Thanks to the Staged Stories program at The Wallis, eleven disparate people with a wide spectrum of life experience under their belts, came together willing to take a risk and share intimate stories.
Great storytellers know “there is a story in every life.” Learning how to find it, nourish it through the written word, and verbally share, it was the reason we met every week under the guidance of Debra Pasquerette — Manager of Community Engagement for the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.
As part of GROW @ The Wallis Debra created this program, believing that there’s untold worth in a life-well-lived. That experiences need to be shared; especially by those still living it. We willingly turned ourselves over to Debra’s creative excellence as a director, a writer, and a performer … to nurture us out of our comfort zones. Each week brought us closer and closer to the professional level of discovering moments — those hidden gems in our lives reflecting the human condition on a very personal level — and readying them for performance. Two very separate arts in the world of theatre.
No matter what our professional backgrounds, this was an immersing creative endeavor like none other. With Debra’s compassionate but firm hand, collectively we learned how to find experiences we might never have acknowledged. We then diligently honed them with the written word — and were actively preparing to translate our stories to an audience through performance.
After nine weeks we “fellow storytellers” shared the bond of being in that room and locking the rest of the world out for a few hours. We trusted each other; so we took risks. We went for the moments, then reviewed, and applauded each other. And after the performance night scheduled for the next week, we probably would have gotten together periodically with Debra going forward. But a new journey was ahead.
By the end of class on the ninth week, we knew the world was about to change drastically. The next day, The Wallis temporarily locked its doors … and each day thereafter, the rest of the country followed.
As this twilight zone progressed rapidly throughout the world, Debra received wholehearted approval from The Wallis to continue holding our classes online. So the next week, on the day we would have had our performance (thus ending our classes), we held our first creative session face-to-face. Literally, we are all now face-to-face.
Because of the marvel of technology and innovation, in a world where humans are living isolated, with little control over anything … emotionally we begin to become more invested in each other.
This online process immediately “churns-up” something very human inside us — and slowly we feel ourselves awaking from a fog. United on screen — looking into the eyes of each person as if physically one-on-one — we listen intently without distractions. In the few hours of unconditional trust and creative digging … we’re away from the vibrations and atmosphere of a historic world-wide experience nobody wanted.
Adjusting ourselves to the continual droning updates regarding our family, our friends, our livelihood, our neighborhood, city, state, county, and world … has become our addition and the new normal. However, once a week online we’re concerned only with each other as we share the process of writing about the moments in our lives that comprise the total of what we are.
Because we are so close visually, opportunities open for additional comments; small moments of added insight flow easily that might not have even been spoken at our usual conference table. Each speaker gets our focus and attention no matter what they’re saying … while facial expressions, and even the individual voices this close, enhance our communication.
Accelerated by the circumstances, the knowledge of one another is deepening. We take time to discuss and write about the experiences that are shaping our lives right now — but that doesn’t override everything else. And each week, the writing that emerges from within this confine is propelling us forward at a new level.
Debra has taught us to go for the smallest moments and build from there. Through her, remarkably we’ve found that our “moment” may be the germ of a larger story — but yet, a story unto itself. Reaching for those moments and putting them to paper now seems more important. Maybe it’s for our legacy, maybe it’s for a world gone silent.
We are protected here; but there is discipline: We discuss so we can write; we write so we can physically communicate. We communicate so we can live.
By the end of “class,” we’ve listened, we’ve learned, we’ve talked, and we’ve written . . . we’ve physically done something that matters.
We end the class. A presence of accomplishment is felt as we sign-off and close the computer. We go on with our day in a strange way “content” — willing to face the next challenge in whatever way we can.
DIANE ROBISON is an independent producer and writer whose family — now and always — is truly the “wind beneath her wings.” She is blessed to be active in what has been a very diverse career; and considers the The Wallis Staged Stories program an experience that has enhance her growth on every level.