We all love stories, and yet we take less time than before to tell them, or hear them. We at whoosh believe in the power of stories to inspire, to educate, and to entertain. They are at the heart of our project, in the form of city-storytelling - our name for using details of Vienna life to create tours and future urban adventures right across the city. Each city has its own culture, rhythm and character, and we want to help build the identity and attractiveness of life in Wien in 2022. And since stories need an audience, we aim to tell ours through events, press and in lectures.
Stories and myths play a central role in teaching each new generation how to live, to love, to belong, to enjoy rituals, and even how to follow the rules (for example in the Bible, Sherlock Holmes or Fünf Freunde). But we also need new narratives which make sense for our lives in the twenty-first century.
Eugene believes our lives are about collecting stories of our time on earth, which we enjoy telling our friends, and which help us make sense of the world. They help us connect with others, build trust and empathy, and they make life warmer and more enjoyable. So why is it that people used to collect in cafes to hear stories, but rarely do that now? During the pandemic, we discovered that by not leaving the house each day, there are fewer stories, because they come from contact with colleagues, lovers and strangers, combining with situations, places and ideally some form of novelty or innovation. We need them, and only miss them when they are not being created or told.
Songs with stories inside them used to be mainstream pop music, from Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, Joan Armatrading, Rolling Stones, Beatles, Neil Young and Sandy Denny. These days, songs are more fractured, bling and about effects instead of a narrative arc. Shame.
We are even interested in establishing, along with Christiane Bertolini, a new Storytelling section of the Gewerbeordnung, to bring together all the different people who use this art in their work. We see it as much broader than just people who write and publish books. Marketing, teachers, journalism, artists, city-planning, cafe-owners, architects, tour guides, sportspeople, parents, entrepreneurs, cabaret stars, Presidents Obama and Mandela, movie-makers all can use the vision and inclusive joy of a good story. Stories allow us to play together, to dream, to envision a better world, to experience wonder.
Eugene, as a child of Irish parents, knows that not all these stories need to be true, but their power increases if they come out of real-life situations, which other people can relate to. He remembers as a child, after church on Sundays, going to the pub all dressed up, and his uncle Peter asking if anybody had ever heard about the time he.... and so would begin an 8-minute sparkling monologue about some part of his experience. People would pull up chairs to join in the listening, and laughing. These tales can offer escape from the everyday.
They are also political. As Yuval Noah Harari wrote in The Guardian of the Russian invasion of Ukraine: 'Nations are ultimately built on stories. Each passing day adds more stories that Ukrainians will tell not only in the dark days ahead, but in the decades and generations to come. The president who refused to flee the capital, telling the US that he needs ammunition, not a ride; the soldiers from Snake Island who told a Russian warship to “go fuck yourself”; the civilians who tried to stop Russian tanks by sitting in their path. This is the stuff nations are built from. In the long run, these stories count for more than tanks.'
So come join us in our storytelling project - because our walks, parties, social-dining projects and teaching are built on sharing our passions and perspectives. Because Eugene is not a classic tour guide, and nearly all the people on our tours are Viennese, so our events are essentially full of stories and exchange, with everybody joining in.
In contrast with pure facts and data, stories add depth, warmth and relatability to our lives and interaction with others. They are more human.
An example of our storytelling as consultancy is for BOKU, who sense the potential to better explain their work, and the power of narrative to bring research to a wider audience and more presence in Austrian public life. So now Eugene is helping their post-grad cell-researchers to explain their work, using films, TED Talks, memes, articles responding to news, but most of all metaphors to open up this complex field. We need new heroes.
While we are thinking about heroes, who is your's? You probably struggle to answer that questions, because the concept has gone out of fashion. But that is tragic. If you ask people, who are your villains?, they do not need to think so long to answer. This is problematic, to have baddies but no goodies. We love happy endings, and yet our age does not believe in them, and news values lead us in the opposite direction - to focus on tragedy. There are more positive outcomes than we recognise. Please tell your friends about your little triumphs each day.
And having more time to explain who we are, and where we come from, allows new dialogue across the city, opening up conversations between refugees, diplomats, different migrant groups, the city council and conference attendees. At a time of psychological trauma and disorientation, stories help build a sense of community and solidarity, insights and friendship. But also curiosity: migration produces stories, not all of them attractive, but often fascinating, and these need to be heard, by the broadest possible audience. Stories offer new perspectives on old subjects.
Walking is also a metaphor for courage and independence, and so our tours create adventures, new bonds and memories. Walking as a movement leads to new understanding of the city: Here I am.
Here are just a few of our events which include storytelling elements:
Vienna Coffeehouse Conversations, where strangers sit together for 2 hours, using a question menu to tell their own biographies.
Magdas Social Dinner, where people with a refugee history meet more established Viennese and hotel guests for a big Syrian buffet and a question menu.
UN Rathaus Dinner, where diplomats come closer to their new home, by meeting Viennese in a cafe setting.
DJ Storytelling , where Eugene uses the power of music to unite and bring alive an evening.
TU urban adventures, where the Raumplanung Dept asked Eugene to create events around the city which might allow students to come closer to the experience of being together in urban places, and reflect on how people use the potential of Vienna to live their lives more colourfully, and fully. We want to test out academic theory in practice, out on the streets, in bars or on the U6.
Irish-Wien Storytelling Walk
Institution or Inspiration - a Vienna educational architecture tour
Tandlermarkt - Eugene speaks on Whoosh's Future Vision
BMK - Better uses for Streets than Cars presentation
3-day Bad Ischl Capital of Culture 2024 Storytelling Mountain wander
In fact, nearly all of our projects have a storytelling part, so please explore our past and future events. Eugene does not separate his work from his life, and so the two lead to stories in private and public.