Rules of the Story Circle

This post was written by 5HE hornist Matt Monroe.  Matt was one of our Story Circle Workshop leaders last week at all three park locations.  In this post, Matt gives a little insight into the Story Circle process.  I particularly like rule number 2!  In the photo below, Matt is telling his story at Washington Park.  

Last week we at Fifth House embarked on the story gathering phase of this season's exciting project, Caught. We met with neighbors of all ages from the communities around Washington Park, Humboldt Park, and Austin Town Hall to hear their personal stories and experiences.

Fifth House presented some verbal and musical prompts to get the ball rolling on a particular topic, and then we all took turns sharing around what we call the "story circle". The outcome was a fascinating and collaborative exchange that gave us all a fun opportunity for creative expression.

So a few of the story circle rules:

1) Only the person sharing at a given moment can speak. This seems straightforward enough, but when you're hearing engaging stories that remind you of your own experiences it can be challenging to keep it inside!

2) The story you tell should be spontaneous and related to the music and stories you've heard from others. This is very much at the core of what we do in 5HE. Playing chamber music is a constant process of reacting to others and working to create a collaborative narrative. Whether we're working with actors, dancers, mimes, or storytellers in our community, we feed off each other to tell a new tale every time.

3) You can pass. We will come back to you, and we understand that we all get "speaker's-block" now and then!

Our first prompt asked for a story relating to animals, and we played a Haydn excerpt from a piece that will be included in Caught: The Woods. It was a good way for us all to get used to each other and talk about something interesting, while not feeling too vulnerable.

The next round of stories were about a time you were stuck somewhere you didn't want to be. The music for this was a newer work by local composer John Elmquist and a had an appropriately agitated feel. This prompt tapped into our emotions -- specifically fear -- and forced us to get more personal. As storytellers we all became more animated and lost ourselves in our own memories, adding a completely new dimension to the circle.

It was amazing to witness the performers in all of us. Some of us are quiet, some don't like to speak in public, some don't think we're creative, but we all were able to get out of our comfort zones and put on a show for total strangers. Thanks to all of you who came out and inspired us with your stories!