Begin at the beginning. Why not begin at the end? Why not shuffle the order, turn the whole story upside down? What do you want to say? Where is the moment of change? What do you really want the audience to come away with?
These are some of the questions I ask when coaching students and teachers to tell a story at a story slam. A story slam is a community gathering where people share personal stories. Here are the requirements: no notes, no props and it must be true. All that remains in the end is a true story, told live in front of a supportive audience. It sounds simple, and it is, but revealing a part of oneself is never easy.
Dana Hall’s story slams are influenced and structured by educational materials provided by The Moth as well as Massmouth. Both organizations are committed to educating students and teachers on how to tell stories. Organizations like these open up room for dialogue in an ever deepening chasm of difference and disagreement in our politically charged society. They open up space for empathy and a diversity of perspectives. It’s important to note that our story slams are not traditional in the “slam” sense. A student leader recently told me when I asked her about awarding prizes to storytellers, “Why would we pick winners for the slam? Why should there be a prize? The prize is being there and listening to great stories.” Truer words have ne’er been spoken. She’s right. And so, there are no winners, just smiling faces, laughter and a lot of applause.
And so it was this year, that our two All School Co-Presidents, Abby and Karina, hosted a Friday night of stories on this year’s school theme: All stones create ripples. We had three students and two faculty members share, and there were approximately 80 members of the Upper School cheering them on. It’s always a sight to behold and a really wonderful way to hear and be heard. Many of the pictures captured from the night by my fabulous advisees show students, nodding, blushing, clapping, hugging, laughing, frowning and crying. There is no one way to describe a story slam because the stories are so strikingly different. Much like every member of the Dana community, each storyteller has their own way of revealing a point, changing the narrative and emoting what matters to them most. Plus, there’s nothing quite like speaking into a microphone. You could be the quietest or most subdued presence at the school and then stand in front of a microphone and the audience watches an incredible transformation.
In my time at Dana Hall I have seen and heard stories that run the gamut from everything including eyebrow removal, assisting a sheep giving birth, near death skiing accidents to revelations about gender identity. There really is very little to unite the stories told at slams except for the one constant in all of our lives: change. And here’s where the physical expressions captured by my advisee photographers manifest. While we may have little in common with a peer, a roommate or a teacher, we can discover through the course of a story involving a change that we have a lot more in common than we ever could have believed.
So I’ll ask you, dear reader, to consider the questions again. Because everyone has many stories to tell: What do you want to say? When have you experienced a moment of change?
Most people who see me coming before a story slam say, “I don’t have a story to tell.” I vehemently disagree. As long as something in your life changed and you care about it, that is an amazing story. And if you feel comfortable reflecting on that experience you should share it.
Stay tuned for more information about Dana Hall story slams and please feel free to reach out for more information about sharing at a slam in the local area. Dana Hall is not the only place that hosts story slams. And they are always open to all.