoughts and depictions is palpable.

Storytellers as thieves – can’t wait to see who pockets any nuggets from this post. Just hope I haven’t shut down anyone else’s notions about it.

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Duncan has 20+ years experience designing and producing digital media, signature events, and destination experiences for clients.