The power of stories and storytelling connects us deeply and stays with us.
As I write this article, I’m working as part of an artistic team on a collaborative story based project called South County Stories with the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Centre, a performing arts centre located where I reside in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in the United States. For the past few months, after being trained by representatives from Cornerstone Theatre Company who are based in California, the artistic team has been holding story circles with various community organisations. Playwrights then crafted those stories into four short plays and I am now co-directing those plays with a mix of professional and community actors. The evening will be presented in a week to the general public for free.
The inspiration behind making this project happen was based in the power of stories to bring community together. Beryl Jolly, the Artistic Director of the Mahaiwe, has long been inspired by the community based theatre-making model of Cornerstone Theatre and, thanks to some grants the Mahaiwe was awarded, she was able to launch this local project modelled after their work. Her goal is that the story circles and play evenings will continue and that the power of telling our community stories in this way will bring people together in new ways.
All of us on the creative team of this project have certainly experienced the power of the stories. From the wonderful anecdotes that come out of the Cornerstone story circle prompt of “Tell us your name and something about your name”, to the opportunity to hear senior citizens tell stories of when they used to come to the Mahaiwe to watch movies and make out in the balcony, to the stories of the teachers in our local elementary school speaking of their most challenging and rewarding students, we have all been continually drawn into each story which has immediately bonded us to each other in a new and more empathetic way.