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Storytelling our Lives with Confabulation

Stories are all around us, yet we often fail to recognize them among the subtleties of our surroundings. A good story isn’t confined to the book-clad corridors of your favourite library, nor by the writing rooms of Hollywood’s production committees. Instead, they can be found in quiet exchanges between an elderly couple sitting adjacent from you on the subway, or in the grainy orange stains on the heels of those Converse shoes you wore during Spain’s La Tomatina; they are also in the misadventures of your college years, and the chicken scratches embedded in your middle school diary.

Stories are all around us.

Our lives are composed of memories and poetic experiences that deserve tribute, although many of us lack the confidence to voice them. There are storytellers hidden within each of us, and they await our attention. This is what Matt Goldberg—creator of Confabulation—realised seven years ago when he became aware of storytelling podcasts and the emotional impact of nonfiction narration. Goldberg’s experiences in theatre and sketch comedy meant that he understood the power of live performance. Hearing people recount true events inspired him to consider the appeal of creating live storytelling events featuring everyday people. His idea set the precedence for Confabulation, which has become a well-established live performance series made up of storytelling shows across Canada.

Confabulation hosts everyday citizens recounting stories based on personal experiences and memories. Depending on the speaker, stories range from romance and comedy, to heartbreak and tragedy. While stories span across a variety of unique situations, each performer engages their audience in a way that invokes a sense of community—a phenomenon that Goldberg attributes to feelings of shared experience and mutual belongingness. This is why Confabulation is more than just entertainment: the raw, personal accounts articulated during each show become ways to destigmatize and thus legitimize many of our own experiences. Amid this process, performers likewise feel empowered when their stories are eagerly received by a crowd of supportive spectators.

Platforms like Confabulation that aim to both honour and extend the voices of ordinary citizens, are a means of demonstrating how we are all capable of inciting awe and captivating audiences. This is an important reminder, particularly as our culture becomes evermore fixated on social media influencers and the competitive self-celebrityhood of digital platforms: we risk feeling diminished and inadequate. Confabulation is valuable precisely because it shows us that each person is cherished for their originality.

There is a profound sense of acknowledgment and self-affirmation when your life comes center-stage, illuminated in front of a large audience. Storytelling creates meaning out of lived experiences. Unlike other forms of performance, Goldberg explains that it is a process of opening ourselves up in ways that remind us that we matter, even in a world that can sometimes make us feel banal and unimportant. Audience members likewise benefit from the Confabulation experience. When we attend shows aimed at showcasing and celebrating human narration, we attune ourselves to the perspectives and lived experiences of others, which ultimately forces us to recognize the diversity that exists right in our own neighbourhoods. Stories can also empower us as spectators by relating to our own experiences and encouraging us to revisit them in new and often enlightening ways. With this, there emerges a symbiotic exchange between audience and storyteller—a transaction of interplays that transpire through channels of shared experience.

Confabulation offers a way to interrupt the status quos of the digital era by celebrating what makes each of us unique. When we recite our stories, we take ownership of the events in our lives—no matter how difficult they may be. What results is an empowered reinforcement of who we are. Storytelling teaches us that magic is all around us, not only in the bedside story-books of our childhoods, but in the little moments of our day-to-day lives. We only have to recognize the magic that has been there all along, which is the function of storytelling. This is one reason why oral tradition was such an important means of communication for many cultures: it kept meaning alive and instilled a sense of purpose within entire communities. Goldberg hopes to honour the practice of oral tradition with Confabulation. In doing so, he hopes that Confabulation will teach us how to recognize the magic in the mundane.

By Hania Peper


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