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Questions Storytellers Are Often Asked and How They Answer
By Karen Chace and Tim Jennings

When I tell people that I am a "storyteller" right away they fire back a slew of questions. In this article I am going to share some questions and answers from two of my favorite storytelling friends. These mini-articles appeared originally as posts on the StoryTell List. Whether or not you are a storyteller and/or a listener, you will find them insightful, entertaining and illuminating.

From Karen Chace:

For me, first and foremost I seem to always have to explain "what" a storyteller is as most people assume I read. I know many of you have the same problem. Sometimes that leads into a longer discussion about what the differences are and it is always nice to make another storytelling convert.

Then, of course, comes the question "What kind of stories do you tell?" My answer is that I share a variety of stories from different genres, folktales, fairytales, myths...at this point they are usually shaking their heads in affirmative...ahhh they get it. :)

Other questions that follow are:

  • Where do you find your stories?
  • Do you memorize them?
  • Do you write your own stories?
  • Do you tell just to children or to adults as well?

Wouldn't it be nice if all of those questions and answers could fit on a business card? I seem to remember that there is a new type of digital business card that is in the market. It contains a computer chip which stores a lot more information; the wave of the future to be sure.

I want to throw three more questions into the mix. I tend to tell more to children. Although I have told at some adult venues, by far, the majority of my shows are for children. Granted, when telling to children, I often find adults in the audience, but it is different from an entire adult audience. I used to feel that I should spread myself out more, move into the adult telling arena. However, lately I have come to realize that I really enjoy working with the children more. I am in my element, comfortable and happy so why apologize for it? So here are my three questions:

1) As storytellers, do you instinctively know what audiences you are more comfortable telling to?

2) As storytellers, do think/feel it is perfectly acceptable to stay within one age group, i.e. children vs. adults when choosing storytelling venues?

3) Do you think it is absolutely necessary to tell to all age groups?

Karen Chace lives in East Freetown, Massachusetts. She is a professional storyteller whose website is http://www.storybug.net. She is author of _Researching Stories on the Internet: A Webliography of Storytelling Resources which may be found at her website. Karen may be reached at Storybug@aol.com


Tim Jennings answers Karen's questions:

1) As storytellers, do you instinctively know what audiences you are more comfortable telling to?

I started telling to troubled kids, refined my work in front of juvenile delinquents. I was too aggressive for very young kids, and too - I don't know - loud, maybe, for older audiences.

2) As storytellers, do think/feel it is perfectly acceptable to stay within one age group, i.e. children vs. adults when choosing storytelling venues?

It's always easier to tell to people younger than you are. This is one of the great advantages of being a storyteller - as I creep (or, increasingly, plummet) into geezerhood, I find fewer and fewer audiences that buffalo me in that particular way. Picking a particular audience and sticking to it is perfectly acceptable, and, indeed, from a marketing point of view, even desirable. Certainly better than alienating potential audiences for others who enjoy them. But. You do grow more, as an artist, if you can figure out how to work with a variety of ages. And, it is helpful to be prepared with material that will help you adapt to a wide variety of situations, because, well, that's the way life is.

You know, "children" is not one kind of audience - there are at least three or four in there. And if you can handle all of them, then any problem you might have with performing for adults might be a function of either the particular set of adults you are performing for (they are looking for something - spiritual uplift, say, or stand-up comedy - that you aren't interested in providing), or could be something that you could probably fix with some experimentation and feedback.

Here at random are some personal, hard-won discoveries I made over the years by analyzing what went wrong - or, worse, what kept going wrong - when working in front of a new kind of audience.

  • The same sweet voice that offends many fifth graders and most any worthwhile 7th grader, and positively horrified my father (library lady reading "millions of cats") - this same voice relaxes and reassures young children.
  • Small groups require (and I do mean require) much less movement and volume than large groups.
  • Most traditional folk material that works at all for you can work in front of any age or degree of sophistication, but the style of presentation should be modified to suit.
  • Adults are made comfortable by your own comfort.
  • But the basics work for everybody - you need to demonstrate fairly soon that you are entertaining, that you have no hidden agenda, and that you are comfortable in front of that group. And you need to stay entertaining, giving them something good at least every twenty seconds - if not a laugh, something as good as a laugh.

3) Do you think it is absolutely necessary to tell to all age groups?

No. But I would miss any that I lost.

Tim Jennings of Jennings & Ponder from Burlington, Vermont, may be reached at tim@folktale.net, or visited at http://www.folktale.net. Tim is also involved with The StoryTellingWiki found at http://www.onegecko.com/wikigecko/index.php. Take a few minutes to visit.

 

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