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.
by Willy Claflin
I’m really looking forward to joining all of you at the National Storytelling Conference in Richmond this August 1-4. Last summer we planted a seed. A new domain name was registered: The American Storytelling Festival. A new festival was proposed. Somewhat tongue in cheek, it promised to be Everything You Ever Wanted. But now, seriously, I’m asking you to join me and help make it happen!
Whether you are discontented with the limitations of Jonesborough, or simply eager to share your vision of the Perfect Festival, please come to our brainstorming session on Sunday morning, August 4, 9-10:30 am in Richmond, Virginia. What would you most like to see in a new national festival? True diversity in tellers, tales, and audience? Epics, slams, traditional stories, monologues? Workshops on improvisation or “going deep”? If you could have Anything You Like, what would it be?
This will be a true brainstorming session: any and all ideas are welcome and will be considered and recorded. Questionnaires will be sent to all participants afterwards, just in case there was something you forgot, or didn’t have time to say!
At the end of this time together, you will have the chance to join an active network of tellers in developing themes and programs for the new festival. Goals and timelines will be established, and next steps identified. You will have the opportunity to take an active, ongoing role in shaping the festival and help us decide issues like: What kind of festival best suits the storytelling community’s needs? What kind of outreach is necessary to recruit tellers from a wide variety of ethnic and cultural groups? Where should we hold the Festival? What kinds of venues best support a diversity of tellers and tales? Shall we incorporate workshops? How long should the Festival last? Any suggestions, all ideas, every fantasy will be considered.
OK, some of you may be thinking—that’s great, but really, how can we organize and pay for all this? Ah, you’re in luck! For those hardy souls wishing to deal with the nuts and bolts of finance, I’ll see you at Ellen Munds’ wonderful Friday intensive on fundraising and finance. Ellen really knows what she’s doing, and if you come, well…then, you’ll know too!
But no pre$$ure! Just come share your dreams on Sunday. Let’s do this!
Thank you all for all you do,
P.S. For those of you unable to attend the conference or attending a different session on Sunday, your ideas are welcome also. Comment here on the blog!
Willy Claflin is a one-man festival. Spanning historical sagas, intergalactic yarns, Mother Moose Tales, and counter culture misadventures, he covers the full spectrum of spoken word entertainment. A headliner and master of ceremonies at the National Storytelling Festival, Willy is a favorite at festivals throughout the U.S. He also has many award-winning recordings and is the co-author (along with Maynard Moose) of three award-winning children’s books. Willy’s tribute to Gamble Rogers was a highlight of last year’s National Storytelling Conference. Original, traditional, historical, personal, comic—regardless of genre, Willy fits any playbill.
by Ellen Munds
In my early days of fundraising, the idea of asking someone for money made me physically sick. But I also knew that no one was going to do it for me, so I had to learn how. In 1996, I attended a one-week course at the Fund Raising School of Indiana University Center on Philanthropy. That course turned my relationship with fundraising upside down. It is still not my favorite part of my job, but I no longer dread it. These days, I approach fundraising as a personal challenge.
You never know when a donation will drop in your lap. During the first or second year of the existence of Storytelling Arts of Indiana, one of the sound engineers that we had hired wrote us a check for $75.00. He said that we couldn’t cash the check until we started an endowment. We opened a savings account and deposited the check. From that day forward, we offered individuals a choice to make a donation to the general operating fund or the endowment. In 2006, a single young volunteer and attendee called me to ask about making a donation to our endowment in memory of her grandmother. I said, “Of course!” I then asked her if she would like to get together or if she would prefer to drop the donation in the mail. She decided to drop it in the mail. In my mind, I was thinking $100 or maybe $500. I was certainly surprised when I opened the envelope and found a check for $15,000. During the same year, we decided to incorporate the endowment as its own not-for-profit with the sole purpose of funding the programs and services of Storytelling Arts of Indiana. We moved the funds to the Central Indiana Community Foundation so that our money would be managed by experts. To date, our endowment has grown to approximately $100,000, along with nine planned gifts. As far as endowments go, it is still small but, for us, this is a major achievement.
I will be presenting a fundraising workshop at the upcoming NSN Storytelling Conference in Richmond, Virginia. Hopefully, this workshop will help point your organization down the path to financial security. During this three-hour intensive session, which includes lecture, group discussion and small group activities, we will examine your budgets for potential earned and contributed income. We will determine the best approaches for each income source as well as prioritize your next steps in developing a fundraising plan.
I will share with you the tools that I have found to be the most helpful. These tools are the “science” of fundraising. One specific tool demonstrates that it is humanly impossible for one individual to raise all of the necessary funds for an organization, whether large of small. Someone has to lead but it takes a team of volunteers, board members or staff.
My favorite tool is the Gift Range Chart. It takes your goal and breaks it down into manageable goals. If you want to raise $50,000, this tool helps you determine how many gifts of various sizes ($2,500, $1,000, $100, etc.) you will need. It is much easier for me to wrap my head around raising two $2,500 gifts instead of worrying about raising $50,000. You will create a Gift Range Chart for your organization, so bring your budgets.
