Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was led to believe that her voice wasn’t important.
Other voices were important: his voice was important, their voices were important, a different color of voice was important, a different recipe of person’s voice was important. But not hers.
For a while, as many children do, she grew up believing this story that was given to her by the authority figures around her, passed on as the stories they tool learned about themselves and the world around them. On tv, in the news, in her books she brought home from school, she never saw anyone who looked like her speaking. And so she believed. As imagination is often shaped by culture, for a while she could not imagine her voice holding importance. So she looked to other voices, to guide her, direct her, speak for her, all the while silencing her own inner voice.
Once upon a time. A quintessential beginning to a story. For a long time, Once upon a times have been telling girls they need rescuing, that they are the damsel or the evil queen or the evil stepmother. For a long time, Once upon a times have been telling the story that heroes are only white males, that the black voice is a token one, and that the queer community is an abnormality and collectively confused about their identities.
Sometimes the stories we believe about ourselves are wrong and can serve to deceive us and block us from our true power, glory, and gifts.
Storytelling can be used (and is being more and more) to create a new narrative, a new culture, a new world, such as the examples given above. These are great examples of new stories told, empowering voices previously written out of the narrative. Jasmine reminded us last week that representation is important and crucial, for our culture and our stories are always shaping the world around us, the possibilities for us, and the capability we believe is within us.
When it comes to old stories and limiting narratives, improv gives us tools of rebellion, with which to rebuild more vibrant and whole representations of community and culture, and to change the narrative altogether. Improv releases the expectations of the stories of yesterday. Improv breaks through the limitations of the stories that our foundations were built upon. Improv empowers and equips us to arrive to a smashed foundation, a shifting stage, and to create from just two chairs and empty space. With this power, we can create something from nothing. We can create space and representation and new models of heroism from what was once a limited, monochromatic imagination.
As the little girl grew up, she knew deep down that even though the stories said otherwise, that hers was a voice worth hearing. So she began to whisper and to ask questions with her whisper. Then she began to speak more confidently, more audibly, until her voice could be heard across the room, and then later out the door.
Eventually, after practice and the presence of improvising community, she began to sing. Her voice, and her gifts, swelled from within her soul, having broken past the barriers that called her to remain silent and still. The world was a better place for her voice having been contributed, and she spent the rest of her days traveling about the world, setting free other voices who had believed the same false story she had.
What stories were we told at some point in our lives that weren’t true? What stories were we given, handed, inherited, that may need to be re-evaluated? What stories have gripped your identity that could use your improvisational prowess to be re-told? For the good of all the little children who fall asleep with stories still ringing in their ears, for the good of all the inner children of adults whose trueness and goodness and worthwhileness needs to be set free, I hope you’ll know your power to tell a new story. For I trust that those who believe in their ability to improvise are the leaders this world needs.
May we live improvisationally ever after.
Evey McKellar is a Level 6 Improv student, a writer and UMC clergy. She works for a nonprofit, lives in Dallas, and loves Cane Rosso.