After an education in psychology and a career in theater, Linda Sussman has developed healing storytelling workshops. When we met at The Beanery, she described her evolution from theater to the medium of storytelling.
LS: I think I was always connected to theater in my soul. I was writing plays in the third-grade. I think it’s a world and an art form that deeply belongs to me. After I left the School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley, I took acting training at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. I was immediately intrigued with the healing potential of theater work more than I was with putting on plays. There were classes where you could cathart, where you had permission to express emotion. There were some very profound experiences that I had during that time. But even then I was filled with a fervor to help and heal the world.
I was intensely involved in theater, but I knew if my shattered ideals regarding psychology were ever going to be reconstituted, it would have to come from a different direction that I had seen at the School of Social Welfare. Jungian psychology became of interest to me. My interest evolved from theater itself into theater in a healing context. About that time I saw Robert Bly. I was already tuned in to fairy tales through Jungian psychology, but what Robert was doing with them, the healing that was coming through the stories in his telling of them and his commentaries, just moved me. I wanted to find more about that, but I didn’t know how to do it.
Performing became an interest in storytelling because what I saw is, when you deeply interact with and relate to a story, not to just think about it like the Jungians do or play with the images, but actually to bring it together within your self to perform it, that something happens in the soul that is deeply healing. This led me to move away from wanting to approach healing from the problem perspective, rather to approach healing from: “What are the capacities that can be engaged here, such that the problem either diminishes or disappears altogether?” You’re in love with the story and you want to present it. It’s a tremendous way to work with people’s capacities instead of people’s problems. It’s a most difficult of art forms. It’s very close to acting, but it’s different. We do not use memorized material. The words in the moment come out of the moment.
EH: Where do you start with this? How does a novice begin?
LS: The first start with a storytelling class is to find a story or let a story find them. Pick a story that you have a strong feeling for. It could be fairytale. We take the role of the speaker. I loved every story I’ve ever told. They all reflected or were helpful for whatever time in my life I was going through. Is it possible in these days to learn to speak in a way that heals and transforms? Every story is pedagogy. Every story has something very deep to teach that is not at the level of words; it’s at the level of images.
I’m mostly interested in how people grow. I like to see people grow. It’s an enormous pleasure to me, and I hardly know a better way than to engage with a performing art.
You can reach Linda Sussman for storytelling workshops and book groups at Spoken and Written Word Services at 488-8048.
Evalyn Hansen is a resident of Ashland. She has a bachelor's degree in dramatic arts from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master's degree from San Francisco State University. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre, and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Contact her at email@example.com.