What follows is an excerpt of a February 2008 article written by The Insights & Revelations Performance Series producer, Anna Becker for The Examiner of Pleasantville. Included are interviews with James Braly and Martin Dockery, both of whom are established storytellers that will be appearing in The Liar Show on November 19th.
Exploring the Arts Off the Beaten Path
YOUR STORY OR YOUR LIFE
By Anna Becker
I am currently in the trenches, producing solo shows by two of New York’s finest storytellers. One is Life In A Marital Institution (20 years of monogamy in one terrifying hour) in which James Braly tells tales from the home front about married life, and the other is Wanderlust, where Martin Dockery leaves home to backpack through West Africa. I believe the attraction to storytelling – for audiences and for me – has a lot to do with our current screen-induced hypnotic state. Being in the room with a live person telling a story about their lives provides, believe it or not, an even stronger rush than bowling on the wii.
<form class="at-page-break"></form>But why would someone choose to publicly bare themselves in this way? There is no character to hide behind, or other actors to blend in with; they stand alone, telling their stories, stripping away every socially artificial layer to connect to us. I asked James and Martin to talk about their creative drive and, like the two shows themselves, found their answers to be vastly different but uniquely compelling.
AB: James, you once mentioned to me the concept of telling your story so you can live your life – can you elaborate on that?
James: This suggests another question: As a troubled-life-management strategy, what is the difference between autobiographical storytelling and psychotherapy? The answer is, in therapy, you can be a victim: “She STILL won’t do the dishes!” Because you are paying someone to listen. Versus storytelling: “I married a woman who I knew would constantly irritate me by refusing to do the dishes.” In storytelling, you’re a protagonist, a chooser, therefore much stronger. By recasting your life as a series of events that you choose to participate in, you see why you need your life, what you’re getting from it - which makes you want to live it, or change it.
AB: Martin, when did you start writing and telling your stories and why?
Martin: A good portion of my childhood was spent in deep space. I’d employ Star Wars figures to act out my own Star Trek episodes, which, while slightly confusing character-wise (Chewbacca playing Spock), allowed me to perform a wealth of truly cosmic tales. After getting an MFA in playwriting from Columbia, I began to feel like the plays I wrote were an unnecessary intermediary between the audience and the stories I was trying to tell. So I got on stage and told them myself, directly, in my own voice. What I’ve found is that speaking honestly and passionately, with an appreciation for life’s absurdities, creates an incredible dynamic within a room, allowing for anything to happen, for the night itself to become a story.
AB: Why tell your stories instead of publish them? What happens because you are telling your story live?
Martin: When you’re performing a story, you’re really engaging in a sort of dialogue with the audience. They’ll let you know whether they’re with you or not, whether they’re laughing or shifting in their chairs. A spoken story has present tense energy, unlike typeface which is bound to a page. A written story will wait for you; it can be picked up and put down. When a story is told aloud, though, it’s a real-time exchange… there’s no intermediary between the person who’s lived the story, and the person experiencing the telling of the story. There’s intimacy, and as such, electricity.
James: Originally, I had planned to use performing as a developmental tool to prepare my stories for publication. I found that performing in front of a live audience strengthened what Hemingway called a writer’s most important asset: a 100% shock-proof b.s. detector. You can hide on a page in a way you can’t on stage. The more I performed, the more I realized that spoken language and written language diverge in significant ways, and that I had to choose. I chose the stage. The irony being, that shortly after I made that choice, a literary agent saw me perform and sold my show as a book.
AB: Martin, why did you choose, as your first full-length solo venture, to tell your story about your trek across the Sahara?
Martin: Well, the trip itself is about the search for a story. It’s about how, after a decade of temping in New York, both in work and relationships, I realized that life wasn’t going to happen, it was happening. So I went to Africa, to the Sahara, to Timbuktu (a place whose very name connotes distance) with the notion that if I went far enough, I should have to find purpose along the way. Something that might suggest there is a larger story at work. It’s the story I believe we’re all hoping to find ourselves a part of. The details will be different, but the search for meaning is universal.
Speaking as someone who was both entertained and deeply moved by both of these shows long before I decided to produce them, I am glad that James and Martin have as strong a need to tell their stories as I have to hear them.
photo credits: James Braly photo by Jaisen Crockett, Martin Dockery photo by Alan Haywood