Tuesday, December 9, 2014

THE POWER OF STORY: Notes of a performance workshop with Tom Henderson and Ginny Going

GESTURE CHOIR. Ginny Going leads a gesture choir at the InterPlay Atlanta performance workshop, "The Power of Story." In this particular form, members of the gesture choir, each took a turn leading and telling a story on the same theme. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
written by Ruth Schowalter, Leader-in-Training

On Friday, December 5, 2014, InterPlay Atlanta received a special treat--a performance workshop, "The Power of Story," with Ginny Going and Tom Henderson, national InterPlayers visiting from Raleigh, North Carolina.

Here's the description that Ginny and Tom gave InterPlay Atlanta to advertise the performance workshop:  

What makes a story interesting? 

Answer: Almost anything. The details of our lives are interesting because they connect to the universal themes of our human condition. We know this from the experience of babbling (performing for each other). What about a story in performance? Same answer, and the techniques are not so different. The most important thing is this -- be excited about telling your story! Even seemingly mundane stories can be entertaining if you're excited about telling it. If you're not excited, your audience won't be either. We'll play with ideas and tools for bringing fullness to your story telling thus generating engagement with your audience.

InterPlay performance is about stepping into our fullness said Ginny Going in her introduction at the beginning of the workshop. It's all about intensity. We step into our big body out of our ordinary body. We make shifts and create contrasts. She referenced our workshop, "Give Performance a Hug" with Phil Porter and how we worked with expanding our range from fast to slow, loud to soft, and big and small. Ask yourself, "How can I build contrast in dynamics?"

After warming up InterPlay fashion, Tom Henderson led us in a series of story telling exercises using 3 different techniques:

First, we got practice discarding chronological order. We were given instructions to start our stories some where else other than the beginning. I stated my story in the middle of a July morning in the badlands of Montana out fossil hunting just when the 40 mile winds started blowing us down the hillside and across the rock encrusted terrain. What liberation to forgo details and jump into where the action starts! I could have started at the end when all the fossil hunters sat cloistered in a trailer huddling over their computers waiting for the hostile winds to settle down.

TEACHING BY DOING. Here Tom Henderson teaches the power story telling by telling his own story. Tom and Ginny brought 20 years of InterPlay experience to the InterPlay Atlanta performance workshop. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
Then we had a chance to find a point in our stories where we could become inarticulate and speak in gibberish or a made up language. Tom demonstrated with a story of his own about the presence of a dangerous chemical in his work environment. The gibberish can express frustation, confusion, or anything that just fails to be expressed adequately using words.

This story telling technique allows story tellers to digress from the main plot of the narrative, to follow a topic that comes up in the story but is not central to it. The story teller can return to the main storyline or continue to follow the "left turn." 

Whenever telling these stories, we have been given permission by Tom and Ginny to leave the audience "hanging." In a performance, we do not have to complete the whole story. Often, InterPlay performers want to tell a bigger story than is necessary, they told us. Finding the end to a performance is a skill and finishing a story sooner is better than finishing it later. Leaving the audience wanting more from your performance is preferred to the reverse.

UNIVERSAL THEMES. We were asked, "How do our stories connect with universal themes?" Tom records our theme words as Ginny supervises and supports. What a team! (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
Next, was identifying universal themes. Unfurling a roll of brown paper across the performance floor, Tom and Ginny asked InterPlay Atlanta workshop participants to name the first universal themes that came to our minds. We wrote down themes such as danger, love, adventure, change, chaos, loss, beginnings and endings.

Then they asked us, "How do our stories connect with these universal themes?"

What ensued was fun, stimulating, and just plain interesting. In pairs, we told one of our own stories connecting it to a universal theme. We had three minutes  to tell a full-body story playing around with contrasts using any of the previous techniques we had just practiced. I spoke on the universal theme of adventure and talked about my time in Australia, when I was searching for dinosaur tracks on the Victoria coast and had to scale down a cliff to Knowledge Creek fitting my feet into a wallaby trackway and holding on to shrubs!

Then half of us workshop participants were asked to stand up and to share our stories with all of the participants but condensing our three-minute stories into one minute!

After that, if we had had enough time, we would have completed this universally themed story telling exercise by reducing its telling to 3 sentences! Only!

As the workshop hours dwindled, we played with three more InterPlay forms: DT3's (dance talk, dance talk, dance talk), Side by Side Stories, and Gesture Choir.
SIDE BY SIDE STORY TELLING. Al, Jennifer, and Christine told Side by Side stories about high school. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
Key teaching points from these InterPlay forms included:

We can move our bodies to tell our stories.

A story exists in more than just a box in our heads.

When moving, a storyteller gets a fuller sense of the story at a cellular level.
GESTURE CHOIR. Getting a fuller sense of the story at a cellular level and so much more. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
Timing is important in a performance.

When working together with other performers, "sacrifice" for the good ending.

Let movement be movement.

Let the story emerge from the body.

Part of letting go is releasing the need to tell a continuous, linear story.

When telling a Side by Side Story, move around, do not stay in the same lane; interrupting is good, picking up words or phrases from other story tellers is good; keeping your visual focus on the audience and not other players is desirable.
THE POWER OF STORY WORKSHOP HAS CONCLUDED.  Participants thoroughly enjoyed Ginny and Tom's workshop and were sorry to see it come to an end. There was so much more fun to be had. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
Our two-and-half hours with Tom and Ginny was rich! We felt the fullness of our own stories and each others. Wahoo! Thank you! 

Blogs about other Performance Workshops InterPlay Atlanta has received:

Ecstatic Following with Sheila Collins 

Saying Yes and Finding the Thing with Sheila Collins

Creating a Container and Creating the Thing with Sheila Collins

Foundation and Decoration with Sheila Collins

Give Performance a Hug with Phil Porter

The Power of Story with Ginny Going and Tom Henderson
NOTE TAKING.  That's me, Ruth Schowalter, center, taking notes about what Ginny Going is saying in "The Power of Story" workshop. (photo by Callahan Pope McDonough)


  1. Fantastic workshop and wonderful blog Ruth!!! Feel so lucky that I got the chance to participate fully in the event and the weekend that followed.

    1. InterPlay Atlanta is so fortunate to have such a great regional director in Jennifer Denning. She has brought us such awesome workshops, training, and InterPlay leaders!

  2. Sharing my story is one of the most healing things I do, and your point about universal themes explains part of the why. My telling and your listening helps me come forth. When I listen to another's story, I see myself because of those themes--I'm part of the human condition and I can better see myself through your shares. So good. Thank you for this, HT.

    1. So nice to meet you Susan! I just visited your page and read your bio! Your life is so inspirational! My email is ruthtruth@mindspring.com if you would like to get in touch with me to learn more about InterPlay.

    2. "My telling and your listening helps me come forth." I love that. Thanks for commenting Susan! Thanks for capturing these great points Ruth!

  3. HT, is your name Ruth? I'm trying to connect with who is writing this. : ))

    1. Hello Susan! Yes, I am Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about story telling. Let me see if I can contact you so we can connect.