While in Wisconsin for my mother’s 93rd birthday at the end of September, I attended The Northlands Storytelling Network conference in Green Lake, a short drive from my home town. As I have come to discover through the perspective of both performer and audience member, storytelling has rich potential as a method of healing, transformation, and education, and the storytelling community is rapidly expanding. Maybe it’s the appeal of unadorned, intimate, human sharing and emotional risk-taking in this age of twitter and facebook posts that is driving an upsurge of new attention to this old-as-the-Illiad art form, but the evidence of its popularity are everywhere: long lines outside any performance of RISK! or The Moth in New York City and around the country; the fact that The National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, TN is now one of the Top 100 Events in North America; a new channel devoted to storytelling launched by Sirius Radio . There is even an Iphone app that opens to a screen listing all the Art of Storytelling podcasts. Stories, and the people with courage enough to stand and deliver them, compel us for many reasons and one of them is hope drawn from the creative act of reinvention.
Among the many inspiring people I met at the conference were professional storytellers Lynn Wing, Sara Slayton, and Terry Visger who vaulted their skills, decades-long careers in teaching and the arts, years of friendship and common history into writing and performing full-length shows which opened to standing room only crowds at the Pump House Regional Arts Center in their home town of LaCrosse Wisconsin. Their first production, “Three Boomer Broads: Remembering While We Still Can,” billed as “the sights, sounds and stories of the 1950 and 1960s as told by three women who lived through them” explored what it was like to come of age during one of the most turbulent and revolutionary periods of American life.
Using music and images to enhance exploration of their theme “the loss of innocence,” “the stories reflected the historic social transformations in which our own personal metamorphoses occurred,” writes Ms. Slayton in an article published in the The Northlands Storytelling Network Journal. “Lynn’s story spoke about the loss of innocence of a child learning to ride a two-wheel bike and striking her own balance in her world. Terry’s story took the audience to her grandmother’s southern Illinois restaurant on the day that the first black man came in to be served. And my story recalled my teen years in Madison during the anti-war protests and the bombing of the Math building at the University there.”