I am thoroughly and passionately devoted to story. I love teaching stories so much, that I’m halfway convinced that there’s no other way to teach. Because stories teach us how to be human. I tell my students that every story is a little empathy machine, allowing us a unique magic that can be obtained nowhere else: the ability to live inside another’s head, to see through their eyes, and to feel their feelings.
November has been one amazing month for story, and these stories roles as empathy machines has been on full display.
In the Civic Theatre Guild’s production of “True West,” we see two estranged brothers who can’t even imagine what the other’s life must be. The way into and through that question is, not surprisingly, through story. Austin and Lee begin to compose a screenplay together in which imaginary man-children chase each other through the dark, both blinded by their own fear. In a world where genuine communication is impossible, these men find themselves and each other, however fleetingly, through story.
Simultaneously, Sheridan College’s production of “Green Day’s American Idiot” brought youthful disillusionment to the WYO stage. Abrasive and profane and infinitely singable, the show asked the traditionally staid theater-going audience to consider the world from a different point of view. One does not have to identify with, or even agree with, Johnny’s nihilistic view of suburbia as a blandly empty city of the dead to understand his disillusionment, his boredom, and his self-destructive tendencies.
Finally, November brought us Sheridan High School’s “She Kills Monsters.” This is no trudge through the classics or saccharine kiddie version of the greatest hits, but instead is a show about teenage life. Interestingly enough, it’s a story about empathy, the lack thereof, and the ways that we can finally grow into understanding those who appear so very different. Once again, the strategy Agnes uses to understand her lost sister is none other than story. Through a Dungeons & Dragons campaign written by her sister, Agnes gains insight into her sister’s often painful day to day life. For sisters who never knew or understood each other, story works its magic.
At one point, Agnes abandons the story because the truths uncovered are simply too painful. But she returns, because she knows, as we know, that it’s the only place those truths can be found.
Josh Hanson is the former president of the Civic Theatre Guild.