Each one of our stories is a gift to those who are listening, with the quality of the listening a gift in return to the storyteller.
The stories we’re able to tell ourselves and others, those we can understand and imagine, define not only what we believe to have already occurred, but what we believe to be possible in our individual and collective lives. Story Circles engender appreciation for the unique intellectual, emotional, and spiritual qualities of each participant, and develop oral expression and listening skills. Each one of our stories is a gift to those who are listening, with the quality of the listening a gift in return to the storyteller.
Roadside’s ensemble members grew up without television, immersed in a world of local stories and oral histories. The oral tradition, often in ballad form, is the most prominent feature of our shared Scots-Irish heritage, and it has shaped the content and determined the form of our plays. If you have ever sat around with friends and kin singing, spinning tales, and recounting histories, you will quickly see where we’re coming from: the play’s lines suddenly doubling and overlapping within a general motif of call and response. In our Appalachian performance tradition, as well as in other performance traditions into which we have been invited to perform (the southern African American and Puerto Rican traditions come right to mind), call and response extends beyond the stage to include the audience. The grand result is the rich choral effect of harmony and counterpoint that is group storytelling, whether on a front porch or in an auditorium.
Not only can the oral tradition effectively generate content for building plays from scratch (Roadside has created 58 such plays), but, after performances of the staged play, Story Circles with audience and cast can provide a nuanced feedback loop for audience members to integrate the play’s experience into their own lives, as well as for the play’s artists to deepen their understanding of the performance. In effect, such circles continue the play’s action into a new Act, providing a way for the community to talk to itself about the play’s themes, and for the performance itself to mature. Based on this experience, sometimes community leaders will invite Roadside to help their community discover and publicly present its own songs, stories, and oral histories. A basic building block of these extended community cultural development residencies is the Story Circle.
In the course of sharing stories, difficulties in a community often rise to the surface, including issues from which its members are suffering. Roadside’s Story Circle methodology supports a basic principle of such community change work: those who directly experience a problem must make up the generative base for devising and enacting the solution. In this work, Roadside first uses its Story Circle methodology to help individuals discover their own truth of the issue, and then to test and develop that truth in dialog with other community members. By periodically collecting and organizing the knowledge about the issue generated by the stories, communities have an informed basis for recommending change, abetted by an enhanced sense of mutual trust. To sustain the momentum for change, the process of individual and collective learning about the issue must continue to inspire and shape action.
Because stories are so powerful, they can easily be used for purposes of domination and exploitation, rather than collective development. Consequently, Roadside is formal about its methodology, and we encourage those interested in the method to contact the company for training. The training includes how to become a Story Circle facilitator and how to use Story Circles to create plays, is a lot of fun, and can be accomplished in two days.