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      STORYTELLING IS HARD by Sarah Rice Duterte

      b 1 1021Theater is about stories. It’s about telling and showing them well and collaboratively. I originally had a blog post brewing all about a 1990s kids PBS show, but I can’t honestly write any more of it. Halfway through writing it, our nation’s Capitol was successfully attacked by our own citizens.  After many hours of stunned non-productivity, I, instead, began thinking about storytelling. 

      I promised to submit my blog post by today (January 7), and not mentioning the January 6 riots/insurrection/attack feels like it would be complicit silence. For me, writing what I was originally going to write, like everything is normal, would feed into a story that is simply untrue. None of this is normal. 

       

      I parent four kids, and as such it has always been my job to help them frame the world around them. I’m essentially a storyteller. The facts and framing I give them hopefully prepares them to successfully interact with the world. As their “storyteller” I have to choose not just what to tell them when, but also, how to tell them. I am sure there are many adults who can relate to the challenges of telling my kids the story of a world-wide pandemic, and now, an attack on our Capitol. I struggle every time there is a hard story to tell. How do I give them this information without hurting or scaring or traumatizing them? How do I help them frame their very different reality of this past year without simply depressing them? How do I tell them the truth while still protecting them?

       

      That’s the thing about stories: how they are told is often as important as what is told.

       

      In the aftermath of the events at the Capitol on January 6, I watched as various news organizations, pundits, and politicians chose their words to describe what happened. For some it was, “insurrection,” and  “domestic terrorists,” or sometimes only “protesters,” or worse, “patriots.” President-elect Biden, in addressing the American people when announcing nominations for the incoming Justice Department on January 7, chided those using “protesters” to describe the people who attacked the Capitol, because the words we use and the stories we tell matter. The stories we tell ourselves about that day matter. Calling the attackers protesters whitewashes their actions by folding them into a category with peaceful protesters, and the two are not the same.

       

      After it was safe, the House and Senate reconvened into the wee hours of the morning on January 7th to continue with the peaceful transition of power partly to tell a story. Their story was that they would uphold their vow to the Constitution despite a long and traumatic day. The story they were trying to tell was one of strength and endurance. For me, on the day after, the stories flowed in as I read news articles and Twitter threads. They mixed and mingled with older stories. Stories about what our country was, and is, and can be.

      I’m homeschooling my two eldest kids this year, and I’ve used it as an opportunity to find stories untold in curriculums written by white people. The stories we’ve found about what our country has been are hard, but alongside them runs the stories of what our country could be. With every depressing story of relentless overt racism, genocide or slavery, there are stories of resistance too.

       

      For “History” today we sat in a to-scale “eagle’s nest” they’d constructed out of blankets as part of their science studies and snuggled, ready for another predictably-depressing history lesson. First we watched a news report about the January 6 attack. Afterwards we watched some speakers who framed the events within the larger context of our history, and also spoke with hope for the future. We talked. They asked questions. I did my best to tell this hard story. At the end, my son went off to write a letter to the President-elect.

       

      The stories we choose, individually, and as a nation, will change us all as we move forward. When shockingly bad things happen that unite our attention it is in an opportunity to take stock, and to hopefully choose, not easy, comfortable false stories, but the true, hard ones.

       

      [The mission of Hamilton-Gibson Productions is “to provide opportunities for people of all ages to enrich and empower their lives through community performing arts.” We welcome diverse opportunities.]

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