I am not a fundraising or development expert. I’ve learned from experience, from colleagues who were willing to mentor me along the way and by making my own mistakes. Bring your questions and your own experiences. I am sure we will learn from each other!
About Storytelling Arts of Indiana
Storytelling Arts of Indiana promotes the art and use of storytelling in everyday life. Current programs include:
- the Life Stories Project in collaboration with WFYI and the Indiana Historical Society
- Jabberwocky in collaboration with IndyFringe Festival
- As I Recall storytelling guilds for elders in collaboration with the Indianapolis Public Library and the Hancock County Public Library
- Weekly storytelling at the bedside of patients at Riley Hospital for Children,
- Summer performances in the neighborhood parks for children receiving free lunches in collaboration with Indy Parks,
- If These Walls Could Tell series in collaboration with Indiana Landmarks
- Sharing Hoosier History Through Stories series in collaboration with the Indiana Historical Society
- Frank Basile Emerging Stories Fellowship
- Scary Stories at Crown Hill Cemetery in collaboration with Crown Hill Heritage Foundation
- Series for adults as well as performances for families and students in collaboration with the Indiana Historical Society
by Mij Byram
It was the second day of torrential Florida rains. At the Florence Fuller Child Development Center, first and second graders came into the lunch/story room all herky-jerky and bouncy-flouncy after their milk and cookies snack. They were unable to sit or even stand still for more than 3 seconds. The energy was palpable and frenzied. What to do? Let them move. Move in unison. From an array of choices I chose a few yoga moves and a little Qi Gong with some imagery.
I told them I had a scary story for them. They liked that idea. I turned off half the florescent lights and told them the “Twinkies” story. A story about a time when I was 7 and felt invisible and scared and how I used feeling invisible to my advantage, how I overcame fear by facing fear and about how things have changed now that I can look back years later.
The kids of course wanted to know if it was a true story, (it was) and how I could turn invisible. I told them what it felt like. Many kids acknowledged feeling that way themselves. Others wanted to try it.
We all stood, each child directed their eyes to the floor, hands at their side, we slowed our breath, put our focus inward and floated out of the room through the busy office past receptionist and office workers, past administrators and clients and for those few minutes on a rainy day those children knew what it felt like to be invisible. It was not a feeling of helplessness or vulnerability. It was the feeling of a new power, power over ourselves and our environment.
Children need to hear stories not just because storytelling promotes literacy or builds character. Those are indeed benefits, but not the only reason for telling stories to children. The pure pleasure and joy of listening to stories is reason enough.
If story is a seed of creativity and if growing storytellers is what we do, then we need to plant the seed in fresh and fertile soil. Our future healers and heroes, politicians and peddles, warriors and woodcutters, teachers and tricksters, all need stories told eye to eye and heart to heart. And they need them today.
Telling stories to children is no less important, no less challenging or serious, than telling to adults. It is just the opposite. Telling stories to young children is not for the weak or weary, the unskilled, inflexible or undeveloped. Children deserve all the best there is. The same rules apply. Know and respect your audience. Treat them honestly and with integrity, be present, give the best you have to give.
Children now in their teens are telling the stories they learned from Miss Mij. She connects with the young listener because she remembers what it’s like. If you have ever been young or short, you’ll appreciate her point of view. She believes in serious play.
Mij offers workshops, playshops and storytelling programs for children and adults and has published a monthly online newsletter, South Florida Storytelling News, since 2005.
TELLING LITTLE ONES AND I DON’T MEAN LIES is a workshop about knowing and respecting the youngest audiences and connecting with them through play. This workshop will be presented at the NSN National Storytelling Conference, Richmond VA., August 1-4, 2013
by Jay O’Callahan
Emily Dickinson was an artist who worked at her craft as we storytellers do. She worked with metaphor, cadence, rhythm, rhyme, character and shape. One critic called her a primitive in that she saw everything as if it was there for the first time. She can teach us about surprise and about the importance of searching for a brief phrase, a brush stroke that brings a moment alive.
In one poem she writes, “The moon was but a chin of gold.” A chin of gold is so much more interesting than a sliver of gold. She writes again about the moon saying,
Her Bonnet is the Firmament
The universe her shoe.
I can imagine when Emily wrote that line, “the universe her shoe” she might have jumped up, clapped her hands. She thought deeply and originally about life and yet she kept something of the joy of girlhood always with her. She searches for the word. She writes, “Night keeps fetching stars.” It’s that word “fetching” that is unusual and we’re glad she found it. Or “The wind tapped like a tired man.” Again we are surprised.
What I hope to do in the workshop is to work with “sparks”, simple words that evoke memories that are simply waiting to emerge. Those memories are often fresh and in them we find a brush stroke or a word or a metaphor that’s new.
