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Frequently Asked Questions for Storytellers and Those Who Want to Hire Them (Part I)
By True Thomas

Two burning questions that many people ask are:

1. What should I expect at a storytelling event?
2. How do I hire a storyteller?

1. What should I expect at a storytelling event?

Storytelling is a strange thing. I belong to the Storytell Listserv where time and again people have tried to define what "storytelling" is. It can involve music, puppets, multiple tellers, props, improvisation, and more. Likewise, each storytelling event is a little different. Some feature a group of master tellers exploring themes like Fools and Wise Men, Tales of the Sea etc, Scary Stories, etc. Others feature one or two tellers, for an in-depth show. Yet another features up to 5 tellers in a great show....

At a festival, you get Olio's (a group of tellers within a certain time) and features, showcases, etc. where a certain teller or group will hold the stage. These are examples, and there is a lot of variety. By and large storytelling events are on weekends and evenings, seating is a portable chair, indoors or outdoors, with snacks on hand (or for sale) and the show will last 2-3 hours. A festival can last up to 2-3 days, but you can come and go as you please. Unlike most performance type events, Storytellers interact at various levels with the audience, and storytelling audiences that "get into" stories are really fun. You meet great people, and might get to share a few of your own. And afterward, you'll say, wow, I've got to tell my friends about this!

2. How do I hire a Storyteller?

First- GREAT! Thinking about hiring a teller! Bless you, spread the word, and keep the faith! Before you pick up the phone, here are some things to consider. Every storyteller is different, but let's make some assumptions. If you are hiring a storyteller, this is a business type decision. So, just as any business would, you are hiring a contractor to come in and do a certain task. Storytellers are the most flexible people I know in terms of capabilities. Part of that comes from the art, as you can weave a story around almost anything. If you are hiring a storyteller, you'll need to know your specifics, the Who/When/Where/Why/What/ and How.

  • Date, time, Location, Duration:
  • Type of stories/entertainment you want: What is the theme of the event, or type of audience. Oftentimes the Teller can work with you to get "Just that special note" that makes an event memorable.
  • What kind of event it is: Quiet, rowdy, indoor, outdoors, etc.
  • What kind of audience: This is very important to the teller, as Traditional Whaling songs may not be appropriate for Greenpeace, etc. The teller will need to know as much as you can tell them about the type of people you are expecting. You need to know what your budget is: Generally professional Tellers have four deciding factors for gigs:
  1. How big (30? 300? 1000?)
  2. Duration (several class rooms over a day, half hour show, etc.)
  3. How much pre-work will be necessary (Am I researching stories for this event i.e. Stories about Garlic for a Garlic Festival, or just telling fun stories to a group of Adults/Kids/Prisoners, etc.)
  4. How far the teller needs to travel. (How much time will it take to get there, and back, etc.)

Understand that a storyteller is just like anyone else, in that they need to make a living. Things like Medical, Dental, Taxes, Insurance, Rent, Food, Kids, Computers, Publicity, Gas, Auto maintenance, etc. all need to be taken into consideration of the rate of a teller. You as an event producer, have some things you can sweeten the deal with- If a Teller is going to get a lot publicity, spend the night in a great seaside hotel, etc. Fun enters into it too. If this is a worthy cause, they could be more flexible. Likewise, if you want a certain teller but your budget is tight, with a little legwork, you could maybe help line up some other gigs at schools etc. Then as a package, everyone will get a lower rate, and a lot more storytelling. Most tellers will be happy to give you a rate, and explain it over the phone. Tellers depend on good word of mouth (literally) and so if the teller is a working professional, they'll be able to help you.

My observations as to the types of tellers... (These are the opinions of True, and not those of anyone else....)

"A Full time Teller"

Usually has literature, a website, tapes, CD's, etc. They run it as a business, and make their living telling stories, offering workshops, etc. They have contracts and info packages. (Pros and Cons - Pros: High reliability, consistent performances, more flexible schedules, and usually better known. Cons: Booking needs to be done earlier, sometimes tellers get a little burned out or repeat, prices can be higher.)

"A Part-Time Teller"

Is somebody who does not do it full time. Storytelling supplements their income, and there may not be a big enough market in their area to support a full time teller, etc. The full-time teller's life is a hard one, and the fluctuations of the freelance market are not well understood by landlords and kids. It's not for everyone. Also, some tellers come to storytelling later in life and want to finish their 20 years as an executive, or whatever. I want to point out that many of these "Part-Time" tellers can be every bit as good as a "Full-time teller".
(Pros and Cons - Pros: Reliable, more flexible in terms of creating/researching, etc. usually not as expensive. Cons: Schedule is not as flexible {A teacher might have mornings locked up etc.} so availability increases with notice. They may not be as well known. Consistency is less "locked")

"Pro-bono Teller/ Almost free"

This could be a retiree, a person just doing it for the love of telling, someone developing their chops, etc. Most Pro and Semi-Pro tellers do a number of Pro-bono gigs for good causes as well. In this case, things like reliability, and ability are totally subjective. You get what you pay for. Sometimes you can get an incredible teller for nothing. Or one that blows you off, or goes on and on, and on.

The important thing to remember is that whenever a teller endeavors to entertain, this is a skill, and effort. Do what you can to repay the intent and effort, even if that's a thank you note, gift bag, etc.

True's hiring tips:

  • Sometimes a teller who is "known" for a certain thing- kids, Celtic, etc. is dying to try out some new material, new audiences. This can help you get some tellers who are looking to expand their markets! And get you a great teller who has their "chops" down.
  • Lead-time is a great thing and a locked in gig, with months in advance along with creative license for the teller can really be enticing.
  • The more you do follow-up, write thank you letters, get positive comments from the audience and pass them on, etc, the more you support the teller.
  • This is an art form, and one that needs promoters. In turn that teller can turn you onto a lot of other good tellers, make suggestions and more!

Tune in again for the next article where True will answer the following questions:

3. What should I expect from a professional Storyteller?
4. What will 'Tellers expect from you?
5. How do I find a Storyteller?

True Thomas is a professional storyteller based in the Southern California area, and can be contacted at, or 818-762-9075. Or visit


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