Corey Rosen on Story-Telling and the Art of Performing

Corey Rosen has hosted 105 live events for The Moth. He is an Emmy-award winning writer, actor, and storytelling teacher. He has hosted The Moth StorySlam and GrandSlams since winning the first ever Bay Area Moth StorySlam (2014). Corey also performs at BATS Improv, one of the world’s foremost centers for improvisational theater. He has written for Comedy Central, Jim Henson Productions, and Lucasfilm.

When not writing or performing, Corey works as a visual effects artist and executive producer. He has credits on dozens of movies, including Mission: Impossible, several Star Wars films, and Disney’s A Christmas Carol. He has taught at NYU, and Academy of Art University. Rosen has written and directed television commercials and Emmy award-winning short films.

Corey Rosen is married with two school-age children. He plays piano and guitar, and has a varsity letter in golf. He holds a bachelor’s degree in radio, TV and film from Northwestern University and a collection of more than 600 snowglobes.

Your new release, Your Story, Well Told, is a light-hearted yet thoughtful guide on how to craft and present personal stories to an audience. How did you know that this unique book had to be written, where did your inspiration come from?

Throughout my life, there have been creative projects that have felt strained or laborious to create.  This project was not.  I have been steeped in the worlds of Live Storytelling as well as Improvisational Theater for most of my life.  As a performer, I have created spontaneous stories on stage for more than 20 years.  As the host of The Moth, I have the unique privilege and delight to share the stage with a wide range of people, sharing their own stories.  My inspiration to write “Your Story, Well Told,” came from the intersection these two styles and forms of creative writing and performance – crafting and telling true stories, along with the mindset and presence skills that enable an improvisor to find inspiration and spontaneity in the moment.  The result is a fun book, filled with true stories, that inspires others to tell their own.  

Your Story, Well Told is your first book on the subject of storytelling- what was your writing process like? What did you find to be the most challenging as well as the most rewarding aspect of this process?

I talk in my book about creative blocks and ways to overcome them, so I used a technique of my own that I recommend to others as I wrote this book – namely to separate the first draft from the editing process.  In other words, I practiced getting out of my own way, and allowed the roughest version to get written down, quieting the critic that sits on my shoulder saying “you should re-word that!” until I had a finished first draft of the book done.  After getting it “out” of me, then I could turn on my editorial brain and look more analytically and critically at the book I’d written.  I find that, at times in my life, I’ve hesitated to write for fear than what I wrote would not be good.  The process I now use as a writer (and used in the writing of this book) was to ignore that fear, to write (even when I recognized there might be a better way to articulate myself) and to allow myself the time (and grace) later to revisit and rework parts that needed polish.  Overall, the creation of each aspect (the outline, the individual chapters, the exercises, etc) proved to be the most rewarding aspect.  Each mini hurdle felt like a milestone and propelled me forward as I kept on going.  

What would you say to someone who walked up to you said, “I want to be a storyteller”? What is the first step in a person’s storytelling journey?

Everyone is a storyteller.  We do it all the time – in the ways we communicate with our families, our colleagues, and even with ourself.  We use stories to make sense of things that happened and to learn from them.  The first step is to identify a moment in your life in which something changed.  Something happened and the outcome changed your outlook, your behavior, or your path.  If nothing changed, it’s not a story.  It’s an anecdote or a sequence of events.  What makes your experiences stories is perspective – looking back on them and understanding that things changed because of the experience you had.  

Who is your favorite storyteller of all time? What makes their story so captivating?

I’ve had the good fortune to work for George Lucas, at his visual effects studio, Industrial Light + Magic, for many years.  While George’s stories lend a lot to classic mythological structures and forms, such as Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, I admire his aptitude for capturing and exploiting the fundamental storytelling archetypes and manifesting them in truly original and exciting ways.  

You have lived a very exciting life as an actor, a writer, an EMMY WINNER and so much more- how would you tell your story in 50 words or less?

When I was 20, I careened off the road, awakening to realize, and fully accept, that I was about to die.  When I woke up, a group of strangers outside my car was praying for the WRONG PERSON since my brother’s driver’s license (my FAKE ID) was in my wallet. While I never got  that ID back, I also never looked back from that day.  I feel grateful for every living day since the day I “died” and experience life as if it is a gift, a bonus, from the one I nearly lost.  (That’s a little longer than 50 words, so let me know if you’d like me to cut it down or re-write it)

If you had to choose, what would be your favorite quote or lesson from Your Story, Well Told?

There is a well-known principle from the Improv Theater world, called “yes, and…”, that I explore as a technique for both giving and receiving feedback.  When you say “yes, and” to a creative colleague, you are supporting, encouraging, and building on the parts of their story that ARE working, rather than poking holes in the parts that are not.  So much “feedback” feels destructive and leads people to a state of frustration.  Integrating this positive model can help your work, and the work of your colleagues and friends in ways that pay off immediately.  

How do you want your readers to feel after they turn the last page of your book?

I want people to tell their own stories, better.  I believe that, when you finish my book, you will be inspired to call someone, or get up on a stage, and try out a new story.  

On a personal note, how are you nourishing your own soul and taking care of yourself during this chaotic time?

I am reading, exercising, meditating, and using this time to grow.  I have found ways to connect with relatives and friends that I’ve lost touch with, and I am looking forward to seeing how others have grown over the past 15 or more months, so we can appreciate how special it is to see each other again (in person).  

Rapid Fire Questions:

Favorite place in the world? Tre Scalini, a caffe in Piazza Navona, Rome.

Go to coffee (or tea) order? Light and Sweet

Summer or winter? Fall

Pancakes or waffles? Crepes

Last book you read? Story Power, by Kate Farrell

Your Story, Well Told

Creative Strategies to Develop and Perform Stories that Wow an Audience

The following is (not) a work of fiction. We’ve all got stories to tell─but how do you make your story the best story? In The Best Story Ever Told, Moth veteran and master teacher, Corey Rosen, inspires you to get on stage and tell your story. Using the best storytelling techniques from improvisational theatre, Rosen designs an accessible guide for all ages and skill levels. Crafted to help ordinary people tell extraordinary stories, this laugh out loud handbook covers everything from how to tell a good story to going off script.

Spontaneous stories to tell. The best storytelling uses improvisation to enthrall, entertain, and keep audiences on edge. Laugh along with tales of performance triumphs (and disasters) and explore ways to tell your story with confidence and spontaneity.

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