Saturday, November 7, 2015

Accessing the Stories within You: Workshop with Masankho Banda

MASANKHO KAMSISI BANDA. Facilitating the storytelling workshop, "Accessing the Stories within You." (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
by Ruth Schowalter, certified InterPlay leader

We slipped our shoes off at the door of the Rising Phoenix T’ai Chi studio located in the Little Five Points Community Center and joined Masankho Kamsisi Banda, international storyteller and InterPlayer from Malawi. After a centering meditative activity, we shared our names and began by telling a one-minute story about “walking” with the group of six participants that had gathered for the evening storytelling workshop.

Masankho prefaced this one-minute storytelling activity with the question: “Where do our stories hang out and how do we tell them?”

To my surprise as we went around the circle telling our one-minute walking stories, I discovered that I have gathered numerous stories about my walking experiences over the course of my 57 years. This realization thrilled me! It is possible that storytelling can come in categories of simple unpretentious words! Consider the following words: toothbrush, cake, mosquito, and sidewalk. What stories organize around those words for you? Is it possible to tell a one-minute story about each one of those words? I think the answer might be “YES”! This is the beauty of InterPlay’s incremental steps and Masankho’s calm peaceful facilitation of them.

On this warm rainy Friday night in November, InterPlay Atlanta was privileged to offer a workshop to our metro Atlanta area folks to learn how to access the stories that are already with us and how to share them in dynamic and fun ways. Masankho, who learned the arts of storytelling and drumming from his village elders in the African country of Malawi, blends his cultural learning together with Interplay providing powerful learning tools for both the emerging and accomplished storyteller. (For more information about Masankho go here:

After doing some “noticings” about our one-minute stories, we warmed up using  InterPlay forms accompanied by what I can only describe as “poetic” instructions. As a lifelong writing teacher who has struggled with ways to get students to be more specific by paying attention to their senses, I experienced a master teacher ease us into observation. Masankho asked us to notice the colors, the shapes, and the textures as we moved about the room. With excitement, I experienced the “embodiment” of details as I stretched my arms out and swung them and stepped about the room looking and seeing. It was almost as if the colors were brighter and the shapes more defined! And that was just the warm up!

Going deeper into the warm-up, as we continued to move, Masankho called out letters of the alphabet and asked us to give him words beginning with that letter. Moving and creating together, a symphony of voices filled the room in response to “T,” “M,” and “W.” Being a voice in a community of voices allows you to listen, to speak out and to layer on top of other voices.  Yes! It was challenging, fun, and satisfying.
Masankho offered us poetic phrases to repeat. Some were poetic phrases composed with alliteration; others were of ordinary things but compellingly visual, and still others were just really fun to say! He then asked us to complete sentences for him. Imagine such fun word play while still engaging yourself in stepping about the room, looking or not looking, listening to others, responding when you are ready!

InterPlayers around the world will gasp at the “sneaky deep” and elegant play we did to access our stories within. Masankho partnered us, with one person being “Partner A” and the other being “Partner B.” Then we did the InterPlay exercise, “Walk Stop Run” while he played the drum. When he stopped playing, we told whatever story came up from our running, stopping, and walking. Movement for me triggered a memory from the early 1980’s at a syrup sopping festival in Loachapoka, Alabama.

FIND MY STORY. TELL MY STORY. SOMEONE WILL LISTEN. We finished our evening with an affirming three-sentence song about being storytellers. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)

The progression of Masankho’s movement and storytelling workshop led us to a “Hand to Hand” dance with a new partner and a word given to us by Masankho, which we released with a “wheee” before beginning our “dance.” The “wheee” is permission to let the word go, be present, or a launching pad for something else.
After this activity, we sat down and noticed what are experiences were. Masankho acknowledged what we said, and offered: “Physical proximity and touch are fertile grounds for stories.”

Before leaving, we had the opportunity to do a “DT3,” an InterPlay form, which the storyteller moves first, then talks in three successive intervals while a partner witnesses. Masankho encouraged us to “move, and move, and move, without thinking” and to allow words to emerge from our movement. This experience allowed some of us to relinquish “linearity” to our stories.

There is so much more to the rich experience of this storytelling workshop with Masankho. I have just given you a “taste” here with this blog post written hastily on a Saturday morning.  (It is still raining by the way.) I hope Masankho will forgive me if I have misportrayed anything about last night’s workshop by giving this broad view. It is “my story” of my first meeting with Masankho. I look forward to future ones! He led us in this short song before we dispersed out into the rainy night skies over Georgia:

Find my story

Tell my story

Someone will listen


Thank you Jennifer Denning for contacting Masankho Kamsisi Banda and engaging him in the workshops and performances this weekend. And, as always, many thanks to Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry, co-founders of this amazing improvisational system of InterPlay. Also a shout out to Sheila K. Collins, Ginny Goings and Tom Henderson, who also gave storytelling workshops for InterPlay Atlanta.
THANK YOU MASANKHO! Here I am (left) with Masankho and Jennifer! Feeling a lot of gratitude for all that InterPlay has brought to my life. I am beginning to "grow" the storyteller in me and it feels good! I know someone will listen. (photo by Tony Martin)

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