Monday, September 17, 2012

The Art of Listening

This weekend, Mr. Boyce and I got together with a group of friends for dinner and a show. The dinner was expensive, tasty, left me with a stomachache from overindulging, and was a thing of the past as soon as my discomfort faded.

The show was much less expensive, just as fulfilling, and has stayed with me constantly since Friday night.

We were fortunate to nab tickets to the kickoff stop of The Unchained Tour, a traveling troupe of raconteurs peddling stories to rapt audiences across the Southeast. It's the brainchild of Georgia native George Dawes Green, who also founded The Moth, another storytelling organization. Our plucky Unchained Tour performers are presently wending their way around a heart-shaped course of nine events.

The Unchained event was just like this, plus booze.
Here is where I offer a confession. The current roster of The Unchained Tour includes Neil Gaiman, whose tales I have long admired in graphic novels, paperbacks, an on the screen. The opportunity to see and hear him in person was absolutely the draw for me, as I suspect it was for many of Friday night's attendees. Frankly, I'd not heard of the other performers (For shame!). That was ignorance on my part, which I'm happy to have amended.

And while I came for Neil and enjoyed his story, I also left with Rachel Kate's folksy melodies looping through my head. I hunted videos of Edgar Oliver's performances, so I could hear his indescribable voice again. I have fretted about Peter Aguero's struggle to care for his ailing wife. I have admired Dawn Fraser's willingness to reinvent and rediscover herself when confronted by a life crisis.

If you've never attended a storytelling event, it's an incredible experience. The art hearkens back to our ancestors gathering around fires, fending off the unknown darkness by communally partaking in the spell cast by the storyteller. Fittingly enough, the Unchained Tour performance was held in the atrium of The Columbia Museum of Art, beneath a Chihuly chandelier which resembles an inverted flame.

I'm convinced there is something inside us, some genetic memory, that storytelling taps into. It is a group endeavor. There is the racanteur, of course, the performer weaving a tale with words and voice and gestures. But there is also the audience. The booming silence of 300 people holding their breath, waiting for the next phrase, the next word, the next inflection. There is the relief of laughing at light moments, of applauding the end of a tale that has transported us into the storyteller's world for a few brilliant moments. We all must do our part to make the storytelling successful, but the magic is that everyone in that audience performed flawlessly. We instinctively knew our part.

As a writer, my focus is on the written word. It was wonderful to take part in a literary exercise centered instead around the spoken word. Should you have the opportunity to take in a storytelling event, I heartily encourage you to do so.


  1. I sought out Mr. Oliver's performances on YouTube as well. I fell asleep to the strange, haunting, and yet soothing voice that night.