Reflections on Donna Jacobs Sife's Workshops

I just wanted to note here some of the things I learned from attending two workshops given by Donna Jacobs Sife in April.

Firstly it was the importance or at least the benefit of finding my own purpose for telling any particular tale. As storytellers we know that we must have a connection to the stories we tell, but it is less obvious (at least to me) WHY we tell the stories we do. When creating a performance or thinking about what stories to tell at any particular event I usually think about who my audience is and what stories usually speak to that sort of audience but rarely do I have a conscious purpose for my telling. I will have now!

In Donna's workshop I found that having a 'purpose' for my presence or inclusion in a program gives me a context for structuring and selecting what stories to tell that goes so much deeper than simply the expected age or make-up of the audience. This purpose does not necessarily need to be the same as the reason I was asked to tell, of course. The purpose I'm talking about is my personal purpose for selecting the stories I do.

When Donna tells she weaves personal anecdotes and stories with traditional tales. It is clear that the personal draws in the audience and transforms the telling into a sharing rather than a performance. I'm a big fan of performance and I think the skills of a performer are incredibly important for storytellers but I also believe that good storytelling goes beyond entertainment and nourishes and teaches in ways that performance alone cannot do. So in order to find a personal purpose for my telling I thought I'd ask myself the following questions:

  • What do I care about?

  • What do I want to strengthen?

  • What do I want to share?

I think these will help me find my purpose which will in tern allow me to shape an integrated performance. A story is a gift and these questions will help me find my own personal anecdotes that fit a gift that I both value and desire to give. :-)

There are two more things that came out of the workshop about the personal anecdotes, that I'd like to mention; The first is the importance for the personal story to be finished. As mentioned a story is a gift and if one is not comfortable in their personal story, if there is still some confusion around it or it is unsettled in some way – don't tell it. Well, don't tell it as a performance at least. It is very important to share our stories as part of the healing process but we must remember that if the story is not healed then we are not giving to the audience when we tell it; they are giving to us.

The second point is simply to mention the beautiful connection between the macrocosm and the microcosm, the traditional story containing universal truths and the personal story displaying and confirming these truths. There is a lot of potency in weaving these two together, and they can be placed nicely into breathing rhythms through a performance.

Moving away from the personal & purpose of a story to technique, I've got down in my notes “Cyclic Story”. Donna was saying that she likes her performances and personal stories to start and finish in the same place. I'm sure it's not hard find this archetype reflected often, for it is an archetype, and I think it gives a tale/performance/session an intuitive connection to self development and our life journeys. I really like this subtle connection and will try to use it in my own programs.

Another nice aspect to put in a program is to have a thread, usually related to the purpose, running throughout the session. When I saw Donna perform the first thing that struck me was how her stories seamlessly flowed from one to another. In this workshop she showed us that with an overall guiding purpose and an awareness of what we are actually trying to impart, it is really quite easy to find segues from one to another. Some possible tools to use as segues are:

  • Songs / Music

  • Personal memories / anecdotes

  • Dreams

  • Proverbs (the seeds of wisdom tales)

  • Poems (distilled stories)

  • Images (can show the audience and point out or ask about some aspect)

  • Questions (can ask the audience when they have... or have they ever...)

It is useful to convey the purpose or points multiple times like in academic essays where you restate the main points in each of the into, body and conclusion. – I was given the following mnemonic by a great professor in my first year of uni: Imagine a tough cow boy from a western saying "First I tells 'em what I'm gonna tell them, then I tells 'em it, then I tells 'em what I told them." :-) In this way you warm your audience up to receive the message you're trying to impart.

Lastly I'd like to just mention a couple of points about healing stories that I'd like to remember. As I said above, a story must be finished before it can be gifted to an audience, but this in no way detracts from the healing value of working with stories that are unfinished and bringing them closer to conclusion. There are three points that I have down in my notes: firstly people need to tell their story; Not necessarily all at once, perhaps in metaphor, perhaps not even their story but one that speaks to them in some way. To heal one needs to engage with their own story so that they can start to take charge of it rather than their story being in charge of them. Once a person can accept their story they can begin to heal it.

An excellent tool to finding one's story and accepting it is the simple question, “When did you stop dancing your dance, singing your song and telling your story?”. This is an excellent question because it cuts to the heart of trauma. When did the person's story go awry, and what prevented them from being able to direct it back towards their destiny?

Often a person's story is quite long and has many episodes. Donna pointed out the value of helping people find the 'core' of their story, and helped us practice it with a story we had chosen. The core of a story is usually just a moment or a single element that like a hologram contains the whole within it. The story I chose was already very short being only two minutes long but even a very short one has a core, and for me the core was the tears that spoke wisdom and truth. When you find the core of a story it sparks off a recognition of other stories that also contain the same seed, and hence helps both to build a potent performance and to heal by noticing that other stories are connected to our own and we are not alone.



Thank you Jesse. You have

Thank you Jesse.

You have reminded me of some of the things I too learned from Donna. It is nourishing to hear reflections on process and development of stories from others. Have fun in Darwin. Gael Cresp

 Thanks Jesse.  I have

 Thanks Jesse. 

I have enjoyed reading your article. I particularly like the idea of the macrocosm and microcosm - you have given me two new concepts to shape my thoughts. I also like the notion of the 'cyclic' story. I'm interested in 'story shapes' as I call them. Being a highly visual person - 'see' the architecture of tales very clearly. The story may be a long and literary or short snappy and spoken but to me they all have a shape. Have a wonderful time in Darwin. Jackie Kerin (Vic)