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Interview with Jenny Goldstick, co-creator of the Story Of/ workshop

We got a chance to ask Jenny Goldstick some questions about the workshop she’s running with MFA Visual Narrative Chair, Nathan Fox. The Story Of/ workshop is the perfect playground for storytellers of all stripes to refresh their perspective on story. It comes highly recommended as a forum for individuals and groups (such as marketing teams) to identify, challenge and understand effective narrative tools.

Read on to see if the Story Of/ workshop is a good fit for you and/or your team.

Tell us about yourself and what inspired you to start the Story Of/ story workshop?

I really love hackathons, game jams, design thinking workshops, and any form of group brainstorm, so I basically decided that I wanted to design one to my own liking, taking the best parts of all the collaborative events I have attended around NYC.

I reached out to Nathan about it, because I intuitively felt a conceptual connection to the MFAVN program, and to Nathan’s way of approaching storytelling and creative thinking in general, and am also an alumna.

He emailed me back immediately! And was like, Yes, lets do this! He had been trying to formulate some kind of story workshop on his end, too.

So it was really fortuitous. We basically filled in each other’s conceptual blanks. Anchoring my enthusiasm for these types of collaborative events with Nathan’s pedagogy for investigating the roots of story and what makes a story good, really helped us realize the idea.

I’m an infographics designer by trade, by the way, but I consider myself increasingly to just be an interdisciplinary artist who is interested in exploring non-linear story, like the hows, whens, and whys.

What is it about the story workshop format that you enjoy?

I think that the typical 48-hour window of a game jam or hackathon is a great way to get participants to work non-preciously, and to find the quickest way to an effective prototype. If a team does not find their way to an effective prototype that conveys their idea, that’s also useful, because its a small enough timeframe to study, through a micro lens, how time might have been spent differently, and how communication might have been more clear. Much like the storytelling theory, “Tension yields character” (McKee), the compressed time of this type of workshop helps participants realize and face their characteristics as collaborators head on. And hopefully, we can teach them some tools to help strengthen and improve their approaches to collaboration along the way.

Our format is unique in that we have decided to hold a pre-main-event launch night, where we will reveal the story theme and determine story variables that will be used as a constant across all teams. We decided to do this separately from the main event in order to further inspire interdisciplinary approaches to thinking and making. With an extra week between the launch night and main event, teams can collect assets and do any research needed – which is an opportunity typically not granted in a hackathon or game jam. In other words, filmmakers could shoot footage, choreographers could hire dancers, or a team who is invested in a story that takes place in a particular time period can go collect period-specific imagery.

To be able to work alongside Nathan is sort of mind-blowing in itself – I feel grateful for the opportunity. He was an inspiration to me as a teacher in the MFA Visual Narrative program, has given me advice as a creative professional as chair of the program, and now I have had the opportunity to work with him as a co-instructor and as a teaching apprentice. Not only is he a prolific illustrator, but he approaches storytelling from all these different angles and is always bursting with ideas and enthusiasm. You could come up with the most insane-sounding idea that only makes sense to you, and even only in the vaguest terms, and he will meet you where you are in idea space, and help you turn it over and around, back it up, add propeller jets, and ultimately lift it up.

Tell us what makes the Story Of/ workshop different from other story workshops.

Well, the Story Of/ name itself is a “Drum roll, please…” segue way into the story adventures that we are asking participants to dive into with us. We will announce a guiding theme at our very special Launch Night, as well as determine certain agreed-upon story parameters that will be consistent across all teams. As if this was an experiment, and we are story scientists, we will all use the same variables and inevitably solve for them differently. This type of structure will allow us to study the variety of ways storytellers tell their stories, and how those choices emphasize certain elements or add meaning. This event also teaches tools of interdisciplinary collaboration; story is a great bridge for drawing together creative people from different technical backgrounds. One person might not speak code, one might not speak typography or theater direction, but story is a language everyone can learn to speak and to further refine.

And when the story is the priority, at least in a short-term, not-product-focused event like this, then the challenge becomes what is the best way to represent this story and communicate it. Everything else falls by the wayside – cool, complicated technical executions won’t lead the way; ego won’t lead the way. Story is extremely democratizing. The questions become about whether the story makes sense and what is going to make it better, and that is all – simple! And super fun. In short, storytellers will get a lot out of it! Hopefully both personally and professionally. Nathan, Joan, and I can’t wait to share the next version of this event.

What will storytellers walk away with that they didn’t have before?

Storytellers will walk away with a sense of how story works, really, at its core. We are breaking down story into its parts and studying them in a concentrated way, separate from everyday life. It’s easy to say or believe that you know something about story; so many creative people think about “storytelling” every day in various capacities, both professional and personal. But have you ever taken the time to really stop and think about what makes a story compelling vs. just a series of things that happen? What if you had told the part about how the burglar used to date the neighbor later in the story, and it acted as a reveal? Or is it better to disclose this information as a hook to this increasingly crazy narrative, where things only become more oddly coincidental, and more wild – and probably higher stakes? OR is the fact that the burglar dated the neighbor actually a detail that doesn’t matter, because this story is more about how the owners of the home forgave the burglar, because they saw his or her desperation? Or is it the whole point that the burglar was burglarizing in hopes to get caught and re-gain the neighbor’s attention? and now its a love story? (side bar: this is total fiction; I have no personal connection to this tale that I’m weaving 🙂 ) – I’m only speaking in straight story terms here and off the cuff, just wait until we get to the visualizing part.

Storytellers will also walk away with a sense of camaraderie that is unique to this type of experience. I really can’t emphasize enough the positive and emotional connective power of story when it acts as a common denominator between people of different professional backgrounds, and varying experience levels, trying to build something together.

Lastly, while this event is not as prescriptive nor as directly applied as a design sprint or design thinking workshop, we do offer a general framework to help teams work together and approach the challenge, and it’s one that transcends media – when you prioritize the story above the media, like, how do you even begin to think about that? We will provide some guidance on this, and teams will learn to be resourceful, use what they have and know, and have the opportunity to gain insights from mentors with various specialties along the way – all they need to do is tell the best story they can! And as much as they put into it, I guarantee, through their failures and successes, they get as much and more out of it. Trust the process and walk down this Story Adventure Path, and you will never go back. I don’t mean that to sound ominous. I mean to say that the experience will change the way you think about storytelling and collaboration, and shake things up to inspire whatever you do next. It’s easy to forget how a story can inspire you, and how fellow storytellers, artists, or collaborators can revitalize you, too. This experience will remind you of all that, and also ask you to think about why and how.

Thanks for talking to us, Jenny! Story Of/ sounds like the perfect venue to refresh our storytelling chops! We’ll have to check in after the story workshop is over to hear about the tales told.

Learn more about the Story Of/ workshop here

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