on thai food, empowered storytellers, and moving mountains

the other night, i was sitting with one of my besties eating thai food, and we were talking about the creative work we’re doing. aside from the stuff going on with my projects (our feature premieres in a couple weeks; our next play is getting a major workshop next month, the final step before production; we are deep in development for our next film etc etc)—i’ve got a couple big new initiatives cooking around story.

and i was telling her that my relationship to those two initiatives was feeling kind of sticky and weird, even though i’m totally digging them, because they are both about story but they seemed to be two really different tracks, and i couldn’t figure out how to reconcile or unify them—especially against the backdrop of the CRAZY INTENSE political/collective consciousness stuff that’s been happening the last couple weeks.

one of those initiatives is a body of work i’ve been building with actors around making the shift from actor to CREATOR. actors are interpretive artists, which means we generally have to get invited into someone else’s project to do our work. and that fact can lead to a LOT of artistic disempowerment. i’ve been working privately for a decade with actors who are beginning to make their own work, and i’ve seen the process totally transform them—as artists and as actors. Because there is absolutely nothing like empowering yourself to tell your story. Like knowing that you don’t have to wait for someone else to invite you into theirs. Like knowing that you’ve got stories you know are important, and you’ve got the tools to tell them, make them into art, and get them into the world. it’s transformative work. and it revolutionizes the artists who take it on. right now i’m developing an offering that will make that work accessible to lots and lots more people, and help waaaay more actors take the reins of their artistic lives and step fully into becoming creators.

and then the other initiative i’m cooking is around bringing my storytelling tools to changemakers—progressive politicians, activists, organizers and nonprofit leaders. the core of my story methodology is geared entirely toward emotional impact and transformation. in my own creative work, i’ve been closely studying how to change hearts and minds through story for almost two decades. the central mechanism of narrative is empathy, and if you learn to work with that skillfully, and you craft and inhabit narratives in certain ways, you can find the openings, the places where transformation is possible; and you can use that to create change. the more i move into this work, the more i see how my world—the world of storytellers—is compartmentalized and kept separate from the “political” world, and how little access that political and nonprofit world has to the deepest tools of story. (it all gets reduced to “messaging”…when it is so much more than that). i’ve been making inroads, building with activist leaders and progressive candidates (PS: if you’re in this world, or know someone i should meet—REACH OUT—i am so open RN and creating all the connective tissue!!) and that work feels so, so important, especially right at this moment. we are in the midst of a showdown between worldviews, and it’s only going to get more intense and more accelerated.

neuroscientists know that our response to story is wired into our brains. they also know that process involves empathy and connection. i am of the belief that our response to story is wired into our brains because it involves empathy and connection. that we actually need empathy in order to survive as a species. and that the leaders and changemakers who are working to create a better, more just and sustainable world must have access to and mastery of this process. i am dedicating myself to bringing it to them.

so the other night, when i was hanging out on my couch with my bestie and Thai food, i was like: what the hell do these two initiatives have to do with each other? i know i’m passionate about each of them, i can tell i’m supposed to be working on them both, but how on earth are they connected? (i like things to be connected.)

and then yesterday it hit me.

the connection is that it’s all about being DEEPLY EMPOWERED TO TELL OUR STORIES. and not just tell them, but tell them skillfully, with craft and mastery, and with total authenticity and deep emotional engagement, because that is where change comes from.

christine blasey ford got up in front of the judiciary committee thursday, shaking, terrified—not yet even fully empowered in the telling yet—and she told the hell out of her story. in doing that, she awakened sleeping giants and moved millions of people. and when that wasn’t enough to move the few dudes in the room (some of whom have seemingly forgotten their capacity for empathy, or have had it seriously misdirected)—two other women, ana maria archila and maria gallagher, confronted a senator in an elevator, and they told the hell out of their stories. and once they made him look them in the eye—once they got him to connect, and listen—he changed. you can see it in the video. you can see the moment when he changed.

and in doing that, those women awakened hundreds of thousands of other women (and men!) to do the same. i don’t know about you, but my various feeds are flooded with people telling long-buried stories right now. with people uncovering and speaking and bringing the truth to light. it’s raw and naked and sometimes it hurts, but it’s powerful as hell. and none of that is happening in the form of statistics or facts or opinions. it’s happening in STORY.

thousands of us are becoming empowered to tell our stories. whether it’s your personal story or a work of art, whether it’s a stump speech or a screenplay—story transforms. it connects us, and it changes us. and the work i do is about empowering people to use those tools. so we can use them to do the work of transformation. and that is why giving an actor the tools and the knowledge and the creative process to write their script is the same work as giving a progressive candidate the tools to move voters, transform their worldview, and get them on board for a future based in compassion and justice.

we need everybody out there radically empowered to tell their stories. with the knowledge and the tools so they can do it with exquisite skill, and craft story for maximum impact. whether it’s a work of art or a stump speech or a rallying cry—it’s the same process. and i am so grateful to get to share it with you.

here’s to empowered creators, and to moving mountains by telling our stories.

Jessica Blank