There are some things you’ll never live through until you relive them with a friend, or maybe a group of cast members.
The gift of hindsight can offer a lot, especially when trying to, perhaps not move on from as much as learning to live with the scars of trauma. There is medicine in retelling your own story, to yourself and others. Because in the end, we can build from our most trying times to create some of our greatest strengths.
That’s just what the ladies who participated in “Dances with Crows Feet,” which ran Sept. 6 to 15 at Presser Arts Center in Mexico, learned.
Lois Brace, Presser’s executive and artistic director, borrowed traditions from the Naturalism movement to weave together the true stories of 10 women learning to live through the struggles of their lives and embrace the wisdom and friendship that comes with sharing their experiences. The ladies help each other relive, work through and gain from their issues, often singing and dancing throughout. Their stories offered glimpses into their lives, from childhood traumas, to the joys and sorrows of motherhood, to the realities of getting older.
Five of the actresses performed their very own stories. Brace asked them to answer 172 questions about themselves before she developed their most telling stories and worked with them to blend it into the play’s narrative, which took about a year to complete.
Brace said many of the women, including herself, found the process therapeutic.
“It’s all about listening, letting them say it all and get it out,” Brace said. “I think that was the part that had been missing in their lives.”
The play begins with the animated film that tells of the Rainbow Crow that carried fire from the sky to bring spring to the world. The flames scorched its colorful wings and burned its throat that once sang beautiful songs, leaving it like the crows we know. Still if you look close enough at one of their feathers, you can see all the colors of the rainbow reflecting back at you, remembering us of the Rainbow Crow’s sacrifice.
Like the crow, we can all bring warmth to the world, but we have to reach out and try to share it. Many people in the audience felt the actress’s fire as they shared their stories of struggle, tragedy and triumph, such as working through childhood trauma, helping a loved one recover from a car crash or dealing with loneliness after a spouse passes away.
Brace said many audience members praised the actresses as if they were pastor’s who had delivered a moving sermon.
“Often times, we will say to the pastor, ‘It was like you were speaking just to me, and I needed that.’ Those are the same words that our audience members said to our actors on the way out the door. They connected, and that’s what it was about — connecting with our community and showing them that drama is impacting, and really reality is better than fiction.”
While members of the audience were moved by the performance, Brace said those involved in the production got the most out of it, because they were learning to rethink the way they viewed themselves within the stories they were telling.
The women who shared their stories and allowed someone else to share them in the play also gained a new perception of themselves by seeing their best characteristics reflected on stage.
Bonnie Kimbel was played by Deborah Teague, and after the show, Brace overheard her tell a group of people that seeing Teague portray her on stage gave her a new self-appreciation.
“That was incredible, because Deb, the actor, now has that reward that not only was she a good actor, but she endeared the real person to herself,” Brace said. “If you can see yourself and not recognize yourself at first but like yourself, that’s amazing.”
Lois also said the reader’s theater style of performance implemented in “Dances with Crows Feet” can be a great way for groups of people to bond and get over their public speaking fears without memorizing lines or building props.
But it doesn’t take a theatrical performance to benefit from telling your own story and sharing it with others. Brace said writing a memoir can be a great way for people to gain a new perspective on their past. Reach out to family and old friends to talk about important events and other times that made an impact in your life and see how they remember you in the situation and if it lines up with your personal views. You could find that there is a lot more to learn about an event than you recall, and the exercise of writing about it offers plenty of time to find more true meanings behind a memory.
“Memoir writing is different than just life stories,” Brace said. “In life stories, we leave behind a biography of what we want people to remember about us, and it’s always good, because we are always the hero of our own stories. In memoir writing, it’s reality, and the realness or what actually happened requires us to get the perspective of others who were there. Sometimes things didn’t always happen the way we remember. Sometimes fact-finding for those stories allows us to see a different perspective, and the effect of that leaves behind a better story.”