Welcome to the National Storytelling Blog! Within our membership, we have people with expertise in all facets of storytelling. Here we offer their insights and highlight their stories for you to enjoy, learn, and connect.
told by Mike Agranoff
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This is a story told in the old-fashioned format of recitation, a story in rhyme, after the fashion of Robert Service or Rudyard Kipling. This form was common stage and home entertainment in the 19th Century before the advent of recordings and radio. It was regular fare in minstrel shows, vaudeville, and English Music Hall, and its better practitioners were well known and sought-after stars. The format has all but disappeared today, and people have forgotten how engaging and gripping it can be when done well.
I wrote this piece. One might say it was a “true fantasy” I had while working my first job after graduating as a Mechanical Engineer. I won’t give the story away, but suffice it to say I worked at Avco Lycoming, and I might have been one of Jake’s junior co-workers on the same project. The scene where Jake first encounters Molly in the story is real. The rest…who knows?
Mike Agranoff comes to the Storytelling Community via the world of Folk Music. There, he’s renowned for the spoken word material he always includes in his musical performances. His signature pieces are his rivetting original recitations after the fashion of Robert Service. But his toolbox also includes true stories, serious and hilarious, poems, and, of course, numerous ballads (in the original sense of the word: songs that tell stories), all honed to performance perfection. He holds a great love of the English language, and an admiration for its skillful practioners.
Told by Laura J. Bobrow
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Selecting a story to tell from among my repertoire of more than 500 stories, poems and anecdotes was, to say the least, daunting. I chose this from one of my CDs, “I Wrote These for You.”
Little details please me. Not everyone needs to get the joke, but once I had determined that the story would begin in ballet class, naming the girl came naturally. “Rhonda” stands for the ballet move Rond de Jambe which ends in perfect fifth position as does Rhonda’s miraculous jump.
Laura is an award-winning poet. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her work has been likened in print to A. A. Milne, Hilaire Belloc, and Edward Lear. One of her children’s poems is part of educational material for the state of North Carolina and is included in a fourth-grade textbook in Abu Dhabi. She uses poetry extensively in her storytelling, telling whole stories in rhyme or sometimes inserting rhymed refrains.
A recent project was to turn forty-nine folk tales of Giambattista Basile’s “Il Pentmerone” into narrative verse. The rhymed versions of these wonderful tales from the late 1500’s can be seen on her website www.laurajbobrow.com/poetry.html.
Video is an exploding business tool! Where before potential producers or clients might have wanted a press kit from you, now they want (and expect) to be able to see you in action. However, a bad video is worse than no video at all.
According to the Wharton School of Business, a well-produced video increases information retention by 50% and speeds-up buying decisions by 72% over print brochures, for example. Learn a few of the basics and you, too, can create videos for your websites and social media channels. In this short article, I am discussing what are called “head and shoulder” videos.
Don’t memorize, but have a clear structure
Unless you are doing a literary story, most of us perform by running a movie in our heads of the character, action, setting and dialogue of the story. That way, the story is happening in the moment for us as well as our audience. It’s the same in videotaping one of your stories. Have a clear structure in your mind. There is a logic to each one of your stories, a reason you went from one image to another. Understand that logic internally and you won’t get lost. If you want to write out your story to check your timing, that’s fine. But put that written piece aside when the camera is rolling and speak to one person in an everyday, relaxed tone of voice.
Have a conversation with a person who loves you and your work
You’re “just” (easy to say) having a conversation with someone across the kitchen table.
Performing for a close up camera is very different than performing on the stage or even videotaping a performance (a full body shot) from the stage. I have a strong preference; I just don’t find it compelling to see a full body shot on a computer or television monitor where the teller is an inch tall. A story told in close up becomes a very intimate experience. Even though the camera may be 10-12 feet away from you, the person listening to you when the piece is edited and online, is just two feet away. For those of you who have an expanded performance style, you’ll need to practice taking it down several notches.
I find it helpful to imagine someone I love right in the camera lens so I’m talking to the face of a live person who, when I’m in their presence, makes me come alive. It’s funny, but even imagining such a person changes your tone of voice and the relaxation of your facial muscles and, most of all, the light in your eyes.
When I run my story at home, I make a little circle on a piece of paper and hang it on the wall about 10 feet in front of me. Then, I practice talking to that small circle and imagine my beloved friend in the center of the circle smiling at me AND zoomed forward, about two feet away from me so that I’m not pushing out to them, but drawing them in. Practice, practice, practice your story. Try to “wing it” and your story may well fly away from you.
