Every year I try to attend the Future of Storytelling Summit in Snug Harbor on Staten Island, NY. It's a relatively intimate gathering of some of the most accomplished minds in the business of storytelling. It's unparalleled access and the opportunity to connect and have conversation with people who are otherwise unreachable.
This year, I had the opportunity to sit among a round table with Derek DelGaudio, an illusionist and storyteller. Derek has a show going on in NYC right now called In & Of Itself. It's directed by legendary Frank Oz (a huge inspiration of mine from his time with Jim Henson, also built & played Yoda, etc). I knew from meeting Derek that I needed to go see his show.
I was right.
Not too far into it, he says he needs someone to come back Tuesday (2 days later). I shoot my hand up.
Straight faced, he says, "Sir, I see your hand, but I'm serious. I need someone to return Tuesday." -- "Challenge accepted." "Can I call you Mr. Tuesday?" he asks. "I am Mr. Tuesday." He proceeds to share about this one-of-a-kind book, that has been passed from audience member to audience member since May 2nd, 2016, a year and a half later. This thing is a beast. In it, people are asked to do two things;
- Recap what you've witnessed in the show as you saw it
- Predict how the show is going to end
The rub, is that the volunteer gets booted about 2/3 of the way into the show, and they don't get to find out the ending until they return. Doh!
Mr. Earlier That Day, brings the book up, and reads an incredibly deep passage that had me intimidated. "Crap, I have to follow that?" I hear myself say. Later in the evening, Stephen Colbert is found to be in the audience. "Crap, I have to read to this kind of intellectual group?" I hear myself say.
It's important to highlight just how much of a risk this whole thing is. He is giving away part of his show, to a stranger, in hopes they return! Then he trusts them to own the spotlight in front of an audience who paid a lot of money to be there. The risk that someone who knows the ending gave away the actual ending, and the person spoils the show. This responsibility is not to be taken lightly... and so, I don't.
In short, I spend two full days of my life recounting my experience and writing out my prediction. And this book, although just leather and pages, has transformed into a living collection of people's thoughts, perspectives, assumptions, creativity, humor, emotions, and playfulness. Little societies have formed. Secret games were planted throughout. I may or may not have added 2, including a Scratch & Sniff. :)
I get less than an hour to actually go through all of the other entries because of how long it takes to create mine, and I don't want the other entries to impact mine. But in that hour, I was floored. This thing truly is a very special piece of humanity.
Tuesday night comes quick, and it is my time to get up in front of everyone. Derek takes the book, and begins to flip through the pages. On stage is his only time to see what people are doing because it's constantly out in the world. He mentions the woman who created her entire entry, then used whiteout to redact the whole thing. Bold. Or the first images that appear; Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg. Someone who built it around lyrics from Hamilton. The incredibly meticulous handwriting of some. Another who was ashamed of their writing and typed it out, which kicked off a trend. Others who illustrated, added tokens and mementos, etc.
Then he arrives to my pages.
"whoaaa, what is this?..."
Then he turns to the crowd, showing the pages, and says, "I don't know if you can see this in the back, but pieces are interlocked with kind of a cat's cradle (string)." I point out that the black writing was how I saw what objectively happened, and the pink was the story I told myself about it.
"you fuckin' show off..." he says gently.
Hah! Then he calls our attention to my prediction page, and says the stage is mine.
I stand under the bright spotlight and for 3 minutes and 30 seconds, unravel the depths at where my heart and mind have gone. Not just from this show, but from all my collected experiences and perspectives, from being a full time nomad living out of a van, as well as all of my life experiences prior. In this space, I share my reality and my truth.
I'll transcribe it below so you can read if you want to, but when I finish there was not a single sound for a few beats.
I had this gut drop of a moment, "oh no." And I turn to Derek who is standing with his mouth open and hardly able to move, and he utters,
"holy.. shit. wow.. thank you."
I stretch out my hands towards his and feel all of the weight lift. There goes the book. There goes my heart. There goes the build up and anticipation since I first raising my hand.
If you're in NYC before the end of 2017, go see his show. The entire show, and especially the ending, does not disappoint. In fact, the opposite.
Here is the transcript of what I wrote and read:
This show will end the only way anything can end. Empty, dark, and deserted. What was once some thing, becomes no thing.
The women in the booth will turn off the lights. The man will step off the stage. Our butts will rise up from the seats. And we will all go elsewhere.
This space will sit empty, dark, and deserted.
In it, whispers, reminding of life once lived. Stories told and untold. Finally, by the end we will discover that identity is an illusion brought into focus by a lens of perspective.
We entered into this space, believing I am me and you are you. This ends by revealing there is no me. There is no you. There just is. There just isn't. Because that's all there can ever be. Living and not living. Some thing, or no thing.
This ends with showing us our own minds are what trap us in boxes. Boxes that display letters on cards. Cards that our minds find a familiar pattern among. Our minds that then cause our muscles, ligaments, and bones to work in harmony to claim that card. To claim our identity.
The end shows us that own minds trap us in the stories we tell ourselves. In the stories we tell each other. Stories collected of moments once lived, stories of circumstances that caused us pain and trauma which opened up little wounds among the fullness of our identity, causing for division within us, and separation among us. Where we can be shoulder to shoulder, yet worlds apart.
That separation became the opportunity for fear to seep in like a glue to fill the cracks. Each story our mind collects, drives an voracious appetite for need. The need comfort, safety and control. The need to be seen and heard and validated. The need for love, acceptance, and belonging. And the need for purpose, service, and contribution.
In the end we learn that our fear is what drives our need for identity. That we have succumb to a world of distractions and illusions to keep us from facing these fears, from seeing the truth.
We learn that the only way to be free, to be whole, to be connected, is to turn into our fear. To kiss the dragon and reveal the princess. Or simply, to just slay that motherfucker. As soon as we peel off the labels, magic can happen.
We entered into this space with a narrow focus. The more narrow we focus the more we miss out on. The more separate we become. As we zoom out we see we are the same, here together in this room for the love and appreciation and story, surprise and delight. We zoom way further out and see we are just blood flesh and bone. Identified by our species. We zoom out further and see we are the relationship between matter and energy. We are the animals. The trees. The rocks. The oceans. We zoom further out and see we are the star dust. We see there is no good and evil, right or wrong. There is no separateness.
We just... are. Until, we are not.
Until our sun dies out, and the universe becomes this space. Empty, dark and deserted... whispering our stories.