It was theatre director David Glass who taught me that the audience is interested in two stories at once: the story being told and the story of the people telling the story.
The people sitting out there in the darkened theatre are as curious about the teller as the tale. If not more so.
That’s important for our politicians to know as Election Day approaches. Voters suspect much of what we’ve been told is fiction. We know most of the promises won’t be kept and the commitments will be forgotten. The story tropes and techniques of weeks 1, 2, 3 and 4 are receding and what the electorate are asking themselves in this, the final week, is what do the stories they told us tell us about the storytellers who told them?
You saw this in the BBC Election Debate on 1 June when seven hopefuls stepped into the ring for a classic, Act 2 show-down. (By the way, 7 is a top storytelling number – think Samurai, Brides for Brothers, Dwarves…)
Many don’t like Corbyn’s policies, but people felt his willingness to join the debate showed real pluck. By contrast, May’s no-show, however she might want to spin her absence, looked like cowardice. The Green’s Caroline Lucas’ narrative probably scored highest on content but the winner of the scrap was Amber Rudd. It was not her story but her backstory that captured the audience’s imagination. While her boss cowered at Number 10, she stepped into the lion’s den whilst mourning the loss of her father who’d died only 48 hours before. That’s what will be remembered.
In these days of increasingly popular politics, we’re more curious than ever about the people behind the tales. However compelling/boring, frightening/reassuring, pragmatic/fantastic, scary/inspiring the tales have been – and we’ve heard them all this General Election – on voting day, it’s the teller we will be choosing.
London Bridge Can’t Fall Down!
This is the second time in this short series where I’ve delayed the blog because of a terrorist attack in the UK. As their name suggests, Terrorists peddle horror stories. They want to scare us into defeat. But counter-attacking with threatening scenarios of our own only escalates the story war. Indeed, terrorists and ‘strong’ leaders end up functioning as co-writers of the fear franchise. As I suggest in Story for Leaders, the best way to replace an unhealthy story is to overwrite it with a healthy one. A better, more inspiring, more loving, more imaginative, more compassionate tale. A story worth living, not killing, for. That’s not just the job of our political story tellers – it’s all of ours.
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