Published: 11th June 2017
Stories of love, fear and adventure find voices at The Storytellers Workshop
Kommune, a Mumbai-based collective of artists, organised The Storytellers Workshop in the city
When Ananya Jaishankar walked into Kommune’s The Storytellers Workshop in Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall, she was all set to watch a performance but least expected to be the one performing instead. Twenty mattresses, neatly arranged for 80 people to sit poised against the black and white walls. The hosts for the evening, Shamir Reuben and Hari Sankar wade their way through to announce that they wouldn’t be performing, instead promise that at least six people from the audience would perform before the night was over. While some plant their feet firmly to the ground in cynical silence, others are eager.
I had never spoken in public before. I hadn't even registered what was happening until I stood up on that stage
Ananya Jaishankar, Student
The workshop progresses as strangers come together in awkward, giggly clusters pulling out latent tales of grief and happiness off of their rusty shelves and weaving them into words for the very first time. Hari performs a hilarious story about his brother's battle with an Instagram spammer. He then announces, “Two missed calls,” as he invites the first audience member on stage to perform—Ananya. "I had never spoken in public before. I hadn't even registered what was happening until I stood up on that stage," she later recounts.
However on stage, as though emboldened by the microphone, she narrates incidents from her sheltered life and how her whole life has been strategically planned by her parents. Now, with the money that she earns at her new job, she is finally able to experience freedom like watching a late-night movie and buying her own scooter. She gestures to her phone—there are two missed calls from her mother. "My story has no ending yet. I’ll have to wait and see what happens at home," she says, laughing.
You know it's a good story if you die a little when you are saying it
Shamir Reuben, Poet and Head of Content at Kommune
After Ananya, others perform; each one more mesmerised than the audience by their own words. A journalist speaks about how losing every story he had ever written in the Chennai floods made him fall in love with his adopted city. And Sharada from Coimbatore speaks about the day she discovered the generosity of the Japanese. Finally, Shamir takes to the stage to perform the poem 'Dear Mom', an ode to his late mother, concluding the experience.
So, how does one know if their story is good? "You know it's a good story if you die a little when you are saying it. We encourage strangers to have conversations. We break down inhibitions through personal stories, and at the end of the session we have an incredible audience that is warm and encouraging," says Shamir, who states that it took Hari and himself years to perfect their writing and performance.