Photo © Estate of Fred W. McDarrah. Used with permission.
From the book by Fred W. McDarrah: New York Scenes
Storytelling is essential to the soul. Theater goes directly to the heart. Stories establish a personal relationship between the teller of the tale and the listener. A play reaches out to the audience intimately and spreads from one person to another to influence the way people think, how we behave, and what we do. Therefore, to engage with the people across from you at a table in a café or in the audience is to use our stories to build relationships and pass on our culture from father to son and mother to daughter, teacher to student, and neighbor to neighbor.
Stories help us to understand the world we live in or to imagine worlds that can’t be. They confirm who we are as human beings: for without storytelling there is no culture. Without the community created by stories, society is dead. Family, history, and identity are lost because they are unexpressed and dissolve into the past or are consciously erased. Words make us whole. Writing makes us real. Stories reveal who we are and who we want to be. This is why the first people who are imprisoned and killed under fascists and dictators are the storytellers, those of us who speak, write, read, and teach.
There is a special kinship in the community of storytellers and story listeners who gather in one place to experience a poem, imagine a story, be part of a performance, or relive the past and foresee the future through a novel. It begins with the delight of anticipation, perhaps over a glass of wine, a cup of tea, or a mug of coffee. Maybe we share a bite to eat at a nearby café, in the theater, or at the library before the stories begin because we desire to enjoy conversation and share the experience.
To gather to discuss a story or a performance is a unique opportunity wherever you are because the power and beauty of words transcend borders and cross cultures. People invite each other into their lives and discover how a play could touch them so deeply and how the playwright or poet is able to know and feel what is in their hearts. I learned this living and teaching in South Korea and Japan, relaying who I was with stories about growing up in New York City. Touring India with my play, To the Death of my Own Family, where life is completely different, the stories we exchanged could not have been more enriching.
Without the community of writers, readers, teachers, students and audiences, family, history, and identity are lost. Free expression is stifled, punished, and ultimately suffocated. Culture dies.
As storytellers, we hope to close the gap between people, so that differences may be shared and understood, and rewarded with friendship. Yet, we must also stand up with complete honesty to confront those who would deprive us of this right that is as natural as birth. We are who we are because of our stories. We are who we are because of our freedom to tell our stories. We validate our lives long after we are gone because our stories remain to carry our words and spirits from one generation to the next and throughout the life of our community of stories.