Truth will come from story. A friend once shared this wisdom and as I have navigated the twists and turns of my life as an artist, his words always come back to me: “Truth will come from story.”
I will never forget the day I learned the true power of story. I was standing in a double-wide trailer in the panhandle of southern Virginia. I watched as my friend Victoria shared her own story and in her sharing, she helped heal a woman whose only son had tragically died the month before. I was fourteen years old.
|Appearance of Life|
From that moment onwards I knew I wanted to empower people to tell their story. My work as an artist has always combined theater with social justice, so when a friend passed along interviews she had conducted at the Beijing Women’s Conference I knew what I had to do. The lives on those tapes were like nothing I had heard before. I wanted to meet these women. I wanted to hear, firsthand, what they had experienced. And most of all, I wanted to share their untold stories. The idea for the Letters to Clio project took root. Over the next years, I traveled the world recording women’s stories and crafting their voices into theatrical shows. The award-winning, critically acclaimed, Appearance of Life, quickly became the most recognized show in the Letters to Clio series. Then I went to graduate school.
As a graduate student at NYU, Tisch, I never felt like I fit in with my playwriting and screenwriting counterparts. What I was doing was a combination of storytelling and theater. I didn’t want to confine myself to one art form and unfortunately that made me an outsider. Over the next few years I struggled with where to go next, then one wonderful afternoon I was reminded again of the power of storytelling. At a conference, I heard Joe Lambert speak on something called Digital Storytelling. I was intrigued. What if rather than luring people to the theater or a café I could deliver my creations straight to their laptop. Art on a lunch break in 3-5 minutes.
Digital Storytelling is a combination of Language (the story), Images (original photographs), Voice (recorded telling of the story) and Sound (music / soundtrack). Traditionally they focus on personal stories, but never in my work as an artist had I shared a personal story. I wrote about women who had brought down governments, changed the course of history. Comparatively my life was uninteresting at best.
|Chinese Lanterns Near the Hotel|
Then something funny happened. On January 13, 2015, in a small government office in China I became an adoptive mom and in that moment, everything changed. I have never walked on the moon but being told you have exactly 9 days to report to China and become an adoptive mother has to be a close second to Armstrong’s famous first steps. Today, my art revolves around telling the story of our journey – both through publications, my blog (www.LetterstoJack.com) and of course Digital Storytelling.
Story is a powerful thing. Stories can transform, make us laugh, heal, and provide meaning. One day I know I will return to the theater but for now I am content to see where the next chapter of my art leads. In this last year, I have connected with so many adoptive families. My words have provided a springboard for others touched by adoption to share their voices and experiences. And empowering someone to tell their story? For me, there is no greater gift.
|Hands: Me & Jack|
This is Week 36 of Artists Tell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing Jennifer's story today. To connect with her, and view a sampling of her digital stories, please visit the following links:
Sample Digital Stories:
Sample Digital Stories:
Navigating the Horizon - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMlvYB03YoQ
(A story about coming home with our newly adopted son, Jack)
From Shanxi to Safeway – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItuXBj_NaLA
(A story about how my son and I are bound by a single red thread rather than DNA – and why I now avoid my local Safeway…)