Photo by Debra Lopez
Permission to be a Storyteller: Part II
by Susan Heyward
When we performed that improv for our family and friends night, the same inexplicable magic, intangible thing lifted all of us together. We worked as an ensemble, we told the story, our people’s story and I'll never forget the moment. When the group of escapees left the stage to ‘escape’ I felt the same upswell of emotion; grief. Joy. Hope. Faith. Love. As I watched these kids carry the spirits of the escaped slaves with them through an auditorium of audience members in North Philadelphia, I could feel the audience's eyes on them, holding all this hope and watching them go. Watching me watch them go.
I felt that there wasn't anything I could do wrong.
Or any way I could mess up.
I was fully present with the audience; they were fully present with us on stage.
And I think that's the moment. I knew I could do this. I knew that I could tell a story. If I knew nothing else, I knew that.
I could serve something larger than myself and work with other people to serve something larger than us.
And I've been chasing that feeling ever since.
I'm lucky. I had it so young.
I'm lucky, I've been able to feel it since
I've been trying to feel it again for a while.
So to all who have been searching for that intangible something that you’ve felt before, this goes out to you. This a reminder to
I know we are encouraged to read the room, but how many of us need a reminder to keep checking in? The world around us is constantly shifting, whether it’s one person establishing a rhythm we might want to join or some folks creating an escape plan that turns out not to be right for you. Acting class isn’t the only place we can practice being curious about others. Staying curious helped me navigate the culture shock of moving from Philadelphia to Charleston when I was a 13 year old know-it-all who suddenly knew nothing. It helped me find grace and closure when relationships ended. Sometimes it has kept me from cussing out someone who needs to be hugged. I’m still working on staying away from hugging folks that need to get cussed out. God’s not through with me yet, LOL. So often we live in a reactionary mode, but if we take a little time to ask “Why is this person behaving this way? What is their goal?”, we can move through life with a deeper understanding of the world around us and how we can thrive in it. Speaking of thriving...
What is the difference between reacting and responding? Patience and self-knowledge. In that drama class improv, as soon as some classmates recognized the pantomime was in a field, a bunch of them jumped up immediately and did the same thing. No shade to them; sometimes there is strength in unison. Anyone who has ever sung in a choir knows that. But other times, there is a special magic in taking time to listen before joining in. That’s how you can make harmony. Did I want to even pretend to break my back? I did not. Not even for art, ya’ll. I wanted to bring comfort, sustenance, something that felt good. That’s who I am in life! I’m a Taurus rising! In our improv, I chose to bring water to the workers in the field instead of joining the back breaking labor; choosing to do something different from everyone else can honor your nature and honor others you are in relationship with. Speaking of relationships…
I can hear you right now, “Susan, you were in drama class; conflict is literally an art. Conflict is good! Conflict is gold.” Maybe I was being a good little student when my acting partners started to plan their escape and I decided my character wouldn’t go with them. But in life, we can pull gold out of conflict, too, if we are brave enough and vocal enough to speak up about how we REALLY feel and what we REALLY need.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson said that because he knew what we know; that conflict with the world’s plan for us can cost us comfort, relationships, opportunities and peace.
Here’s what I’ve learned;
if you don’t speak up, your unexpressed desires can cost you all those things, too! Might as well get into it, because being silent will have you haunted by your true desires and the smile on your face won’t reach your eyes. Don’t we all have moments we replay in our minds about what we should have said, the direction we should have gone, the lives we would be living if we had only held out?
Doing what I needed to do for me has led me to some of the most beautiful places in my life; a life changing three months in Moscow, an artistic wellspring in a small Virginia hamlet or six weeks in Colombia during a global pandemic. The world's plans for you will always pale in comparison to the life you came here to live as the most curious, empathetic, bravest, most authentic version of yourself.
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April Yvette Thompson