Drawn Dead, Storytelling, Identity and the Folly of Cultural Narratives

For a formal performance the average storyteller devises and finalizes a script, then learns it as close to verbatim as possible. The storyteller then frees him/herself to deviate and diverge naturally from the script to suit the flow of the given moment, knowing they can then come back to the foundation and score of that script as necessary.

I did a bit from Drawn Dead for the Minion Showcase, and basing a process around the above approach freed me from a lot of the anxiety that used to cloud me before performances of my own work. The bit being a true story obviously helps because it makes remembering the story easier, but telling it within a framework keeps it in control and on track, keeping the audience engaged.

Drawn Dead went from being many things to being a thing that interacts with other things as needed. It is now forming into a storytelling show interjected with dramatizations, dances, demonstrations and a disowning of conventional story structure or hero’s journey style plot.

Much of this material is based on a true story. Real life and the choices we make don’t follow Joseph Campbell’s templates unless we make it so. Those templates can inform the narratives we choose to overlay on the stories of our lives, but otherwise creatures of free-will live more impulsively than characters in standard linear plots.

This is actually a key reason why marriages, relationships and dream situations fall apart: Storybooks ignore relevant, impact details if they don’t drive the narrative, they tell stories featuring stock characters that exist in a vacuum and think/behave somewhat predictably, and they don’t deal with what happens after happily ever after (which is where pretty much everything of note happens in a real relationship).   This is also the folly of seeing the world in the binary context of good versus evil. Humanity is much too complex to fit into such binaries. Yet people religiously try to live their lives according to, or in contrast to, the ideals set in fairy tale narratives they repeatedly see in books, movies, theatre and television.

On a couple of occasions this past month I have explored trying to collect these ideas, bits and scenes into a cohesive screen/play style script, before realizing that as a story it does not fit the archetype of a typical two act stage/screen story. The protagonist sure as hell is not a hero. There is no specific antagonist; in fact the protagonist himself may be in various ways his own biggest antagonist. There is in a sense a sort of final battle (and no it’s not the scene I perform at the Minion Showcase), but it comes more as a personal, defiant act of closure than a resolution where the good guys win in the end. I tried to see it as an allegory but it doesn’t appear that there is a single, concrete takeaway message or cautionary tale within.

Amidst all that, there is a center arcing story carrying it all like a sort of suspension bridge. A fool chases the answers to his ambitious questions as well as a desire for personal closure to Pendleton, Oregon to play a poker tournament festival he always wanted to play but never did. In courting disaster he not only answers his questions but discovers answers to burning questions he never asked. Plus, he learned from playing poker a latticework of life lessons that impacted the rest of his life and forever changed how he interacted with a fractured world, and the piece serves to share some of those discoveries.

Is he a better person after all this or is the world a better place? I don’t know and neither will anyone else who sees it… though I do hope it leads people to ask similar questions of themselves and what they do with their lives.

That’s something you sure as hell won’t get out of a storybook.

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