“Was that story true?”
I would say that this is pretty much the first thing most people say to me after seeing one of my shows. To which my answer is,
“Parts of it.”
There always has to be elements of truth to my stories, otherwise I’d have no raw materials to work with. I work with emotions, memories, regrets and wish fulfillment. I take vivid moments – mental snapshots – from my childhood and I try to work them into something bigger and better. This in itself is not untruthful. Everybody does this with their memories.
Everybody has the stories from their own life that they have either consciously or unconsciously reworked. Over time we make our stories funnier, more dramatic, the heroes and the villains are more clearly defined, the danger is greater, the moral lessons more vivid.
If you think back over your own stories, you’ve tampered with them. How closely do they resemble what really happened. And what really happened depends on who you are in the story. And this is where it starts to get tricky. The act of remembering an event means you’re tampering with it. There is no true story. There is no what really happened. If you’re telling a story, you’re already lying. You are a flawed narrator.
“I told the lie in a spontaneous moment of panic, and the lie spiraled out of control”
We have this sliding scale when it comes to creating fictions. There are innocuous tall stories, the slightly more dangerous fibs, and then morally wrong lies. My show this year is a story about a lie that I told when I was a teenager. I told the lie in a spontaneous moment of panic, and the lie spiraled out of control. Of course it was wrong to tell the lie that I told, but what I hadn’t expected was that it would fall on such fertile ground. Once the rumor spread,there was little I could do to rein it in.
An entire school suspended its disbelief and ran with the story. And I think they did this because my lie made life more interesting. My lie gave people a hero and a villain, it gave them action and suspense. It gave them a story.
I think this is what compels us to listen to stories, whether they’re true or not (whatever the hell that means). Stories are more exciting than real life, but they also create order from the chaos of life. Because here’s the thing: do you really want to hear what really happened? Do you want to hear a loose series of unconnected moments, recalled as accurately as possible?
Do you want fragments that have no point, characters learning nothing, and events that lead nowhere? That’s not a show I’d want to pay money to see. I choose the lie every time.
Aug 9-28: Sarah Kendall: Shaken, Assembly George Square Studios, EH8 9LH / more info
Edinburgh Festivals: Full Coverage