Storytelling.....It's an art.
Brian Finch on storytelling while being out as an HIV-positive comic
Storytelling is something I discovered once I got into stand up. I had no idea that such a thing existed or I would have done it a long time ago.
Most people don’t know what it means, but it’s quite simple - people tell stories. However these are polished stories that require a great deal of thought and work in order to be good stories.
I had seen a poster for an organization saying they were having a storytelling night with positive speakers. But that was about experiential sharing, not well thought out crafted stories with a begining, middle and end. There are no characters, structure, comedy, drama, etc. that exist in conventional story telling.
This is why I love storytelling. I can safely say after I took Sage Trytle’s storytelling workshop a few weeks ago that storytelling is far more work than stand up in terms of crafting and learning.
The work pays off when a story is essentially a sad one, such as the Remembrance Day story I performed at Caplansky’s. It started off serious, then turned very funny as I talked about my family, but I brought it all together again to the point that when I finished there was silence and a number of teary eyes.
I’ve told the story about getting into public speaking, which meant I had to talk about being HIV-positive as it’s directly connected. I did this in a Jewish Deli.
The best part is there is a community of performers and I’ve been able to get to know, make friends and work with incredible people. I’ve made many acquaintances, and even more friends. It’s an amazing community. I’m completely out about being positive and nobody is treating me any differently
I had only started performing last January and I’m still pinching myself at times. Last month was the first event of a storytelling show called “Tales of….” I’m co-producing. When we first starting talking about it, we made a “dream list” of performers, and we have managed to get my top three in the first three shows. We took the attitude “If we don’t ask, it will never happen.”
Storytelling for me is very therapeutic. It requires a lot of thought to be done well. Every word has to count. My hope is that once I get more experience that I can design a workshop for HIV-positive folks who would take on a more creative and performer-based kind of story telling and not, “I was diagnosed in 1987, and I was really shocked.”
In the summer of 1987, Phil, my first and only best friend I’d ever had passed away. He was the first person I knew to find out he had AIDS. He was the kind of friend that I could call up at anytime and with only a few words whatever might have been weighing me down was gone.
I’d maybe do a story about being diagnosed pulling back further in time working up to it.
I’d start, maybe, with . . .
Once we dressed up for coronation together in such bad drag. (In the drag Monarchy, a drag queen is voted in as Empress, and usually a leather guy is Emperor, and they fundraise throughout the year.) One of our group went out with visible chest hair, bad drag and called himself Yolanda Douchebag, The B.C. Tel operator, as they were known for their terrible customer service. (I'd provide a detailed description of him and how they all went bowling in negligees).
The body of the story would then work up around the time of diagnosis and what was going on in my life. To conclude I’d bring back my friend Phil and the various aspects of the story together for the conclusion.
It can be very funny in the middle, but then become more serious as the story goes on.
It’s the details and laying of different textures to the story that makes it funny and powerful.
If any of this sounds interesting to you, then come out to my show at The Rustic Owl this Dec 10. We have the legendary Sandra Shamas, and other equally talented performers. I will be hosting.
If you can’t make that, our next show is January 14th featuring the fabulous Scott Thompson.