Story Circles

Story Circles were pioneered by the great artist and ancestor John O’ Neal, along with his cohorts Doris Derby and Gilbert Moses of the Free Southern Theater (FST). In the early 1960s, they moved into the Desire Housing Projects in New Orleans with the hope of bringing social justice oriented theater to the working class — Black people of New Orleans. Because impoverishment kept so many Black folks from directly engaging in the Civil Rights Movement or the arts through theater, John and his cohorts chose to bring both to the people. They used Story Circles to gather the narratives of everyday people and turn them into theater to give back to the people. The process is simple but powerful, minimalist but extremely effective. 


  1. Ground Rules — Facilitator provides ground rules.
    1. Timing  A story should be no more than three minutes.
    2. Right to pass — All are encouraged to tell a story, but has the right to pass.
    3. Stories only — The story must be a story with a beginning, middle, and end. No explaining, proselytizing, or pontificating. All can be released through simply telling your story. 
    4. One Mic — No (cross) talking or questioning during storytelling. There will be a designated time for that afterwards. 
  2. Demo — Facilitator provides a prompt and an example of their own story: (Tell me about a time when… e.g. when you felt like your voice was silenced).
  3. Grouping — Divides group of participants into groups of three or four to tell their stories.
  4. Story time  — 3 mins per person + 10 minutes for discussion.
    1. Once all stories are shared, utilize mirrors and windows to share what resonated and/or any new information about each story.
  5. Group Discussion (10 minutes) — Did anyone have a mirror or window? Learn something new? How might this experience inform the conversation moving forward? 
  6. Collective breathe  Facilitator closes out with a collective breath inviting storytellers to inhale all they wish to retain and exhale all they wish to release.

This exercise can be tailored for specific subjects.