Resilience resonates at 'Trigger Warning'

StoryMuse presents an evening of storytelling about violence, trauma and strength on June 24 at 7 Stages Theatre

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On April 16, 2007, a single shooter tore through the Virginia Tech campus killing 32 people in what was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, until the Pulse night club shooting in 2016. Local storyteller Shannon Turner was wrapping up the final year of her master's in arts management at the university when the shooting happened.

Since then, Turner has embarked on a mission to highlight trauma through storytelling. On June 24, Turner hosts Trigger Warning: A Night of Stories at 7 Stages Theatre. Eight storytellers from various backgrounds will reflect on the roles of violence and trauma in everyday life and how their experiences ultimately made them stronger. "The title of the show should be Spoiler Alert: I Didn't Die," jokes Turner.

Originally from Jonesboro, home of the International Storytelling Center, Turner says she has always been a storyteller. After the shooting at Virginia Tech, she and several other leaders and artists came together to create a multidisciplinary responsive show. This past April, Turner returned to the university to put on a 10-year anniversary storytelling event that highlighted the decade-long healing process. The event included first responders and relatives of the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting. It set the standard for how Trigger Warning would be structured. "The culmination of that was a storytelling show that was very similar in format to what this one will be," Turner says.

?۬Upon her return to Atlanta, Turner began sharing details of her work at Virginia Tech, and she realized trauma and violence were not unique to public events, like what happened in Blacksburg. One friend responded with a story about being pistol-whipped outside her home in Grant Park. "What happened to us at Virginia Tech was a very public, almost global event," Turner says. "I think what happens to people in their everyday lives gets easily covered up."

In January, Turner quit her day job as the managing director of a dance company to focus full-time on her work in at Virginia Tech and StoryMuse, a storytelling and coaching organization. Using her growing storytelling network, she began to float the idea for Trigger Warning around Atlanta, and it quickly gained traction.

She soon received a private grant through the Community Foundation, allowing her to pay the storytellers, the venue and herself. With the bills taken care of, Turner was able to partner with Men Stopping Violence (MSV), a local nonprofit that uses education and advocacy to end male violence against women and children, and turn Trigger Warning into a benefit.

"Men Stopping Violence supports the value, strength and transformative impact of survivors telling their stories," says Assistant Director Greg Laughlin. "We want to hear the truth, and have that truth inform our strategies for engaging men in preventing male violence."

Turner says MSV was instrumental in finding men to participate in Trigger Warning. "Men are subject to violence, but getting them to talk about it was really difficult," Turner says. "For men it's not framed as trauma, rather just something you have to go through."

The evening will be real, raw and emotional, Turner promises. The storytellers include victims of domestic abuse, a sex trafficking survivor and a survivor of a parachuting accident who found herself in a period of self harm. Themes of journey, secrecy, resilience and redemption will stand out.

Recent Kennesaw State University graduate Maddie Fay will share a step-by-step guide to recovering from trauma told in second-person, offering listeners a chance to catch their breath. "I don't actually talk about what happened to me. It's about what I did and do after anything big that happens to me to get through," Fay says. "When you tell stories, you find all of these themes that are related and similar. It's nice to not feel alone."

Turner agrees that the power of storytelling lies in the connections it fosters. "I am trying to challenge the notion that what we encountered every day should be covered up, ignored and turned away from," she says. "I believe that when we share our stories and collectively show up and listen to each other's, we are making the world a better place."

Trigger Warning: A Night of Stories. $15. 8-11 p.m. Sat., June 24. 7 Stages Theatre, 1105 Euclid Ave. N.E. 404-523-7647.www.triggerwarningatl2017.eventbrite.com.

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