About Sue and Stories Connect Us All free online festival:
For examples of these intimate, close up video stories go to www.Facebook.com/StoriesConnectUsAll. Over 43 professional tellers (many whom you’ve seen live on stage for years!) will be performing their video stories October 9-11th for the Stories Connect Us All Online Storytelling Festival, a FREE Facebook event, where you can talk live to the tellers after watching their stories. Sue O’Halloran is host and producer of the event that last year had 16 participating countries and a Facebook reach of over 50,000.
Told by Joyce Geary
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I heard parts of the “Lady Who Wore Red” all my life. My mother and three of her brothers wrote their “memoirs” each focusing on different life events written in different styles. After reading the four memoirs, I asked if they all lived in the same family! And, of course, they didn’t – each had a different perspective because of the family positions they held. Through saving and sharing family stories, I know both my mother and the larger picture of family history better.
I also love family stories, because often, after I tell such a story, people come up to me and apologize for “mentally leaving” when something I said triggered a memory from their own lives. I always tell them that “leaving” validates my story and my goal to have them find their own stories to share.
Telling at the 2012 National Storytelling Conference Showcase in Cincinnati was great even though I later realized that I had left out one of my favorite parts! It was about Mom’s studio picture in a “red, itchy dress and REAL girl shoes and socks” when she was four as a “surprise” for my grandmother – a “surprise” that lasted until Mom returned home from town and blurted out the whole magical day’s story!
Joyce Geary is eclectic in her interests and storytelling. She loves to be with family, travel, read, swim, teach, and hike. She tells whatever brings listeners into the story. That might be a 1st person 1863 teacher at the Ohio Historical Village or Noah’s wife telling the family story as she cleans out the ark. Recently it was a potpourri of stories for 6th graders at camp – kids she’s shared with for years and watched their love and knowledge of story grow. Joyce has also presented a week long “how to” class in the Cascade Mountains and story time with senior citizen groups.
By Cassandra Cushing
Cassie is a Next Generation Scholarship recipient for attending the 2013 National Storytelling Conference, August 1-4 in Richmond, VA.
My storytelling teachers and mentors told me that sometimes a synergy between the teller, the tale and the audience can emerge in an almost tangible relationship—an unseen but nonetheless palpable energy becomes present as these three variables meet in a single moment. They said that if I care for the story in my research and crafting, the story, in turn, would carry me in the telling.
Soon after hearing this, I created a show combining my two loves: traditional storytelling and good coffee. As I told the same stories at four different venues, to four very different audiences, I learned the truth of a lot of what my teachers and mentors had been telling me.
The second show was, from my perspective, the best of the bunch. As I regaled the audience with over an hour of gruesome and grizzly tales, suitable for a dark October evening, I was flying high! Telling these stories exhilarated me while the audience, engaged and transported, redoubled my passion. Teig O’Kane labored under the weight of his corpse; the youngest daughter’s anger and desperation, fueled by blood and loss of innocence, rescued herself and her sisters from the ogre in the hills. Yes, this was storytelling! There was life in this! Every image was clear, to me and to the attentive audience, excitement glittering in their eyes. Whether that was synergy or the stories carrying me, I was on fire and gushing thanks at the appreciations I received at the end of the night.
A week later, my third performance contrasted starkly. Usually, my opening story about ruining my mother-in-law’s pans and stovetop the first time I roasted coffee, would evoke some laughs. This audience looked at me blankly. I had to keep going, but now, even to me, the words were sounding empty. Continuing into the third story and searching the audience for any reaction, I wondered, “Was last week’s success just a weird anomaly?” Midway through the second half, loud music came through the walls from a neighboring bar, and I wasn’t sure if Tieg O’Kane would be able to bury his corpse that night. Words continued to tumble out of my mouth and gestures happened as I ticked off the stories. I was exhausted by the end of it and ready to give up storytelling altogether.
Later, friends and colleagues reassured me that, while it did not have the same energy as the previous show, it was still good. I learned that even though the audience felt subdued, they were having a good time. I, however, hadn’t been able to see it. Watching a video of the evening revealed how my heightened insecurity had led me to rush the stories. A deep breath could have restored a steady pace and alleviated my anxiety.
With those four October shows, I came to a deeper understanding of the notion of synergy as I experienced the dramatic difference that an audience can have on a teller. On that third night, I wasn’t present in the stories or for my audience, but I knew the stories and I loved them. They carried me. Other nights, we soared together discovering new highs of relational happiness, reminding me how seemingly simple stories can transport teller and listener alike.
Cassie, owner of Kaleidoscope Coffee, has loved coffee for 10 years. She recently discovered that storytelling is pretty cool too, especially the traditional kind. She is working towards opening a storytelling coffee shop.