to Start Over as a Storyteller after a Move to a New Area By Mary Hamilton
I guess I know a little bit about starting over after a move. I began
full time storytelling in 1983 when I lived in Michigan. In 1987, I moved
back to Kentucky. Now, a year in advance I had thought I had done a good
job of planning my move. For several years I had mailed to schools in
Kentucky whenever I was going to be there and they had hired me. For that
last year in Michigan, I steered Michigan bookings to the times of the
year when I knew I could come back and do a Michigan tour.
also lined up schools in Kentucky through mailings and contacting the
Kentucky schools who had hired me in the past. So far, so good,
huh? I moved in June 1987. I was even fortunate enough to be a featured
teller at the National Storytelling Festival in October 1987 (after having
been an Exchange Place Teller in 1986, so two appearances in two years
- sounds promising doesn't it!?!). However, when it was time to pay rent
for January 1988, I had twenty cents.
read that right - twenty cents (no debts, but only twenty cents).
Now, I had done some work for which I had not yet been paid, and I had
a brother who was willing to loan me rent money for January 1988, but
twenty cents. I do not have the words to describe how I felt about myself
when I was down to twenty cents - failure, idiot, whatever made you think
you could earn a living telling stories, what makes you think anyone should
pay you to tell stories, how could you have allowed yourself to come down
so far, you call this a business, you are neither professional nor a storyteller
because a professional would have more than twenty cents and a real storyteller
would at least be out telling stories, and other even less uplifting phrases
come to mind as I look back on that situation.
admit I had also made what in retrospect seems a stupid decision,
but seemed reasonable at the time. While in Michigan I sold my car and
bought a new one because the car I had driven in Michigan had no air conditioning
(not too important in Michigan, but a bit more important in Kentucky)
and was showing rust (small amount by Michigan standards, but quite a
bit by Kentucky standards). Nevertheless, I still had a few thousand dollars
in savings, so I expected to be fine. I wasn't - six months after the
move, TWENTY CENTS!
I should also tell you that checks did begin arriving for work I had done.
I repaid my brother, and never needed to borrow rent money again (although
to computerize did require a loan a few years later because the extra
money simply was not there - a loan I do not regret, and my fully paid
for car provided collateral).
not told you my story to scare you, but to let you know that starting
over after a move really will be starting over. One person in Louisville
(where I relocated when I moved) who hired artists at paltry sums to perform
throughout the city even told me, "I don't care how experienced you
are or what you've done in storytelling. Here nobody knows you, so I'm
not going to pay you more than $35 a show." I was indeed starting
over. By the way, the program this person controlled also supplied all
the public libraries in Louisville (Kentucky's largest city) with FREE
performances for summer reading programs through her program as well as
all parks, nursing homes, etc. It is really hard to compete with free
when no one knows your work. In Michigan, libraries, parks, nursing homes,
senior centers, club meetings (Kiwanis, Rotary, Scouts, etc.) and day
cares had been paid venues for me. In Louisville, I had to get with her
program or forget about it.
had done right was to line up some work in Kentucky schools before I arrived.
What I had done right was to also line up some work in Michigan before
I left so I knew I could count on some hefty income times (ex. March in
Michigan was Reading Month and a prime time for storytellers to work back
in 1987.) I urge you to look at your current best month in your present
location, and book it for a tour before you move so you can look forward
to some certain income. So, those two important things I had done correctly.
some of the other things I wish I had done and/or suggest doing:
the Kentucky Arts Council. I wish I had contacted them, let them
know I was moving, described my work and learned what opportunities
existed in Kentucky. They could have told me of some of the ways folks
who do what I do reach people who might want to hire them. There were
Arts in Education showcases here that I knew nothing about until I had
been here for over a year, and when I learned about them application
deadlines were past so it was Spring 1989 before I could get into them.
Learning about such opportunities (even if they may have residency requirements
attached as some opportunities do) would have made me aware of programs
and deadlines (as well as requirements) in advance. In addition the
Kentucky Arts Council could have alerted me to the presence of any local
and regional arts councils.
the Chamber of Commerce in the city where you will be going. They
should also know about any local or regional arts councils. They, or
the Tourism Board, should know of any museums, arts centers, or other
venues that hire performing artists where you will be moving.
out how people in the school systems near where you will be living find
the people they bring into their schools. Some school systems hold
their own artist showcases and hire only people they have seen before.
In some cities, the Young Audiences program essentially has the market
"wrapped up" and if you aren't on their roster, you won't
work in area schools much at all. If that is the case where you are
headed or in major cities near your future location, you need to know
so you can plan accordingly.
you do lots of work in schools, contact your new state's Department
of Education. Find out how you can learn about the curriculum requirements
- if any - that are standard throughout the state. This information
is often on the web. If you notice connections between your current
programs and the state curriculum, this could give you an advantage
when persuading schools to take a chance on your work.
sometimes know other educators. I wish I had thought to ask my contacts
in Michigan if they had any contacts in Kentucky. That could have given
me specific people in schools I could have called to learn: if they
hired storytellers or other performers for school programs; how they
learned about the people they hired, and who funded their arts programs.
Again, you are trying to learn what the channels are so you can position
yourself within them. For example, if they hire from a performing arts
directory because they are funded for arts programming through grants
that pay 1/2 of the fee for anyone in the directory, then you need to
learn how to be listed as soon as possible.
the same for your other current venues. If you don't want to tell
people you are moving, tell your current contacts you'd like to do some
work in the state you will be moving to, and you wondered if they just
happened to know anyone there in their same or similar position. For
example, if you do work for public libraries and are known to the children's
services person at your state level, that person may know his or her
counterpart in your new location and may be delighted to put in a good
word for you. So, network all you can with your current clients to let
them help you make a successful start in your new area.
venues in your new state to work there when you go for a visit. However,
bear in mind that after your move you will no longer be an expert (someone
from far away), or a novelty
(available for a limited time only), you will be someone who lives there
so some of the appeal of hiring you will wear off because that sense
of urgency when you are from far away and/or only available for limited
engagements will no longer exist.
what savings cushion you think you'll need, and double it if you possibly
locate tellers from your new area, just go to the online directory at
the NSN website: www.storynet.org.
Look up tellers in that state and contact folks there. Some of them
probably will not tell you anything. Others will have the time, energy,
and spirit to be generous and will share all the advice they can come
up with for fellow storytellers moving to their state. This will help
you develop a bit of a start on developing colleagues. If you are an
NSN member, you could try contacting the state liaison to learn if they
have any advice for a teller contemplating a move.
probably already know this, but I think every state has a school directory.
Some also have directories of public libraries. Get your hands on this
(either in print or online) and randomly make a few calls (with a printed
list of questions so you are not calling back with "one more question"
if/when a person answers who has time to talk with you) to learn if
and how schools and libraries hire tellers.
the most important thread in all of this is asking for help, for recommendations,
for contacts, for information.
news is, I do know starting over can be done. I suspect it can also
be done much more smoothly that I did it, so I hope my thoughts on what
I did right and what I failed to do will prove helpful to you.
Bio: Mary Hamilton has earned her
living telling stories and pondering how the art of storytelling works
since 1983. Learn more about her work at http://www.maryhamilton.info.
Contact her at email@example.com,
or 800-438-4390, or 65 Springhill Road, Frankfort, KY 40601-9211.
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Seeger's Storytelling Book
You can almost hear the banjo plucking away in the background
as veteran singer-songwriter Pete Seeger tells his folksy
tales and shares his useful tips on storytelling.