Monday, January 14, 2008

Creating community through storytelling

I am dashing out of the door to an interview on WBAI Radio, so I can't write much. But I wanted to create this heading on the blog, as a way of expressing what has emerged as a common theme in responses I've had about performances of Two Men Talking so far.
Its a simple premise. We create community through sharing stories with one another
In the particular we find the universal.
We see our humanity (the struggles, the joys, the triumphs) reflected in others.
The recognition if that commonality is the seed of building community. From there we can actually choose to support one another.
And the practice of doing Two Men Talking makes it abundantly self evident.
Two Men Talking exists in contradistinction to isolation - going it alone.

I've got to go. Maybe I'll carry on this line of thinking on the radio.

Listen in on 99.5 fm at 1.40pm

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Who is that person in the mirror?

Tomorrow night we start a run of shows of Two Men Talking again. This time in New York City. I say "again" because we have done it in London this past summer (thirty times) in Edinburgh last summer (24 times) and many other times in between and before. So of course it's "again". And yet, it doesn't feel like again. I feel a sense of anticipation and anxiety. A feeling as if I have never done this before and have no idea how I will be able to do it. In fact it is of course not "again" because I am not the same person I was six months ago. So how could it possibly be the same experience as it was. That's a ludicrous notion. I am evolving. I didnt' stop evolving six months ago, or six hours ago, I am continually evolving, so are you, right now. Therefore if I am conscious of my own evolution, I perceive myself anew, Murray anew and the space between us feels unfamiliar and new.
Given this, Two Men Talking will be an unpredictable and unique conversation tomorrow and on subsequent days. Today I am present to this particular reality, the awareness of my own evolution, and am therefore not recognizing myself. Who is this person Paul Browde? I feel I should know him, after all I have lived in his experience for all of his life. You could say he is me. Yet, I don't really know him, and just as I think I do, he does things, unpredictable, unexpected, he feels things differently than he always has, or even stranger, he reacts on a visceral levels in new and unexpected ways, even to me. Can we really know anybody? Or when we do are we relating to an image, like a cache in a computer that stores images of websites that have long been changed? When we relate to ourselves or others as if we know them, is that similar to thinking we see the actual star, when what we are seeing is light that left the star millions of years before? Really being with someone, is to not know them. People are a mystery in every moment. I am. You are. Anything is possible. What are the implications of this for the world? Does history really have to repeat itself? do things really have to keep going the way they always have? or do we have the right and capacity to see things anew and thus create a new world every day?
For me, to prepare for tomorrow is to be curious about what might emerge. What is the conversation we will have? and what is the story that wants to be told. It's not for me to know. Just to show up and let it emerge. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Re-membering Spalding Gray

One of the cardinal principles of Two Men Talking is that there is a reciprocal relationship between listening and telling. They create one another in a circular-causal fashion. We actually believe that the listening of our audiences powerfully shapes our stories, which accounts for the fact our performances are never the same twice.

The odd thing about talking on radio or tv is that one has no clue who is listening, apart from the interviewer. Its like this huge invisible amorphous net of listening.

Today in a terrific interview with Bonnie on WLIU Radio, I was asked which storytellers I admired most. My mind went blank for a moment before I started spewing out names. "Ingmar Bergman, and I'm currently reading The God of Small Things and I loved Love in the Time of Cholera". I was way off the point and the interviewer reeled me back in.
"But what about storytelling ... the kind you do?"
The first name that came to mind was Spalding Gray.

This is what I didn't think to say in the interview:

I have often described what Paul and I do as "Spalding Gray x 2".

He was a major influence when I first got to New York in 1990. I heard him at St Mark's Church at one of those marathon New Year's Day affairs. And then the Lincoln Center with Monster in a Box. The guy sat behind a table and held an entire Lincoln Center Audience spellbound with his personal stories.
I'd never seen that before. The theater I went to in South Africa during the 70's and 80's was political. It had to be. The theater was one of the only public venues for finding out what was really going on. There was no place for personal life stories. We weren't free enough.
One of the reasons I came to New York was to find a way to manifest -on stage - what I'd been hearing from my patients. But really, I wanted to, no needed to tell my own story.
So Spalding Gray blew my mind.
I have read and watched Swimming to Cambodia tens of times.
I love the way he does the South Africans.
And lately when I heard archive interviews with/ by Spalding on NPR, I was filled with sadness that he was gone.

When the interview was over, the producer Kathie Russo came back on the line and told me how happy she was that I'd mentioned Spalding. It was his wife. She'd been listening.

Heaven - Nothing to write home about?

Stories are a way of re-membering people.
According to the late great anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff, re-membering is distinct from
mere recollection. It is an intentional act, which is embodied in cultural practices such as storytelling.

Telling stories
about the dead is a way of restoring their membership to the present.
As we begin preparing the storytelling space for our upcoming performances of Two Men Talking, I am reminded of the power of story to conjure the presences of people who have died or are far away. My grandparents, their families, my beloved nanny Paula Modisane. My father and mother who are still alive but geographically distant.

The preparation for Two Men Talking always affects my dream life too.

Last night I dreamed that I was visited by my friend Anneliese who died two years ago at the age of 95.
She was visiting from heaven.
Her hand was cold when I reached out to shake it.
And she looked pretty blue.
I asked how it was to be dead.
"Not very pleasant", she told me.
"How about heaven?", I wanted to know.
"There's nothing to do", she complained. "In fact there is nothing at all. Absolutely nothing.
"Basically", she said: "Its nothing to write home about".

Anyone got an alternative description of heaven?
Something to write home about?