Monday, August 13, 2012

Ran across this on a blog talking about solo performance:

The other thing about this article that struck me is how as solo performers we may self-cannibalize our material (think Mike Daisey referencing his Maine childhood in every piece...). As solo performers this can happen easily, since we often draw on personal stories for our content. The troubles of Jonah Lehrer, whatever you may think of his situation, serve as a sort of cautionary tale.

I disagree. Strongly.

In classic tech parlance, this is a feature of storytelling—not a bug.

It can be hard when the dominant tropes of our time are journalism in all its forms, but storytelling is supposed to tell and retell stories—which is the proper term for it, as opposed to "self-plagarization" or "self-cannibalism" or any other hideous phrases that come laden with shame, judgment, and finger-wagging.

When I bring up Maine in my pieces, it isn't an accident or a terrible flaw that I'm mysteriously unaware of—it's a choice. It's a musical phrase that gets repeated, with different light casting across it in different directions. I have told the same story from my life in three or four different pieces, some only performed once, and in each case the story is totally different, depending on context, what elements are shaded and heightened, what is told and untold.

Stories aren't a limited resource that need to be conserved. That path leads to psychic hoarding, and the sick idea that our lives are "material". Our lives are life itself, and we retell stories every day. If there's anything that requires a cautionary tale in solo performance, it's the idea that we will run out of stories. That idea is incredibly dangerous, because it cuts us off from our roots.

Repeating a story in new ways, resaying a line from a past show, using something that resonates again and again should be weighed on the same scales that those "crimes" are weighed in the arena of jazz…namely, that they aren't crimes at all, and the idea that they are is so ludicrous that you'd laugh someone out of the room for bringing it up.

The real crime for storytelling is to fail our imaginations. And any orthodoxy—including one where one is beholden to not "using up" stories, or unnaturally fears running out of "material"—is the real enemy of great storytelling.