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Pick a Theme for Your Next Storytelling Program
by Chris King

Recently when I was asked to give a storytelling program at a Saturday night session hosted by our local MetroParks system, the woman who called wondered if I had a theme in mind. What a good idea! It not only helps with their write-up and advertising of the event, but also helps the storyteller plan a cohesive performance.

Because I was telling mid-March, I told her I would focus on trickster tales (in preparation for April Fools’ Day). I already told some trickster tales – everyone and all ages enjoy them – and I knew that there were many more that I hadn’t yet discovered and worked on, but did in the next few weeks. This was an added benefit for me, because I added some new, fun stories to my repertoire. In this column, I discuss some ideas for themes.

Choose a theme that revolves around a special date. This is one of the easiest ways to pick a theme. Every month has a special date or theme of its own. For February, we have Valentine’s Day – a perfect time to tell stories that touch on love, of which there are many. In March, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and there are more Irish folktales that you can imagine (just don’t try to tell with an Irish brogue, unless you have one naturally). Last year a storytelling friend and I took part in an all-week Earth Day celebration. We told stories that focused on nature and animals – again, there are lots. The most obvious theme is Halloween, probably because of the enjoyment of ghost stories. There is no reason to avoid ghost stories, however, at any time of year, but October is the most popular time for them. Also, there are many special days and weeks throughout the year that aren’t necessarily national holidays that will give you ideas for a theme. There is no reason, either, that you can’t create a special day of your own to celebrate.

Pick a theme that has some special meaning for you. I just received an e-mail from a newer teller who is disabled and is planning to work on stories that address the theme of being “different” from others. There is a plethora of stories with this theme – I mentioned one of my favorites, “The Ugly Duckling,” to her. Having worked in a restaurant for more than 17 years, I have quite a few restaurant stories – two original ones and many more true ones, slightly embellished. I am thinking of putting a whole evening performance of restaurant stories together. Ask yourself what you feel passionate about. If it’s politics, there are many political stories. I know another teller who is fascinated by how the flowers were named, and tells stories that are all related to flowers. And there are pour quoi stories that explain why something is the way it is (for example, why is the turtle’s shell cracked?). There are many stories about justice and judges. There are stories about women, giants – you name it!

Be sure to pick a theme that interests you. I mention this warning, because as storytellers we often get calls from groups that have already picked a theme and want us to tell stories that adhere to that theme. This is fine, if it is a theme that turns you on and you feel will add an exciting dimension to your telling. But, if it doesn’t interest you that much (someone once wanted me to tell stories that related to the Chinese New Year), don’t do it. Remember the first rule of storytelling – only tell stories that you love. If you choose a theme of interest, I will guarantee that you will find stories you love that fit that theme.

So, pick a theme and get busy. Just make sure to have some fun and learn some new stories!


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