In the second part of our exchange project between Teater Tribunalen and The BuSSy Project we meet in Stockholm. It is the end of March, 2016, the spring is just a promise and the weather is cold. Three Egyptian storytellers will during five days hold a workshop for 11 Swedish actors/playwrights/directors. The subject is “storytelling”, the technique that artistic director of BuSSy, Sondos Shabayek, has developed during the ten years that the group has existed.
Usually the storytelling workshops take place during a 3 month period and usually the participators are not professional actors. The technique functions as a catalyst to explore and find stories, based on personal experience, and to develop these stories into theatre. The plan for our workshop in Stockholm, is to try the exercises and then explore how we can use the technique in public spaces.
Stockholm – Day 1
We meet the first day at the hired studio at SITE, at Telefonplan, Stockholm. We start out with doing some practical exercises and start to get to know each other to create a safe space.
We walk around the room and the subject of eye contact is introduced – this will be a central point during the whole five days . Communication through eye contact is a crucial tool , it is powerful, revealing, sometimes even painful.
Sondos asks us when we walk around in the space making eye contact to lay a hand on someone that reminds us of someone we know. We tell the person, looking them in the eye, who they remind us of. We do the exercise again, laying a hand of someone we feel scared of and someone that reminds us of our childhood. All participators were really impressed of the strong feelings that emerged during this exercise and how quickly it created an intimate feeling between the group members.
No one is forced to tell anything, there is no obligation on what you have to share, Sondos says. It is always your own personal choice and responsibility what you share with the group. The eye contact during exercises is the first step towards opening up or choosing not to open up. You are free to move in and out of vulnerability, and you always have the right to step back, because what you choose to tell is a story – but also what you do not choose to tell.
We are asked to write non stop during ten minutes on whatever comes to our heads. Then we are asked to choose some part from our texts and tell the group about it. After we all heard each other’s stories we are asked to point at someone that said something that we could relate to. We are also asked to make a movement that is inspired by the story from the text.
The last exercise that we do this day is a kind of physical send it forward-exercise. One person improvises a moving pattern to one other person. All the others wait outside. The second person tries to replicate the first person’s pattern, showing it to the third person, who then replicates it for the fourth person and so on. The last person gets to show the passed on pattern to the whole group and then the first person shows the original. No need to say, there was a big difference between the first and last performance.
Stockholm – Day 2
We continue to explore the eye contact and the connection and communication that can develop between us. We do some physical exercises based on eye contact, mirroring and finally physical contact.
Then we are asked to create a small stage and put ourselves as an audience. One by one we are asked to step up on stage, to make eye contact with each and every person and do whatever you feel like. The focus and concentration is mind blowing and many are amazed over the freedom they feel standing on stage, the eye contact with the audience is making them very relaxed and confident.
Then we are asked to go out and get any story from someone randomly – we should be aware on the points of where/when/how and also how the story manifests itself emotionally.
When we get back we are asked to go on stage again and tell the story like we are the person who told it . It becomes obvious how important the re-enactment of the emotions are. Even if a person was just saying “What? I don’t know. Why are you asking?” it becomes filled with meaning when the emotions and the body language are manifested.
We are ending the day with a physical exercise ending in a mental journey where we are asked to walk down into a garden and meet ourselves – a kind of hypnosis exercise. When we emerge afterwards we are asked to re-tell our journey in front of the group, describing what we saw and what we felt.
Stockholm – Day 3
Sondos describes for us the dynamics of story telling research, the comfort zone, the stretching zone and the panic zone. It is good to be aware on where you are according to the different zones and if you need to back down at any point .
We are continuing our eye contact exercises. We get eye contact with someone and try to interpret what we read from each other’s eyes. We then do a movement to describe this interpretation. We speak about if we could recognize the other’s interpretations or if we felt that we did not communicate.
We do a free falling exercise.
We recreate the small stage and we are all asked to go on stage one by one and do the eye contact and then do something that we consider embarrassing.
We continue with an improvising exercise that we will explore continuously from this point.
The improvisation is done on stage in front of the group, by two people. One person can speak freely, the other person have just one line to say over and over, we start with the sentence “Give me the chair”. It is important to not plan ahead and to be attentive to your partner and act according to action-reaction. We all get to do this exercise. Then we are asked to describe the emotion that emerged from us doing this exercise and to pair up and share with each other a story that describes the feeling.
Each couple choose one story to act out on stage as a scene, a re-enactment of a situation that happened.
The second time we do the improvise with the oneliner “please don’t go” (and the other one can speak freely as before). Afterwards we pair up again, share a story and choose to re-enact a situation.
The stories that emerges, both in the improvisations and in the re-enactments are often very strong emotional stories about relations, abandonment, break ups, sadness, anger and we are speaking continuously about what we relate to, what emotions that emerge and how we connect to a specific story.
Some main points that are important doing these exercises: Eye contact between improvisers and with the audience – even though you are searching inside yourself you have to turn outwards, when someone is sharing you should show empathy but not comfort if you are not asked to, remember that it is the mistakes that makes it interesting – no one is interested in a story about someone perfect.
Stockholm – Day 4
We continue the improvisation exercise with one sentence. This time the sentence is “please go”. It emerges again other kinds of emotions. It is also obvious how small the literal meaning of the word become, it is what you communicate emotionally that is important, and the power relationship that is acted out.
When you stage a story it is crucial how you choose to do the blocking (that is staging such as movement, postures, props). The big difference between storytelling and acting is that you don’t re-create the exact same scenario everytime you perform. You have to pay close attention to the emotions emerging and go with the impulses they give you. You have to resist the urge to dramatize and smooth up the story. The conflict of showing or doing, to embrace the moment and to not think ahead.
We pair up and share a story, we then choose a story to re-enact in front of the group. As we have done every time, we share with each other the emotions emerging during the exercise and what we can relate to in each other’s stories.
We wrap up the day by preparing for our fifth and last day that will consist of a public space experiment. We will meet up at the infamous “gay-ring” at the Central Station and there we will start to collect stories – we will approach people and ask them to tell story – the themes are fear of death and/or shame.
Stockholm – Day 5
The group meet at the Central Station. After a quick gathering, we start to walk around in the area, approaching people, trying to find a way to introduce ourselves without being threatening and ways to make them think of a story. We as story-finders have to be very active in the conversation with a possible story-giver, usually you have to start by telling them a story to then be able to emerge emotions in them that they can relate to and that can stimulate their memories.
It is a very exciting experiment, and a lot of small and big encounters are taking place. The striking thing with an open public space like the Central Station is that all kinds of people are passing by or hanging out there – it becomes an illustration of the Swedish society.
After a couple of hours we go back into our rehearsal space. Each one has chosen a story to re-enact. We act the stories like we are the original storyteller also thinking about emotions, postures, voice and movements. Some stories are very moving, maybe most of all the story from a young refugee boy – whose story was a perfect example of the notion that it is sometimes what you do not say that is the true story. If someone experienced so much fear that he cannot point out a specific moment, we can only imagine.
Standing as a collection of stories, it became obvious, that we are giving voice to people that do not get their voice heard in society. Young people, old people, refugees, immigrants and so on. We documented all the stories and we will make a movie with the story about the experiment and what the result of the experiment was and put the movie on our web-page and web-channel for continued discussion.
In Egypt story telling clearly has political dimensions to it, since it is a society filled with taboos, oppression and censorship. And even though the context in Sweden is different, we could clearly notice possible political dimensions even here – our tool that is art and theatre has a great advantage in the way we can speak about something through telling stories and from that raise emotions and empathy. And empathy and the lack of empathy in Swedish politics and society is worth pointing out.