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Have You Considered Adding the Outrageous to Your Storytelling?
By Chris King

I remember one of my all-time favorite professional speakers, Lou Heckler, saying that even though we think we are overdoing and acting in an outrageous fashion when presenting, we probably aren't coming over that way. We could all add more oomph to our performance. How about as storytellers? How outrageous are you? And are you willing to take that leap (not as much of a leap as the man in the graphic to the right) into the unknown and untried? I am not suggesting that you change your whole style - there are low key tellers who are perfect the way they are. I am just tickling your fancy a bit to see if you will try something new and, possibly, a bit bizarre. You may discover a whole new side to your telling, and have some fun doing it.

It is time to stop taking ourselves so seriously. By being silly, we can add a fun element to our storytelling. At the very first National Storytelling Network (not by that name at the time) Conference I attended in Philadelphia, I learned an important fact. At a workshop geared to those of us who tell stories to the very young, we were encouraged to sing a silly song with animal sounds. I had been told for years by my ex-husband and mother-in-law that I couldn't and shouldn't sing. Well, at this workshop, the delightful leaders encouraged all of us to sing. Youngsters don't care if we are singing on key or have operatic voices. They just love the singing along. So, I became outrageous for me, put on a rubber pig's nose and sang, accompanied by oinking sounds. This has become one of the highlights of my program for young children. They laugh and giggle and sing along with gusto. It helps with rapport, too, when they see that I am not afraid to act foolish.

How about taking on a whole new persona? At last year's Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee (this year's is the 30th annual event and more than 10,000 people show up to listen to stories for three days - but that's another story) many of us were captivated by storyteller, Willy Claflin, and his partner, Maynard Moose. Maynard is actually a puppet, and in all of the years I have attended the Festival (twelve total) and the hundreds of stories I have heard, I don't remember one other storyteller being outrageous enough to use a puppet on stage - it just wasn't done. Not that storytellers never use puppets. Many do. But, for some reason, not in Jonesborough. Willy and Maynard, however, showed up and perfectly naturally took storytelling to a whole new level. Talk about hilarious. They had us laughing tears and realizing that when handled in their outrageous fashion, a puppet can bring a whole new dimension to the world of storytelling. I am not suggesting that we start using puppets or mimic Willy and Maynard. I am suggesting that we consider ways to step out of our usual character and try a whole new area of outrageous characterization.

How about moving differently? There are storytellers that move around the area with drama, gestures, jumps and flailing. I remember one red-headed storyteller from Ireland who, while telling a tale about a giant, threw himself down on the stage so hard, we feared for his life. If you tend to stay in one spot or sit on a stool, why not try to dance around a bit? And if you do move a lot, staying still might prove to be an outrageous experience for you. Again, I learned this lesson well when I started telling the story of the "Prince Who Thought He Was a Rooster" (suggested by Caroline Bauer in her classic Handbook for Storytellers) I followed Bauer's suggestion of flapping my arms and jumping around like a rooster. Children and adults alike love it. And I love it too! I do feel outrageous.

How about changing your style of clothing, wearing a costume, or adding a hat or other accessory? I know that many of us look down our noses at wearing costumes, but why not be outrageous for once and try it. When I first started telling stories for real, I took a wonderful storytelling class from a woman named Olga Nelson, who would often wear costumes when she told stories. I remember seeing a picture of her dressed as a rabbit. I am not sure I would go quite that far myself, but why not? When our stories involve different characters, we might have a certain hat for one, huge shoes for another, eye-glasses or a scarf for a third. How about a mask? I feel that masks can be a bit frightening to the very young, but could be quite interesting when used for older audiences, especially teenagers who would not react well to the foolishness of pig's noses or rooster's flapping wings, and yet might really be fascinated by a stylized mask - even a scary one. Use your imagination to introduce the outrageous to these young people who are working so hard at appearing "cool."

Do you ever use props? If you always do, why not try to tell without them or it? You could even mime your prop. Or, if you rarely or never use a prop, it may be time to purchase or make a drum, go to an antiques store or a flea market and purchase an object that would enhance one of your stories. Or, you might even write a story about a flea market find. I know one teller who specializes in telling to mature audiences - often in nursing home - where it is sometimes difficult to get a reaction of any kind from the listeners. She discovered that if she brought objects from the past with her, those who had never shown any interest before would light up and even share some of their own stories with her and the group. Try the unusual. You may even have lots of props handy at home. Just look in your attic or walk around your rooms, looking at objects from a different and outrageous perspective.

So, I ask again, "Have you considered adding the outrageous to your storytelling?" I hope that I have spurred you to at least consider it. Let me know about your outrageous ideas and antics. What have you tried lately?

I love getting your FEEDBACK!


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