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Why Storytelling Matters Now More Than Ever - and a new class designed for finding your voice

     The attraction of true storytelling – as evidenced by the rise in popularity of storytelling-themed podcasts and radio shows, such as The Moth, RISK!, NPR’s This American Life, Radio Lab, among others - seems to be rising along with the speed of life in our 24/7, social-media driven, high-tech times. Audiences stand in line for hours to getinto live performances of true stories, told as often by non-actors as by professional storytellers or performers, possibly in response to what may be a heightened psychological need for this unique combination of communication, creativity and candidness. Think about it. For the first time in human history – thanks to an explosion of technology that sweeps us up in waves of change at an ever-accelerating pace - we can meet, fall in love, have sex, shop for a ring and break up with someone we never actually meet in person. Still, at the core of all our high-tech activity with its constant, streaming demands lies something unchanging and integral to health and happiness - the currency of personal connection. And that currency is expressed through stories.

     Kevin Allison, creator of the RISK! podcast and shows – who teaches all dimensions of storytelling at The Story Studio in New York and is offering a new class for people interested in personal development through the creative process titled Storytelling For Personal Growth: Find Your Voice and Get What You Want - views the appeal of authentic stories as a return to our “original entertainment, the place we found joy in communicating with each other in the first place -- gathering round and sharing stories. Stories make us feel more centered in our own heroism. Stories help us understand the wherewithal others have mustered to get by in this life. And stories make us feel more connected to each other. It's a release and a relief to open up and hear someone, and to open up and be heard.”
     A storytelling class, especially one designed to build up the creative courage and strength to tell our stories, can pack a powerful psychological punch to the fears that hold us back. The creative process of working with the details, language, imagery and tone that convey not just the events but the meaning of an experience produces shifts in our perception and attention. The skills to craft and share a story translate into increased capacities to express ideas and feelings that bring about expansion in personal and professional relationships. And the best part about a class like this is the opportunity to hear - to really listen - to so many different stories over the course of the 6-week class. “In a way, we set sail on more journeys in story form than we'd ever have the means to go on otherwise,” reflects Allison. “A good story grabs you. It gets those zig-zagging thoughts racing through your brain to slow down a moment. We're all bombarded by oncoming bits of information. But the sound of a human voice can have a hypnotic effect. The listener can get lost a little while in a vicarious experience. Think how when you're asleep and dreaming, there's sometimes a cathartic feeling from following an emotional through-line you didn't have to literally live through. Listening to a good story can be like that."
     It may be that we need this kind of encounter now more than ever, that in part, the attraction of creatively-crafted, personal accounts of true experiences lies in the real-time dynamic between teller and listener. It may also be that stories featuring individually-expressed but universally felt fears, failures and feats are an important response to the kinds of stresses we face in 21st century life. New technologies present an ever-increasing learning curve and a constant challenge just to keep pace with changes, much less getting ahead of them. And we are exposed to a steady drumbeat of not-so-subtle messages about what it takes to have a good-enough life. As new challenges occur, an adult learner is forced to sharpen and renew their skills,” according to Proceedings of the Sixth Annual College of Education Research Conference, citing new research about the “transformative teaching possibilities” of combining emotional and imaginative engagement for learning and change. Leaving old knowledge behind implies not only cognitive transformation, but also an emotional transformation to accept changes, differences, and most fearful, uncertainty.” 
     The power of so many of the stories shared through these shows and media is in their no-holds-barred attention to areas of life that are sensitive, difficult, frightening, often unresolved and sometimes unresolvable. Allison, who fosters countless numbers of people to gather their courage and and share their personal stories through his workshops, classes, podcasts and performances, views this dynamic as a unique and powerful pathway to personal expansion for both storytellers and listeners. I recently did two RISK! shows in Charleston, South Carolina,” he explains. “Now, RISK! is a lot to swallow for some folks because it's completely uncensored and the storytellers are encouraged to talk about things they never thought they'd dare to share in public. So the tales told there can get X-rated, or controversial, or just so emotionally raw that you would not hear them, say, on a show on NPR. And most of the storytellers that night were, like myself, artistic types from New York. So to be sharing some of the most sordid or nerve-wracking parts of our lives with strangers down South... we just didn't know what to expect. But that first night, I looked out at the audience and saw a frumpy, white-haired couple in the front row. I knew one of the stories coming up was about sado-masochistic sex. Another a confession about thousands of dollars stolen. And yet another was about being atheist. I thought, "Oh boy, I don't know if these old folks can handle what's coming..." But after the show, when most of the crowd had filed out of the auditorium, those two were still sitting there. Their eyes and smiles were just radiant, they were glowing. Well the man put both his palms to his heart and said to me, "Thank you... for being who you are and for doing what you do." My whole chest filled with this light energy. Is the show entertaining? Sure! But when people react like that, you feel that something more than mere escapism is going on in these shows. These shows restore people's faith in people.”

Kevin Allison and his team offer Storytelling Workshops of all kinds at The Story Studio in New York City and Los Angeles. Check out their website for complete information.

 Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP is a trainer/consultant and writer/performer. She will facilitate Using Improv to Explore The Awfulness, No Make That Awesomeness, of Ambivalence on Saturday Feb. 15, 2014, 1-5 pm. at Lifestage, Inc in Smithtown NY. Details on this link




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