I bristled when Michael asked me to take the Beginner’s Storyteller Course with DISC. I’m not a beginner, I thought. I looked up at the shelf on my wall, the spiral binding of my master’s thesis about stories in science communication shining out at me. I’ve put in the work, mastered the subject, it’s right there in the title. In full honesty, in that moment I really wanted to say all of these things rolling around inside my head, and more.
There was another voice though. A softer-spoken one that knew from a lifetime of stories that even the wisest of heroes always has something to learn. It reminded me that I was far from the wisest of the group, and while I had indeed mastered a certain slice of storytelling in my own way, there was still plenty to learn.
When I opened my mouth, it was that little voice speaking. I agreed to take the Beginner’s Storytelling Course because it would be a good opportunity to get an inside look at DISC’s way of working. I was looking forward to seeing the workshop in action, learning how they do things, and see where it fits with my own approach.
Naturally, I was wrong in almost every way. I couldn’t have been happier with the outcome.
The Beginner’s Storytelling Course at DISC was on hold for a while. We waited for things to become safer. A year later, and we couldn’t wait anymore. Like most everyone else, we prefer to hold our courses in-person, especially with a storytelling course where things like body language, emotion, and physical presence come into play. Alas, we all must make due in these strange times.
So, for the first time in DISC history, the Beginner’s Course was held online. Terra was a natural fit for the course, he’s spent many evenings of his own time working in online acting sessions. This experience gave him a certain comfort with working in an online session for the entire weekend.
“One thing that I deliberately noticed, was taking enough time from each participant to hear their voice. Because in-person I could feel that much faster, in an online setting it is rather difficult. I also took time. I also wanted to create that feeling of the space. I’m not going to give a lecture, but I’ll let them participate, let them take responsibility for their parts.”
The DISC Beginner’s Course was a whole weekend affair. Practically, that translated to twelve hours of Zoom, with another hour and a half added on Saturday night if you wanted to go to the DISC Storytelling Cafe that happened to be the same weekend.
Of course, it didn’t feel like 12 hours of Zoom calls until well after it was finished. But we're getting ahead of ourselves by talking about the ending. We haven’t even gotten to the beginning yet.
Terra gathered the small group together at 11:00 on a Saturday morning, his smile filling the screen as a meditation fountain trickled in the background. He opened by introducing himself, and inviting us to do the same. We began the training laughing as Terra put us through exercises that felt like they must have been much easier in person. Now that we were all smiling, the actual work could begin.
Our instructor opened with a story of his own, a classic tale about a giant, a king, and how our actions can put what we once thought into a new light. We spent time together thinking about the bones of the story, what the essential components are and how they matter to the tale.
With that we were sent off with our first challenge: add your own flavour to the story and come back to tell the group a story with the same bones in a new way so that it becomes your own.
As we finished telling our own versions of the story, Terra smiled. Then, without warning, he announced that we were about to plunge off script and start a totally different exercise. It was time, he thought, for a change.
This is where the size of the group really started to come into play. The DISC team knew that working with the Beginner’s Course online would be a challenge, and therefore chose to keep the first group small. Terra and I were joined by Veronique and Stephanie, two self-styled “beginner” storytellers with their own reasons for joining the course.