In coaching, it is my style to use “action techniques” where possible and appropriate, as it heightens the experience and can be extremely clarifying. I do caution coaches who might not have experience using action techniques. Putting people into action (vs. just thinking and talking) is very powerful, and clients may end up needing a great deal of emotional support.
Recently, in a workshop, one participant wanted to work on a story that sparked strong emotions. She wanted to be cautious about both her own emotions, and those of the listeners. She was concerned about getting “too” emotional, or being “completely detached”.
As she spoke, I heard the concept of two “opposite feelings”, I used action by having her use the available space, and put out two chairs to represent each of the ends of the spectrum between those two states of feeling.
I then asked her to stand “on the line” between the two chairs where she wanted to “begin”. She did so, as she spoke some of the story. Then she moved a little toward one end and continued with her words. She moved farther on (not all the way to one side) to the place on the line where she felt she (and her listeners) could “end” the story safely.
This physicalization of the intellectual concept helped ground her with concrete choices about her demeanor and words at each point in the story.
Another Story: Two chairs used in a different way.
In my Community College class, a student wanted to know, “How do I tell a story with two major characters who would never come together in life except for this one incident. Both of their parts of the story are important.”
I asked him to put out a chair for each of the characters, and use the space to show how close or far apart they are in the story. He placed them about three feet apart. I asked how, as a narrator, he thought he could tell about each of them.
He moved from one to the other, speaking about each when he was behind that specific chair. I acknowledged that he could be the narrator and tell the story in this way, moving back and forth between the two. I asked if he was willing to explore other options and he agreed.
I then asked him to “sit” in one of the chairs and “be” that character. From that chair, he spoke in the first person, “I am Jarod.” He then continued on with more information about himself (as that character) that gave us a sense of who this was. When I asked him to sit in the other chair, he said, “I am John,” and then was silent. As he spoke the name, I could tell there was a great deal of emotion. I stopped the exercise at this point. After the class, he said this helped him to clarify that he would tell from the point of view of the narrator, as it might be too difficult to take on either of the roles (and two days later he told an amazing story!).
Again, the action of physically “sitting” in each chair made him more aware of each character, his connection to each and of the options of telling the story in the first person, from either or each of the roles, or from the narrator.
A Third Story: More chairs
In the next class, one student wanted help with choosing from "which point of view" to tell the story. His story was a biography of the first African American baseball player, Jackie Robinson. He said that there were so many possibilities and characters that he didn't know where to start. I asked him to place chairs in the room to represent each of the possibilities: Jackie Robinson; Jackie's mother; his father; his friend; his coach, Branch Rickey; or the narrator. He placed them in the following configuration. Note the closeness of certain chairs and the distance of others.
I believe one can already see "clues" as to the importance of each character and relationship to Jackie. I asked him to sit in one of the chairs. (Note here that the client decides where to start.) He began with the mother's chair and spoke "as her". He subsequently chose each of the other chairs and spoke "as that person" from each one, telling about who they were, their relationship to Jackie, and their point of view. I asked him to step back and look at "all" the chairs, and then eliminate the ones he felt would not be a good fit. He removed Father, Friend and Narrator.
I asked him to just sit in each of the remaining chairs once again to see which felt the most right form which to tell. He then said that, "sitting in the mother's chair felt the most connected to the emotions of the story." He now had a starting point, and a point of view, from which to craft the story!
Storytellers: You can do this on your own!
The good news is that you can do this on your own. Use chairs to represent different characters or different emotions in your story. Use the space and placement of the chairs to understand the relationships between the different people or things you are symbolizing. Move along the lines to get a "feel" for the distance between each, and what they represent. (Try a chair for Goldilocks and each of the bears...perhaps there are chairs for Goldilocks' parents too? Perhaps the "walls" of the bear house?)
Sit in the chairs and "become" each person or concept. Speak out loud about who or what you are. Use your body to sit the way that character or entity might sit (or stand) to show what they are feeling or what they signify.
Don't just THINK about your story.
MOVE; STAND; SIT; CROUCH; HIDE; JUMP; TWIRL; HUNCH - The ACTION will inform you about your story.