Sharing Stories

My PhD is called ‘Sharing Stories’. There’s a longer, more theoretical, more particular subheading, but really this is it. It was an investigation into the sharing of stories.

From the start, I wanted this sharing to be reciprocal. It wasn’t just about me sharing my family history stories; it was about me listening to other people’s stories. Finding a way to enable people to perform their family histories was difficult. Would this be a quick interjection into a studio performance? Might one audience member dominate in this situation? Could it be a workshop following a performance? Could people write their stories and share them in that way somehow? Perhaps I could make some sort of tree that people could hang their written stories from? (A literal family history tree…) How would people feel about being asked to share – and being asked to listen – to others’ family histories?

Lines And Ladders was the outcome of these deliberations. This was the way that I decided I would be happiest sharing, and inviting others to share, family histories.

One of best things that I did as part of my PhD was interview my grandmother. These interviews were long conversations, in which we moved and twisted between family history and personal memory. We looked at photographs carefully arranged in albums. We looked at objects, like the aluminium pan that my two times great uncle made for his sister and which her daughter, my grandmother, still uses. We studied my grandmother’s immaculate exercise books revealing her skill as an artist in scientific drawings. These days spent talking, listening, looking and sharing were wonderful; it was some part of this that I wanted to recreate with Lines And Ladders.

Pencil drawing of heart and lungs. Labelled. Drawn by Paddy Matthews in 1943.
Drawing from exercise book of Paddy Matthews, my grandmother.

And so the game invites players to make time and space for conversation. To commit to listening and to talking. Lines And Ladders became an interpersonal knowledge exchange. An archival hub. Research is often communicated through writing, but my research project was communicated through playing the game. As players we shared stories disrupted by game playing, we made connections through history as we climbed the DNA strands, and we listened to one another’s rich heritage exposed through roll of the dice.

As I finished my PhD, playing the game became impossible. I didn’t manage to play with my examiners as I had planned; playing games in public spaces was not possible in the winter of 2020 and, as we lurch forward with re-introduction of more control measures, live micro-audience performance is still feeling a little distant. I have resisted transitioning it to an online space, because in my gut I feel that it would lose its informal intimacy. The absence of chance encounters in cafés has only made me believe even more strongly in the power of that impromptu personal, face-to-face sharing of stories.

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