Odyssey builds connections through storytelling

“One of the beauties about Odyssey shows, is that people are not performing, it’s not entertainment, they are not acting, people are really sharing something, they have something to teach.” Jen Clark Executive Producer of Odyssey Storytelling. Logan Mutz on stage. (Photo by: Paige Facchino / Arizona Sonora News)

Five months ago, college student Aly Cruz was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, a virus with an unknown cause that will weaken or even paralyze the muscles in her face.

“I was unable to move the left side of my face; it was entirely paralyzed. I couldn’t talk or smile, I felt lost and displaced. As all of this happened during finals week, I was physically, mentally, and emotionally destroyed,” said Cruz.

Over the months Cruz regained control and strength in her face. However, it took more time and one specific organization for her emotional turmoil of this virus to heal.

Cruz shared her personal story at the Odyssey.

Aly Cruz after sharing her story. (Photo by: Paige Facchino / Arizona Sonora News)

Thirteen years ago, Penelope Starr, a local advocate for sharing the importance of storytelling, created the nonprofit organization, Odyssey Storytelling.

According to Starr, Odyssey works on a personal level; it is about being honest and being seen for who you are. For Cruz, sharing her experience created an intimate connection she desperately needed.

“Many people approached me afterwards to tell me how my story impacted them, or how they had gone through something similar but ended up stronger at the end. That’s the most rewarding aspect of storytelling, knowing you are not alone.”

On the first Thursday night of the month, six people share a personal story, fear, hope, or life lesson to an audience located in downtown Tucson at The Screening Room.

Just as every month has new storytellers, it also has different themes to fit the stories people are willing to share.

Past themes include lost, forgiveness/grudges, wheels, again, bridges, and escape. Whether one’s story is sad, embarrassing, silly, or intimate, the level of healing and discovering that takes place is unique and powerful for each individual.

“Speaking at Odyssey was indeed a positive and healing experience for me. I was able to use my story to connect and relate to the audience, in a way it validated my experience, reminding me and showing me that I will end up okay, just like others” said Cruz.

Cruz told her story this March.

About a week prior to the Odyssey Storytelling show is the rehearsal where the storytellers take time to reflect on their message.

“The process of getting on stage and putting yourself out there is so courageous, it takes so much trust that your audience and your listeners are going to suspend judgment and hear you out, and perhaps even find themselves in your story,” said Jen Clark, the executive producer for Odyssey since 2014.

“I love storytelling, I think storytelling is one of the most important things we can be doing as a community,” said Clark. “I see a lot of healing happening, within the storytellers and the community and the volunteers.”

This power of storytelling is revealed within the research article, What Our Ancestors Knew: Teaching and Learning Through Storytelling.

Professors Lawrence and Paige state, “Storytelling is a holistic process that engages the heart, body, and spirit along with the mind. Telling our stories is one way of making sense of our own experiences. Listening to others’ stories also helps us to understand ourselves as we identify with their experiences.”

More importantly they discovered that “Listening to stories around difference helps to promote empathy and understanding, particularly between people of different cultures. It broadens our knowledge.”

The guiding principal of Odyssey Storytelling is to make connections with others and open possibilities of self-discovery.

To submit a story visit the Odyssey’s website to fill out a form.

Paige Facchino is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at paigefacchino@email.arizona.edu

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos.

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