Working way too many hours as a lawyer, I signed up for a storytelling class to make myself leave work at least once a week at a decent time. I always enjoyed telling stories at work, parties and weddings, so I was excited to learn about the actual craft of storytelling.
In this class we learned to tell engaging true stories from our lives. Once you finish the class, you’re eligible to get up on the stage. It’s a thrill to be up there feeling the audience’s attention, receiving their laughter, enjoying their enjoyment of my story.
At first I told funny stories because they are safer and as a teller you know you are doing okay because you hear laughter throughout your story. I never told stories about my disability because I am more than my disability. My disability does not define me, and yet it does. Since I use a wheelchair, it’s the first thing people notice about me. I have to put them quickly at ease and dispel any stereotypes about people with disabilities playing in their subconscious. I have daily physical and medical challenges that determine my choices which most able-bodied people have never experienced or even thought about.
As I grew as a storyteller, I started sharing more vulnerable stories about my life. It was scary. The crowd is silent. It’s hard to know if it’s going well, but there is this stillness in the room of rapt attention. The audience is completely drawn in because I am being authentic in sharing my life experience and they respect that.
I started telling stories about what it’s like to be disabled; inappropriate remarks from strangers, the travails of dating in a wheelchair, what do I do when the subway elevator is broken. People are fascinated because they don’t know and they want to be educated. It’s transformative for them to get a glimpse of a world and challenges they don’t know anything about. And it’s transformative for me because writing my story before the show forces me to be reflective and really examine how my disability has shaped who I am and my life experience.
It has been really cathartic for me. When I tell the audience that when I was 18, my doctor told me I should spend the rest of my life in a nursing home, they gasp with outrage, even boo the doctor! I love their compassion. It reaffirms for me that some of the crap that I have had to put up with really is nonsense.
Hearing me talk about my struggles with body image, self worth and the fear of dying, helps the audience look past my disability because these are universal issues to which everyone can relate in one way or another. Sharing these stores closes any perceived gap between them and us.
I encourage everyone to tell their stories; on stage, over coffee or at Happy Hour. It is freeing and uplifting for all of us. It helps educate, create connections and bridge gaps in understanding. And, it’s a lot of fun too!
Anne Thomas is a professional storyteller. She is the 2013 National Storytelling Festival Slam Champion and has performed for sold-out audiences up and down the East Coast and been featured on national podcasts.
As a writer, Thomas crafts stories that speak in the same original voice—a mix of the dark humor, wild determination, high energy and rare common sense—that she conveys on stage. Focusing on universal themes of triumph over extreme challenge, her stories are powerful autobiographical tales of transformation, transcendence, and reinvention.
Thomas brings to her storytelling and writing the global perspective of a former World Bank executive, civil rights attorney, and world traveler. Her work today is informed by the sophisticated insights and rich material gleaned during a 25-year career as a pioneer of disability rights law and leadership development innovator, training future world leaders in Washington, D.C. and around the world.
As performer and writer, on stage and on the page, Anne Thomas speaks not only to survivors of disability, illness, and tragedy, not only to women, not only to baby-boomers intent on personal reinvention, but to everyone who has a body, a dream, obstacles, hope and determination.
You can contact Anne at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Checkout her website at www.annebthomas.com and see her in action at: