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They Had Me at … “Once Upon a Time”: Resilience Stories and Theatre Evenings

by Pamela Boyce Simms

“Once Upon a Time,” is a phrase that triggers an immediate emotional connection with our fellow human beings. Storytellers participating in the first round of the Transition movement’s Resilience Stories & Theater evenings in Kingston and Dobbs Ferry during Earth Week, April 21-27, shared personal experiences of victory and overcoming. They drew strength from reflection on their journeys as they inspired and were reciprocally affirmed by the audience.
Photo by Jim Peppler.

In Kingston, a Resilience Stories audience crouched beside Woodstock storyteller Peter Blum in his waterlogged canoe as he recounted a harrowing experience of paddling his children to safety against opposing currents in pelting rain. Friends and neighbors were riveted as John Aigner recounted the story of victoriously powering through eight career changes, three marriages, multiple relocations, health battles and a near death experience during an evening of Resilience Stories at Dobbs Ferry. Storyteller experiences were further deepened and universalized for all who were present as seasoned players of the Hudson River Playback [Improv] Theater interpretively acted out each story.

Resilience Stories audiences left the storytelling, potluck dinners subtly but profoundly transformed in both small and sweeping ways. The bond that formed in a short space of time through effortless, thoroughly entertaining, yet deep sharing was palpable and it radiated from the faces of participants as they exited the performance space.
The goal of Resilience Stories, a collaborative partnership between the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub’s (MATH) Resilient Response to Extreme Weather Group, and The Hudson River Playback Theater, is to generate robust individual and community resilience, defined as the ability to successfully withstand and rebound after a shock to the system. Professional storytellers, and improvisational actors hold an intimate and nurturing space for participant-storytellers’ sharing in service to the community. Story can be the still, calm, comforting eye of oncoming storms.   
The storytellers among us are invited to prepare and share “water-related” resilience stories during Round Two of Resilience Stories, which will take place in New Paltz and the NY Capital District from July 1-3. Submit stories and request information at resiliencestories.net.
Storytelling whisks us down the proverbial rabbit hole into other worlds that captivate, thrill, heals us, and can provide a safe place for self-expression in uncertain times when accelerated climate change more frequently disrupts our lives. We spontaneously enter into relationship with the characters with whom we identify. Story helps us understand and absorb the trauma of disruptive shocks in healthy ways. Although we cannot erase the history of the shock, story supports us to wring the painful emotion out of the experience so that it ceases to surface in our lives and relationships in ways that don’t serve us. Telling our stories, confiding in others, provides a refreshing sense of relief and control amidst chronic uncertainty.
We can victoriously weather the shocks and disruptions of climate change in whatever form they take if we do so in supportive community. The Resilience Stories storytelling platform creates a safe ongoing forum for transformative public self-expression and community-building.
How does the Resilience Stories process work?
1. There are three storytelling rounds per year. Participant storytellers may take part in all three rounds.
2. Storytelling events take place in intimate, café, salon, venues throughout New York State to facilitate geographic accessibility for all.
3. Participant storytellers submit a story summary or complete story from personal experience that addresses Storytelling Prompts. The prompt for the upcoming storytelling round is: “Share a water-related story of overcoming, victory and resilience.” The story does NOT have to be extreme weather related.
4. Stories are reviewed by a team of NYS storytellers. (ALL stories will be shared publicly in some way.)
5. A group of participant “performance” storytellers are invited to interview with the professional storytelling team.
6. A group of participant storytellers are selected for café presentations and mentoring by professional storytellers.
7. Professional and performance storytellers meet in person or via phone conversations to edit and polish stories and practice storytelling.
8. Remaining stories will be made available online at the “Resilience Stories” site, via podcast, pdf file, and/or e-book.
9. Participant “performance” storytellers recount their stories publicly in five-seven minutes during “Storytelling Week.” Stories are recounted from memory without the use of cards or notes. The next storytelling round will take place from July 1-3.
10. Storytelling Theater Evenings include a potluck dinner with discussion, storytelling and an improvisational theater performance.  
Together we will collectively vision, generate and organically disseminate a new cultural narrative of resilience.
Story submission and information: resiliencestorytelling@gmail.com, resiliencestories.net.

Pamela Boyce Simms is a Transition Trainer, Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub (MATH) of Transition US.