Location: Port Townsend
Where to find him: brianrohr.com
Many of our stories and news updates come from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other postmodern entertainment institutions. However, humans will always gravitate toward classic stories and storytellers — Facebook need not apply.
Brian Rohr, a storyteller living in Port Townsend, does just that. He tells Jewish and non-Jewish stories to all types of audiences all over the country.
“All the storytelling I do I feel is sacred,” he said. “Stories teach about the human condition, our own spirit and our own soul and how we relate with each other. There’s a sacredness in that.”
Rohr began storytelling in 2007 after his introduction to the craft.
“I became interested in storytelling in general while at an ALEPH Kallah event of the Alliance for Jewish Renewal,” he said.
The organization puts on such events yearly, with a gathering of 500 to 800 musicians, rabbis, teachers, performers and students. The event aims at exploring the mystical side of Judaism.
He was hooked.
“I went to it and signed up for a storytelling class. The teacher was not Jewish himself but was connecting the Kabbalistic story of the four worlds. Upon meeting him, I was so moved and blown away by what he did that I gave up my job and life in Chicago and moved to Port Townsend as a storyteller.”
Rohr’s topics are varied.
“Now, in my career as a professional storyteller, I tell stories about many different cultures, and a subset of that is Jewish storytelling, which mainly includes stories in the Torah.”
“The essence of what I aim to do is breathe life back into these stories,” he said. “A lot of times we get these stories in written form, but they were originally oral. They got written down but a story likes to live and respond to listeners.”
Rohr said his storytelling gigs are largely appropriate for intergenerational audiences, but he prefers to perform to teens and adults.
“I’m drawn to stories that are very complex and very rich,” he said. “I like delving into the complexity of stories. Kids can follow a story, but teens and adults understand and relate more often with complex stories and how I share them.”
One of the reasons Rohr enjoys storytelling is because stories speak to the human condition.
“We like them because even if they are totally fantastical, they resonate. It’s like, maybe I didn’t have that experience right before the Red Sea parted, but through storytelling I understand what happened.”
Rohr gets hired to perform at synagogues, community events, summer camps, libraries, high schools, universities and festivals. His performances also often stand on their own.
He recently performed a major event for the Port Townsend Jewish community called “Hearing Lightning, Seeing Thunder,” which told the story of the receiving of the Torah.
A typical performance will last anywhere between 10 and 45 minutes or longer, depending on the story and program. “Hearing Lightning, Seeing Thunder” was close to an hour. Some last as long as two hours.
Rohr does not write down his stories or memorize them. Rather, he has a mental outline of what he will say, and will let the mood of the audience tweak his story accordingly.
“I don’t memorize the words like a script of an actor. The words of each story will not be the same, but the core essence of the story is absolute. The flesh is always a little bit different and having that flexibility allows the storyteller to respond to the needs of the audience consciously or subconsciously.
“I’ll read the story way ahead of time,” he said. “I’ll read it, practice it, read the commentaries on it, and in that way I’ll move forward.”
Sometimes the way his stories turn out surprises even him.
“One day I was performing a story — it was one of the same stories I’ve performed before — but it came out as a love story.”
But that type of spontaneity “is an important essence of storytelling,” he said. “It allows the heart of the story to come through.”
Furthermore, a key part of successful storytelling is for the storyteller to truly understand the beginning, middle and end.
“How we close a story will determine how people carry the story into the rest of their lives.”
Rohr wants his stories to have fantasy.
“I want to let go of the rational — these stories are not rational. But instead, have people listen with the ears and the heart. I like bringing people into the magical realm.”