Emily Dickinson’s flood subject was living and dying. She’s interested in all of life. Some of her verses are full of hard questions. Are her prayers heard? Is there life beyond the grave? “God’s Right Hand . . . / is amputated now / and God cannot be found –” She’s often frustrated, sad, hurt, yet writes a letter to Elizabeth Holland in October of 1870 that,
Life is the finest secret.
So long as that remains, we must all whisper.
Dickinson reminds us that ordinary life is quite amazing. And that is her subject. Again she writes, “Drama’s Vitallest expression is the Common Day.” What can be more common than news? There is always news. So a poem begins,
The Only News I know
Is Bulletins all Day
That last line, “From Immortality”, is unexpected and not only surprises us, it enlarges us. It reminds us that there is something vast about this business of living.
In the workshop in addition to working with “sparks” and brush strokes, we’ll explore telling things at a slant. She writes,
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant –
Success in Circuit lies
And she finishes the poem
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind –
Dickinson challenges us to find the right word, to see life freshly, and to explore all of life through our art – storytelling.
Jay O’Callahan takes a bare stage and single-handedly transforms it into a dynamic and sensitive world filled with compelling characters. He has performed at festivals and theaters throughout the world, including at the Olympics, and been applauded by the media, including The Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly. The Associated Press trumpeted him as “a theater troupe inside one body.” Time Magazine dubbed Jay “a genius.”
Jay has received numerous awards for his performances, books, and media and also is a regular contributor to National Public Radio. Don’t miss your chance to learn from him on this blog topic at the 2013 National Storytelling Conference, August 1-4, in Richmond, Virginia: www.storynet.org/conference.
by Karla Huntsman
When I was growing up, and even in my college years, before I answered a question in a classroom, I pre-planned exactly what I was going to say and when I answered, carefully followed the script in my head, little noting reactions of fellow class members. There was a great deal of tension in the whole process. I admired deeply those people who could seemingly formulate words and meaning as they spoke– those who seemed thoroughly at ease and comfortable in the present moment.
“How do they do that? “ I wondered.
When I discovered the world of theatre improvisation, I began to find answers. In improv, there is no time to be worried about what to say next, no time to be focused on personal issues, and no time to be lost in past or future events. Words and actions flow freely as a result of being thoroughly engaged in the present moment. As a result, a “flow state” is created.
Csikszentmihalyi (1990) describes this “flow state” as:
–a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter — a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.
We know as storytellers that being in the present moment during performance is essential to the craft. It is also indispensable in the creation process. Improvisation is a terrific tool for creating the “flow state” necessary for both performance and as a prelude to originating creative, inspired work.
Many people think improvisation can only be done in a group setting, but this is not so.
Before a performance or before originating a story piece, the following are a few improvisation techniques done alone which will create the “flow” state.
- Lay a stack of 20 pictures of characters (animals, unusual characters) on a table near you Begin to speak, using dialogue and voice of one of the characters. After a few seconds, switch to the next picture. Switch again. Keep switching, with no pre-planning of character dialogue and voice.
- Look at an object in the room. Begin talking about the object. Describe the object, talk about an experience you have had with the object, talk of the feelings you have for the object or simply talk of anything that randomly comes to mind when looking at the object. Keep talking for about 20 or 30 seconds, then move on to another object, and another and another. Keep talking. Don’t pre-plan. Let the “flow state” happen.
- Turn on the music and dance. Let your arms go, let your feet go. Don’t pre-plan moves. Just dance!
- Pick two characters and begin writing dialogue. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Do not stop for any reason. Keep going. Don’t censor.
- Sit in a chair in a room. You will be doing a scene between two characters. Shift in the chair or stand to denote different characters. Begin a conversation as one of the characters. Respond as the other. Continue the conversation for 20-30 seconds or longer. Choose two new characters and begin again. Make as great a difference in the two characters as possible:
one high voice, one low
one fast voice, one slow
one angry, one scared
one authoritative, one meek
(These exercises are adapted from Mick Napier’s wonderful book: Improvise. Scene from the Inside Out, 2004).
Just as story is the SEED OF CREATIVITY, so is the CREATIVE SPIRIT the seed of story. Improvisation is a wonderful way to access the inventive, present moment sensibilities essential for both performing and producing creative work.
“If you don’t know the trees, you may be lost in the forest, but if you don’t know the stories you may be lost in life.”–Siberian Elder
Making meaning through story and theatre activities has been Karla’s life work. Before turning to freelance storytelling and drama specialist work, Karla spent over 25 years on the faculties of four universities teaching storytelling, drama education, public speaking and interpersonal communication. She has provided residencies, workshops, teacher in-services and conference presentations at state, national, and international venues.
Currently, Karla works as a professional teller, drama specialist and performer for the Las Vegas Improvisation Players. She sings, plays guitar, autoharp, washboard, and djembe drum as part of storytelling performances and uses puppetry for younger children.