“You need to stay faithful to your story, but you need to tell it on your own terms.” – Charles Kiernan
If you haven’t visited Godfrey Daniels–our folky, eclectic, fiercely independent 4th Street neighbor–find a way to get there. I realized I hadn’t been inside since my arts-focused pre-orientation program before my freshman year at Lehigh. Godfrey Daniels has a way of fading into the 4th Street architecture, but I bet there’s something for you there, even if you’re not deeply interested in folk music. I found my way back there to visit the Lehigh Valley Storytelling Guild, the group that hosts a Story Circle every month.
Acoustic instruments line the walls: here a harp, there a guitar, there a ukelele. Old church pews surround the perimeter and quirky figurines sit atop the shelves. It may sound chaotic, but there is an order to it all. Yes, the posters are carefully positioned, the carpets catch the color of the tables, the wood paneling on the wall behind the stage swirls into a symmetrical design.
Godfrey Daniels. On Wednesday, at the Story Circle, there is an agenda. We tell our stories “round robin style” and then we critique the stories of those who consent to it.
One man begins his story with a visual reference, a grown up show and tell. He passes around a black and white photo of a boy playing piano and says “that’s me. I’m going to tell a story about me at age 12.” We all know about light dimmers, he says, but they used to be like this. We know about Hawaiian Punch, he says, but it used to come in a can like this. Do you remember?
A woman steps on the stage and tells us she is going to present an ancient myth she has memorized, but she needs our help. The myth is about rain, and she has decided to embellish it with an interactive activity she saw on America’s Got Talent. So, we help her create rain. We begin by rubbing our hands together, soon enough we’re snapping fat raindrops, we’re slapping our legs to create torrential downpour, stomping out booms of thunder, and as we slow it all down and the room becomes quiet, we appreciate the silence so much more.
Other storytellers share stories and poems they crafted themselves. They invent, and work in the details that they think will help us imagine and feel for their characters. I begin to really understand that these are observers, people who look into things, who inquire. They do their research; they know each other’s references; they are always looking for something new to share.
After a break, it’s time for critique. One woman wants to know if her poem was boring, all it’s about is appreciating the birds outside of her house. She does not realize how beautiful her ruminations on the everyday are. By this point, I’ve joined in, and we try to tell her that the simplicity of her inspiration is one of the poem’s profound strengths.
The storytellers plan the critiquing session to accommodate tangents. I suppose this is true in some way of the entire organization itself. It is a place that holds sacred those moments of sharing that have little “practical” benefit, but mean everything for what Charles Kiernan calls “community building.”
Our rain-making storyteller, Denise McCormack, will return to Godfrey Daniels on September 12th to present a form of storytelling called fringe telling.
*Feature image provided by Godfrey Daniels*