Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Jennifer S. Jones, Digital Storyteller, Tells Her Story




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.”
Appalachia Vista

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.

NYU Tisch

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 cafĂ© I could deliver my creations straight to their laptop. Art on a lunch break in 3-5 minutes.

Digital Storytelling

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:
(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…)