Two anecdotes about the physical element of storytelling

By Limor Shiponi

The physical element of storytelling, that which is connected to the body, differentiates storytelling from any other story based art-form or work. Our natural limitations bring us closer – where intimacy, truthfulness and kindness can thrive;  the more amplification
and magnification we add, the more we drift apart – clearing the way for corrections, masking and a need for ownership, a grip.

Every storyteller has tales of the physical in storytelling. I’m sharing two anecdotes I really like because they are both gentle and profound:

M is a storyteller I mentor for quite a while now. She chose to work with very young children who are under the risk of various kinds of abuse. She has the great gift of being able to feel and show love to the most hurting young people. This quality works the other way round too – she feels their pain – and she had to learn how to contain it so she can help them in her gentle ways through storytelling.

One day she called to tell me about what she named “a peculiar experience”. The facility she visited that week would not arrange the room where they were holding the storytelling session in a reasonable way. Furniture was cluttered to the wall, leaving very little space for her and the kids. “I managed to seat them but the space I had left for myself to move in was tiny. I felt trapped – the kids were too close and I couldn’t animate the way I usually do.”

Being very self-aware and listening closely to what was going on inside her, M realized that a couple of minutes down the road the feeling of being trapped will make her loose contact with the kids – she was about to go into a defense state. “And then I thought ‘they are your partners, look at them, what do their bodies show you they need? what can you receive from them to make this work?’ what I received was ‘we need the feeling of life, of movement, but not from your body, it’s too close’ so I moved everything I had by means of movement-intention into my voice, and the situation ‘clicked’. I could continue and so could they. In fact, it was a very magical session.”

The second event happened during a large festival. We were a troop of about fifteen tellers and we told stories in shifts through four days and nights, in a small, round tent. The noise around us was enormous since the festival hosted about 30,000 visitors. We sat in a circle, the audience sat around us in two circles, some of them receiving some of our backs. We were given an amplification system but after a very short while we found out that telling without it, elicited better attention from both tellers and listeners, so we left it aside.

At one point, one of the tellers joining the shift walked in with an impressive tall hat, and sat in the circle on his knees. The telling continued and after a couple of minutes I could see him take the hat off. After a few more he shifted from his knees and met the ground like everybody else in the tent – on his butt. Finally, he was at eye-level, both physically, mentally and emotionally. Only then could he join in and tell a story.

I think these anecdotes are important to share among storytellers. Often I receive hesitant questions from storytellers who go through these “peculiar” physical experiences and it takes them quite a while to decide they want to share the experience with someone – afraid they will be misunderstood or looked at with a bad eye. Nothing wrong, it’s part of what it means to be in storytelling.


10 thoughts on “Two anecdotes about the physical element of storytelling”

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  2. Thanks for sharing about “peculiar” experiences. Here was one of mine this year: I was doing a fairly busy and interactive program when the Principal walked in to the bottom of the stage and whispered to me that she needed to interrupt, a guest was coming. I was silent, as she took the microphone and told the kids about how much she loved the military and how it was wonderful so many of the kids had family in the military and how hard it was to have them away. But sometime they come back…At this point a soldier walked in, followed by his wife, and a child in the back screamed, jumped up and rain into his father’s arms. Everyone clapped. I was to the side of the stage, bawling. The family left, the Principal motioned for me, handed me the microphone and told me to continue. What was I to do with that moment? I breathed a long deep breathe. I acknowledged that beauty for the children and my tears and why I had them. I asked for all of us to breathe. Then I began the program again. But just taking the time to breathe, to share my humanity, made it so the kids were even more attentive and it was as if we never stopped. Sorry, long comment. Peculiar moments are what I believe can bring out the best in storytelling.

    1. Long comments are what I believe can bring out the best in blogging 🙂
      Thanks Sheila, this is truly beautiful and a great example for us storytellers to learn from.

    2. Interesting comment and is aligned with a book I’m reading about education and mindfulness with children: taking a big breathe. This is suppose to create a mindfulness moment before begin the educational process and be open to new information. Your experience confirm me about the importance of it in this process. Thanks for sharing.

      1. Hi Jose, thanks for visiting and adding to the discussion. It’s always good to be reminded about the benefits of a big breath.

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