Digital Storytellying

During the 90s, a new approach to storytelling evolved out of the People’s Theater Coalition in San Francisco. Moving from the spoken word performance style of artists like Spalding Grey, they began to explore using digital media in workshops to create a style of story that combined recorded narrative with visual images. Since then the Center for Digital Storytelling [CDS] has grown into an international enterprise, inspiring work ranging from a historical series by the BBC in Wales to the national museum in Australia.

The CDS has evolved a clear methodology based on a three day workshop process []. The process mixes group facilitation with individual computer work. During the three days, participants learn initially how to shape their story into an effective 3 minute structure for audio recording. They then acquire computer skills in adding visual images, principally photographs, to the narration. Finally, the results are shared within the group.

The process has been used in a number of contexts ranging from personal development through community health to mediating different perspectives on contentious issues such as land development. In Montreal, over the past five years a large scale project called Montreal Life Stories has been successful in implementing the process with a number of communities.

Kevin Flaherty from the Alberta Workers Health Centre [also on the Board of GZP] has learned the basics of this work, which prompts individuals to record their own stories and illustrate them with visual images. Accordingly, we worked with the Heath Centre to draw together people who are interested in the concept, including the Multi-Cultural Health Brokers and the Hope Foundation. In July of 2011, San Francisco based facilitators from the CDS travelled to Edmonton and offered a workshop to 10 local participants, including Don Bouzek and Rod Loyola.

From this core group, we have developed our own workshop program and begun to offer sessions. The United Nurses of Alberta has donated their old computer lab of 11 MacBooks to the initiative. The initial pilot sessions were held in co-operation with the AWHC at the Alberta Federation of Labour’s [AFL] school in Jasper early in 2012. Last May, we were invited to offer a demonstration session for the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.

Central to the work is the Story Circle, which takes the first day of the workshop time. This is an initial session where participants read their stories to each other. Then the facilitators work with them to shape their work most effectively. The process would be familiar to anyone who has worked as a dramaturge, and indeed it is easy to see how CDS evolved out of a theatre company.

We are working to develop connections to our theatre projects. We used a variant to generate stories which were used during the Mill Woods cabaret last June and this fall Don used the technique again doing initial workshops with First Nations & Métis people in Ft. McKay. We are also exploring ways to move the story sharing out of the initial workshop settings, beyond simply internet posting. During the AFL sessions in Jasper, we showed the stories to the whole Labour school. This coming April Don has been invited to do a session with international participants at the United Association of Labour Educators in Toronto. The stories produced will be presented as a live kick-off to the conference proceedings.