I have been thinking about ¡Story! and how/what to write about it for months. Today my brain finally formulated concrete, latch-on-to-able state-able concepts that can represent both my beliefs about story and basic principles that I practice every day in my work as a filmmaker.
My first epiphany was about moments. Stories are a series of moments – defined 1., as “a very brief period of time,” and 2. as “importance.” In other words, the beginnings, middles and ends of stories, as well as the plot points and, of course, the details, are all moments. This epiphany was so unburdening and such an “Aha” or “Eureka” personal event. But my next epiphany was jarring and almost shocking: Is story about what I want to express to other people and engage them in, regardless of whether I believe they will be easily engaged and understand (without any difficulty) what it is that I’m showing on the screen?; or is it about expressing events (real or fictional) in my own voice (from my own point of view) in a manner in which both the subtext and my intention in telling the story is accessible to other people.
Obviously, there have been a lot of writers who told stories that they themselves wanted to tell regardless of whether those stories would be understood, would resonate with the writers’ contemporaries. On the other hand, there have been storytellers like one of my bipolar peers whose real name probably was not Jeff, who live as if the world was inside their heads; and who either aren’t concerned with being understood or who presume any stories that they tell will be understood by everyone because the world is inside their heads.
And then, on the other hand (or, probably, one of a number of other hands) there are storytellers who tell stories that everyone knows already – and that’s exactly what they want to hear; as well as storytellers who tell stories based on archetypes with which all of us are familiar, even if those stories arc or resolve in unexpected ways or have unpredictably disturbing endings.
I care how people feel. But I find it difficult to care what other people think. Opinion, even when formed on an emotional foundation, is not emotion. And there is a grayscale of skewing along which each of us forms opinions. The more limited our direct experience in – or even, interest in or engagement by – one or another sphere of human endeavor, the more skewed our opinion (and point of view) is likely to be.
As a storyteller I try to create archetypal characters with whom any other human can empathize. The environments I create for those characters, however, are skewed. I place archetypes alone in minimal landscapes with limited, stripped down references to society.
As a storyteller, I am interested in the individual’s experience of his/her own existence regardless of society.
I have had the very interesting experience in the past four or five days of “watching” my brain lay down pathways for a new project to happen. I cannot help but believe that composing inside one’s mind, forming images, feeling a character’s responses to its environment/discovering her emotions, planning actions and events that take place in an imaginary world of one’s own making, that all of that is a physical process that happens in the brain and that changes the brain. And that this process creates a “location” for story that becomes more and more real as the pathways are traveled and the story is told.
The world of a story has its own neurochemical physicality.
As a young person, whenever I was involved in theater as an actor I became restless and claustrophobic. I might have lost my path in theater, in fact, if not for random individuals who cajoled, enticed, dragged, pushed me back into theater off and on for 20 years until one Sunday night, I saw a performance poet on TV and knew that I wanted to be able to perform solo, put a whole world into my body and recreate that world on stage so audience could be my captives and see things the way I saw them.
But that’s not the way it works if you don’t want to totally suck as a solo performer.
I found that out immediately upon performing a piece that I’d written (after many rewrites, Finding the Golden Thread) onstage by myself the first time. I felt more like the servant than the master. I knew right away that not only is the audience not there for you, the audience creates as much energy in the room, fills the air with as much subtext as you (hopefully) do. In other words, the audience/solo performer relationship is a mutual exchange. As a performer, you owe your audience.
That is one of the most important things I know.
Last week one of my videos was used in a mashup that I was not consulted about by the person who made the mashup. I was upset about not being consulted. And, well, I’m not shy about expressing my opinions.
I write and make art about things that people used to get burned at the stake as witches over. I have performed hourlong, autobiographical solo shows about mental illness. More than once after my show I stood at the theater door, for 2 hours, twice as long as the show was, while, one by one, people from the audience queued up to speak to me privately about things people like themselves or a loved one (and I) are supposed to feel stigmatized and ashamed about.
That secrecy still makes me sad, which is why I blog as a mentally ill peer and make most of my social media posts public. I have nothing to hide and people who are interested in what I’m saying shouldn’t feel obligated to be open about and or “friend” me.
Theater is collaborative. I am grateful for my 20 years in it. But I am a solo artist now with probably not much more than 20 years left. I intend to spend my last years doing my own thing my own way, answering to noone. That’s the way it is.