It was a cold and windy evening this past September when my stage manager and I stepped out of the Winnipeg airport. Two young women + seven shoe boxes +13 shoes + one enormous picture frame = showtime for 8 Ways my Mother was Conceived.
We had a full itinerary ahead of us: 3 performances and 3 storytelling workshops had been planned for our time in Winnipeg. I was feeling more nervous about leading the workshops than I was about the performances. I felt as though I had a clear-cut road map for the show I’d been performing for over 4 years. It had become second nature to me. Articulating my practice as an emerging artist to a room full of peers was something that I felt neither qualified nor entitled to do. What was that about? I had led several workshops for children and teens in the past, but when I heard I’d be leading one for adults in Winnipeg I started to experience what can only be described as Impostor Syndrome. I started to wonder whether I had anything legitimate to say about storytelling or whether I had just lucked out with one really good story to tell.
The first 10-minutes of my class felt like one of those really disastrous sitcom moments to me. I apologized for everything from the title of my workshop (Storytellers are Superheroes), to my age, to my size (you must be wondering who this little girl is), to the content I was talking about. Finally, a wonderful woman in the group raised her hand and said, “Please stop apologizing because I’m learning so much here.” That snapped me out of it. I went back to talking about oral history and why the living narrative is important to disenfranchised groups who may not have access to mainstream methods of dissemination, both historically and contemporaneously.
I talked about everything that storytelling did for me when I felt like I couldn’t make sense of the world around me any more unless I turned it into a narrative that I could understand and that I was the author of. We moved on to sharing stories based my precepts of storytelling. One woman shared a story of childhood sexual abuse, another spoke about an ex-boyfriend who had committed suicide, and some participants even used the exercise to advance plays they had been working on for a while. I felt so privileged that the participants felt comfortable to share their stories with me. My stage manager participated in the workshop and even though we’ve been friends for over 8 years, I heard her express things that she had never shared with me before. Finally I could see that what I’d been professing about storytelling is true: it brings us closer together. Storytelling helps us to connect with one another.
I met some members of a very vibrant Italian-Canadian community while I was in Winnipeg. They were grateful for my work. Grateful. One woman even took my stage manager and I out to lunch the day after a performance because she felt I was telling her story. I had never felt such a sense of appreciation from “my community” in Montreal. On the day of our final performance, my industrious, ever-working stage manager had scheduled several meet-and-greets in the theatre community. I stayed at home to recuperate. I had one show that evening and one final workshop to lead the next day and then I’d be heading home. This might be your last performance of 8 Ways ever, my brain was saying. (This turned out to be untrue as I am performing at Vanier next week) Alone for the first time in six days, I very quickly became overwhelmed by this feeling that I’d be leaving all the appreciation and warmth behind—and then, inevitably, what am I going to do when I get back to Montreal? I’m always worrying about what’s next. The question is a horrible, nagging shadow that follows me through my successful periods, reminding me that absolutely nothing is promised in this career I’ve chosen. I ended up staring at the ceiling for a long time that day, feeling paralyzed. When my stage manager came back she found me much in the same way that she had left me that morning. She asked if I was ready to head to the theatre. I just want to eat some spaghetti, I said. I loaded up on carbs and we walked over to the theatre. We were going to see the show before ours, Tara Travis’ Herewithal: A Paranormal Comedy. As I watched an absolutely lovely performer talk about her experiences communicating with dead relatives through psychic mediums (a connection between our two plays) and the blessing she’d received from her relatives to tell their story, I reminded myself that storytelling is about the exchange between the teller and the listener in the present moment. Storytelling may look back and it may look ahead, but it lives in the present. By its very nature it is ephemeral. Stories move forward naturally, not much to be done about that. I took the stage that night for what could have been the last time with 8 Ways. Before I went on I reminded myself, “I have a story to tell. A story can be a gift.”