Tell, Don’t Show

by August Schulenburg

in The Haps

Show, Don’t Tell is one of the older adages of storytelling, which is perhaps an odd thing considering it’s  not called storyshowing. And lately, some artists are exploring the edges of show don’t tell in interesting ways.

Lawrence Wright’s The Human Scale at New York’s Public Theatre expanded on his New Yorker essay on the Gaza crisis, and had some (admiring) critics wondering if it counted as theatre. Clay McLeod Chapman’s recent show Amber Alert continued to add stories – and acclaim – to his evolving collection of staged stories, the Pumpkin Pie Show.

The interest goes beyond documentary theatre and classic storytelling into the audience itself. Pittsburgh’s August Wilson Center is collaborating with M.U.G.A.B.E.E. to host a series of story circles with black men for UPRISE: RAISING BLACK MEN, culminating in a full production at the Center. David J. Loehr of Indiana’s Rivverun Theatre has created a community circle style of story sharing called 360 Storytelling that has spread throughout the 2AMT theatre community. And New York’s Kinesis Project is gathering local stories to transform into dance for their Mapping Home project.

Of course, gathering local stories to share with the community they sprung from has a long history, perhaps most notably in the work of Jo Carson. But with the recent success of simply staged docudramas like Aftermath and the national celebration of The Laramie Project’s 10 Year Anniversary, has the simplicity of storytelling reached a critical mass? And is that momentum linked to a return to the social local, a hunger for stripped down authenticity, as prophesied by upcoming Fall Forum speaker Robbie Blinkoff?