Irish recording artist and composer, Stano, has been active since the early 1980’s, with 12 albums, and numerous singles and film soundtracks to his credit. Recently his studio has become a home for a different kind of audio experimentation. He’s invited writers, actors and other artists to step in front of the microphone and tell him a story. No theme was provided. No direction given. No rules or restrictions. He composed a unique piece of music for each storyteller (not even knowing what their story would be about) and played it in the studio as they told their story. What impact would that score have on the telling? On the teller? On an audience listening to these recordings?
The result of those recordings has been a series of story screenings in Dublin, and now a short run at the Barrow Street Theater in New York City’s West Village. A screen is positioned onstage (thus the description as a “screening”) but its practical purpose is simply to display the name of the story and storyteller at the start, and an image of the storyteller or story subject at the end of each tale. In between, the screen is blank, black. We listen. The storyteller, their story and Stano’s music fills the space.
A few themes emerged for me: living on after the loss of a loved one, appreciating previous generations, and, in a couple of stories, a grim sense of anxiety that you are about to watch someone drown. Only one story is played purely for comedy, although the audience did laugh at bits of other stories occasionally. For the most part, they are thoughtful, poetic reflections on a moment in time, on a relationship, on a lesson learned. I found myself wishing I could play them back again, certain I could squeeze more intellectual nutrition and emotional juice out of each.
Of course, I couldn’t play them back. Why did it seem like I should be able to? It was a storytelling show, but I missed sharing the space with the storytellers. It was a screening but part of me wanted more visuals to go along with the audio. I was in the Barrow Street Theater, but this obviously isn’t a piece of live theater. So what was it? The best way for me to describe the hour is as a communal podcast listening session.
That creates a curious contradiction. In my experience, podcast listening is a private engagement. I’m alone when I do it. Here I was in a room of strangers, listening together. Perhaps that’s an appropriate dissonance. After all, these stories were personal, private, yet, they were being shared with me, not directly from the teller, but broadcast from the safety of Stano’s studio where they were encouraged to bare their souls.
Irish poet Theo Dorgan is one of Stano’s tellers. He’s quoted as saying this about the piece:
“Stano has brought us to the cinema to listen to stories and look at nothing, but of course you’re not looking at nothing, you’re looking at something that’s inside the whole imaginative space of your own consciousness. One of the great joys of going to theatre or cinema or a concert is that you’re there with other people to whom the same thing is happening, but everyone is processing it differently, so it’s a kind of a 4 dimensional event.”
Maintaining flexible definitions of cinema, theater, and storytelling is a valuable component of keeping an open mind to the arts. Add to that this mix of public and private, the sharing of my “imaginative space” with other people as they process these stories and the experience of hearing them their own way, and you have an active, engaged, vibrant evening. Still, for me, In Between Silence, Where We Really Exist feels like an early draft of an incomplete idea.
Stano says he wants to recreate the feeling of sitting around a fire, listening to stories. Part of the joy of that experience is watching the storyteller, the expressions on his face, perhaps a furrowed brow during a difficult pause, or a broad smile as a warm memory is shared. I missed that here. Still, I look forward to discovering the next generation of this concept, whether Stano evolves it, or other artists follow his lead.