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MailTribune.com
  • Telling Our Stories

    The power of personal narrative
  • We are creatures in motion. Each day we awaken and interact with this thing called life. And each of those interactions creates a new sentence, a new chapter, in an ever-expanding story.
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  • We are creatures in motion. Each day we awaken and interact with this thing called life. And each of those interactions creates a new sentence, a new chapter, in an ever-expanding story.
    Telling those stories is an ancient art with benefits both broad and deep.
    "It's how we interpret the world," says Ashland literary coach Shoshanna Alexander. "We make stories out of everything. And when we listen to other peoples' stories, we are changed as they were."
    "Storytelling is a contact sport," says storyteller Devorah Zaslow, of Ashland. "When you actually tell a story, you feel it being received by the audience."
    Many cultures in the world use storytelling as a primary medium for both entertainment and tribal connection. Playback Theater uses techniques adapted from such cultures as a form of public therapy. Audience members have an opportunity to tell their stories while a troupe of actors "play it back" on stage.
    "Some stories govern our lives," says Judy Dolmatch, a psychotherapist who splits her time between a permaculture farm on the Big Island of Hawaii and her home in Ashland. In 1995 Dolmatch founded the Rogue Valley Playback Theater, whose mission was to "create theater by, of and for the community." The theater, which existed until 2005, performed shows for service organizations and special populations, such as veterans, and organized events for the general public.
    "People will see things in the enactment of their stories that offer them a new dimension of their experience," Dolmatch says. And that new dimension can be transformative.
    For the past three years, Grants Pass actress Bobbi Kidder has directed "Drug Court Theater," a treatment option for people in Josephine County who have committed crimes because of drug use. DCT focuses community attention "on the strengths people need to successfully address pressing social issues."
    The group meets on Wednesday mornings in Grants Pass for four to six weeks. With Kidder's guidance, the performers — all former addicts — write and shape their stories of addiction and recovery for the stage. They offer those compelling narratives to schools, service clubs and, recently, the Oregon House of Representatives. The healing power of this personal transparency is so strong that some participants choose to remain in the theater group after they are free to leave.
    "They experience the process of starting over and being successful at it," says Kidder.
    Such storytelling techniques also are used in the business world to help people move through transitions, says Shoshanna Rosenfeld, an executive coach from Northern California who employs personal narrative with corporate clients. Rosenfeld recently worked with a company that had gone through a merger, leaving many employees feeling grief-stricken and disenfranchised.
    "I get the team together and write a new narrative," Rosenfeld says. "The intention is to help them process and make meaning of this change by blending the story of the business strategy with their own hero's journey."
    Whether on the page, on the stage or in the workplace, the telling of our personal stories have the power to heal, to harmonize and to help us move on.
    "Stories help us connect with our own humanity," says Rosenfeld, "which, in turn, helps us connect with the humanity of others."
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