The Only Duty of a Storyteller…

Recently I attended a workshop with Mythologist Michael Meade.  It was entitled, “Initiated Soul, Awakened Self.”  The workshop involved drumming & songs, stories and moments of deep, intense communion.  It struck me how closely our work as a theatre company coincides with his work as a mythologist.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Western theatre is firmly rooted in myth.  From the ancient Greeks to Grotowski to present day companies like Heads Up & New World Performance Lab our theatrical tradition venerates, explores, confronts and explodes our collective myths.

However, for the most part, our culture no longer believes these myths. Some have been forgotten entirely.  But these myths- these stories- helped us to understand our role in the world.  The myths were often connected to rituals that led us to an even greater understanding of ourselves.  Speaking of initiation rituals Michael said, “initiation is about revealing a person to themselves.  Our culture no longer initiates people.  Therefore people never fully realize who they are.”  He postulates that during “initiation” a person learns who they are at the deepest level of self.

This sense of the deep self provides a guiding light for people to navigate in the world.  If more people in our culture had the opportunity to experience a true initiation, there would be less depression, mental illness and general malcontent.  People would feel less pressured by their families and society and would be able to live a more productive and meaningful life.

Early the same week, after rehearsal, our stage manager said to me, “It doesn’t feel as if I’m learning about acting but it feels as if I’m learning about myself.”  Unbeknownst to him, he hit on a major aspect of our philosophy as a company.  When building a performance, we try to start with ourselves.  We can never escape from our bodies and our minds; every role is permeated with our essence.  Therefore, we must confront our deep self before we can confront the play.

In a culture that has forgotten its myths, are we forging initiations and rituals for the modern age?  How do our post-modern sensibilities and our connection to our roots coexist?  What’s the difference between the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece and the Heads Up Mysteries of today?

In The Pillowman, our current production, one of the characters says, “the only duty of a storyteller is to tell a story.”  During rehearsal we had a fierce debate on the difference between duty and responsibility.  As a storyteller, I agree with Katurian- the only duty of a storyteller is to tell a story.

But it’s not his only responsibility.

Michael, the mythologist, said, “the soul cannot be seen or pinned down or measured.  Therefore the only thing that works on the soul is stories.  Ritual and drama were wrapped around the youth so they could understand what’s inside of themselves.”

Our responsibility, as storytellers, is to our culture.

We are the ones being initiated to our collective myths to discover our place in the world.  We do this to help others uncover their place.   As Michael said, “when a person becomes in touch with the deepest self, they help others around them to awaken.”

-Benjamin Rexroad
Artistic Director


  1. […] Inc, the group that presented the Michael Meade workshop I wrote about last year, hosted a screening of the documentary Finding Joe at Musica. Finding Joe […]


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