In a recent episode of episode of Collaboratory Conversations, we heard from the Artistic Director of Gen S Stories, Jenni Savigny and her collaborator Stephen Corey, as they shared their experiences supporting non-professional storytellers to create personal digital stories as a form of community development and living social history.
While Jenni and Stephen covered a lot of ground in that episode, there was plenty more to explore. So, we invited Jenni to write a blog post about her method of safe storytelling.
I run a tight ship. So says Stephen Corey, my trusty partner in the digital storytelling classroom. Yes, it’s true, and his observation prompts me to muse on the paradox of being ‘tight’ whilst wanting people to be creatively ‘loose’. Let me expand. A ‘tight ship’ is a safe ship where people can relax, make mistakes, take risks, be themselves and feel free from judgement.
My safe storytelling practice started about twenty years ago. I was working on a community theatre project for schools about body image and self-esteem and studying a coursework master’s degree. The principle of ‘do no harm’ came from a literature review about eating disorder prevention programs. I worked in mental health promotion and a short while later came across similar ideas in relation to the portrayal and reporting of suicide (now known as the Mindframe Guidelines). My practice is organic; the people and communities I’ve worked with in digital storytelling over the last ten years have taught me so much about how to be careful with stories.
Here are some details of my practice that I didn’t mention in the podcast. My safe storytelling starts way before the workshops commence. I hold an information session for prospective participants about a fortnight beforehand. It’s my chance to meet people and for people to meet each other. They go home with a copy of the licence they need to sign, a timeline of the six workshops and what we’ll be doing in each one, and a ‘charter’ of what to expect. Happy to share a sample charter. My aim is that people leave fully informed about the adventure they’re about to undertake. Digital storytelling is not for everyone and I’m giving people a chance to say ‘not for me’ beforehand. Once we’ve set sail I’m aiming for zero surprises, zero dropping out. With very few exceptions, this strategy works.
‘Parameters’, says Stephen Corey. People know what they are before they turn up at the first workshop – and then there are more. I’ve learned to start with the slow and careful negotiation of a safety agreement with the group. Stephen writes it on the whiteboard, I turn it into a handout, we can revisit it at any time during the six workshops.
The story circle. ‘Do people find that scary?’ asks Maya. It come at the end of the first workshop, and I want to emphasize that it comes at the end of a slow and careful process. Yes, I need to navigate my ‘safe ship’ carefully, but by then I’ve done the prep.
What I also didn’t mention in the podcast is that people take home course notes that include a section ‘Telling Your Story: Is it Safe?’. It’s our best wisdom about telling stories that may involve something traumatic, taking care of yourself and your audience, minding your language and cultural respect.
Many thanks to Maya and the Collaboratory team and I hope their work inspires a great flourishing of collaborative arts.
To hear more from Jenni Savigny, and her collaborator Stephen Corey, on safe storytelling, digital stories, and their co-creative practice, be sure to check out their episode of Collaboratory, “A Conversation with Jenni Savigny & Stephen Corey: Digital Storytelling”.