I have a friend, Todd, who is an inspired and inspirational writer. He has penned a couple of books, some stories, and blog entries. His friends appreciate his droll and witty Facebook comments. Now, with some trepidation, Todd has embarked upon writing a play chronicling a period of social upheaval in our country’s recent history—a period that has great personal meaning for him. He started by doing a great deal of research into his subject. He contacted some of the people who were involved at that time, and made arrangements to travel to their cities to interview them. (He funded his travels through a Kickstarter crowdfunding appeal to his friends and supporters, effectively making us his partners in the endeavor.) Getting to know these people influenced his approach greatly, and made collaborative partners of them, as well. Todd took the support of his friends, the contributions of the people involved, and the experience of visiting some of the sites where the events unfolded, and wrapped all that in his own perspective. The play emerged as a creation born of deep feeling and emotion. Todd put everything he had into its creation, and each word was like a page torn directly from his soul. It emerged as deeply personal and meaningful.
I recently had the privilege of attending a staged reading of the script in its almost-finished version. After the reading, there was a period of talk-back, where Todd asked his audience to give him feedback. What courage, I thought as I observed him sitting there alone in front of us all, for a playwright to open his work up for criticism and analysis. As the evening went on, ideas and suggestions were offered, some of which, I’m sure, will shape the final version of the play. Then Todd began to speak about how difficult it was for him to turn his words over to the actors, who interpreted them in their own ways, with the resulting performance moving in directions that Todd himself had not anticipated, and that surprised and touched him. He gave up control of his creation to allow it to become something beyond his vision. In October the play will be presented for the first time. It will be the creation of Todd’s mind, for sure, but the play will also bear the fingerprint of the actors, the supporters, the protagonists, and ultimately the audience. I can’t wait to see it.
For the past couple of years I have been immersed in folk music as I learn to play the dulcimer and bowed psaltery, and join local groups for jams and performances. Most of the songs we play are over a hundred years old, and are in the public domain, meaning either their copyright had expired, so they were free for unrestricted use, or that they were of no traceable origin—not composed by any one person, but grew through folk lore and the folk process. Songs were often changed to reflect the times and climes through which they travelled. And in changing, they became meaningful to a new generation of people, and were thus passed along to be changed again.
This idea of the folk process intrigues me. The Wikipedia article on the subject offers the following definition: “In the study of folklore, the folk process is the way folk material, especially stories, music, and other art, is transformed and re-adapted in the process of its transmission from person to person and from generation to generation. The folk process defines a community—the "folk community"—in and through which folklore is transmitted. While there is a place for professional and trained performers in a folk community, it is the act of refinement and creative change by community members within the folk tradition that defines the folk process.” 
A good example of this is the song “We Shall Overcome.” Many of us know the song as the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. It has been sung by folk music icons such as Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. It has been sung by protesters and freedom marchers, and in churches and schools. The song had its origins as a composed Christian hymn, “I’ll Overcome, I’ll Overcome, I’ll Overcome Someday.” Over time, the words changed to what we most commonly know now, “We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome someday.” In its progression, words changed, new verses were added, as it was sung in to speak to the struggles of different peoples and times. The song became much more than it was when it was first composed, and along the way touched the lives, and spoke to the hearts of many people. Although likely not what the original composer imagined, how grateful we should all be for the process that gave us the song we have today. I wonder how it will change in the future to speak to new generations of struggling people.
In my own experience, when I’ve conceived of an idea, and allowed others to participate in the development and execution of that idea, I have invariably found that it took a life of its own, and although maybe not what I originally imagined, I often came to see the result as having more meaning and effectiveness because I allowed the others to join me in the process. When we allow others to touch our creation, we implicitly give them permission to change it, whether in ways small or large. And that, dear reader, seems to me to be a powerful force. Together we can create something far greater than what any one of us could imagine.
Citation: Levy, Bronwen Ann; Murphy, Ffion (1991). Story/telling. Univ. Queensland Press. p. 43.