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How to Develop the Fine Art of Tandem Storytelling
by Chris King

When two storytellers successfully perform a story together, the audience is in for a special treat. The different characters in the story are actually portrayed by different voices and personalities and the story is enriched by the variety. This Tandem Telling, however, carries its own set of challenges. When done well, it offers a rewarding experience for both tellers and listeners. Done poorly, it offers a frustrating experience for all.

Choose tandem storytelling partners with care. There are a plethora of considerations when storytellers decide to tell in tandem. First of all, make sure that you get along well with each other. This sounds obvious, but what must be remembered is that you will spend a great deal of time choosing the story and/or stories you plan to tell and then much more time practicing together. Unlike acting, storytelling is personal and spontaneous, always interacting with the audience. Many of the effective tandem tellers I know are married or related to each other, so already live with each other’s habits and personalities. There is also the advantage of spending a lot of time together which can be directed toward practice, details, decisions and interaction with the stories.

Choose stories to be told in tandem with a great deal of consideration. First and foremost, both tellers must love the story. As I’ve mentioned many times before, never tell a story you don’t love. There is no way to engage an audience’s thorough enjoyment of a story that you don’t particularly like. And, remember, working with another will involve much more preparation than working solo, so you both have to like the story well enough to commit to extra preparation. Also, you must consider the actual story. Certain stories lend themselves better to tandem telling. There are many husband and wife stories, stories about two animal friends, or two people who are acquaintances who meet and interact, all of which work well for tandem storytelling. Some tandem tellers create special stories to fit their individual personalities while others look to the many folktales that are available. Some do both.

Commit to the extra time needed for successful preparation. I have experienced tandem telling that hadn’t received the proper amount of preparation, and it is not a pretty sight. When two people are working together, no matter how well they feel they know the material, the timing and cueing must be perfect. This takes a great deal of pre-planning, pre-practicing, and being prepared for any unforeseen happenings or slip-ups. Make sure that each knows his or her part to perfection and what you will do if you forget a section. A solo storyteller can always say something like, “Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention …” but it is a little rougher with two tellers.

Commit to each other and decide who will take the lead. I already mentioned getting along with each other, but it is also important to make prior decisions about which one will do the introductions, which will answer questions, and which one will take the lead in the different stories to be included in the program. I have attended wonderful performances where the tandem tellers take turns, and also don’t always tell together. One will perform a story while the other stays off to the side listening and/or accompanying the current teller with an instrument of some sort. I should mention here how important it is for both tellers to not only enjoy the stories they are telling together, but to also enjoy each other and each other’s performance. Pure enjoyment is obvious and when tellers exhibit joy in what they are doing and doing together, it just adds to the whole audience’s enthusiasm with the program and the tellers.

Embrace the challenges and advantages of tandem storytelling and have fun! You have probably realized by now, that tandem telling can present challenges, but it also affords the advantages of working with another person and having another person there for the bouncing off of ideas and coaching each other. It is important to lighten up and have the extra special fun of working together. Make sure you can laugh at yourself and each other.

Try it, you’ll like it! Find another storyteller you admire and prepare to tell together for fun. You will discover a whole new world of storytelling — Tandem Telling.


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