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 Simon Brooks, © 2016
Sound is important in our job as storytellers. It is, for the most part, an oral art form for an aural audience. Obviously, this is not always the case. There are amazing storytellers who are deaf and use sign language, there are storytellers who use tell tales using a digital format, but for the rest, it is our voices that do The Job.
In an ideal setting we would never need amplification. In an ideal setting we could use our ‘indoor’ voices and everyone would hear. We would never get sore throats, or infections. We would all instinctively know the best way to use our voices to maximum effect with minimum effort. But this is not the case. The hall is massive and our voice is lost or echoes so much there is an eerie delay, the wind takes our voice, or the acoustics are so bad people whispering at the back are as loud as you are annunciating and articulating with your best projection from the front! Sometimes we need amplification.
In my youth I was in a number of bands and always into the equipment side of things: the mixing boards, the microphones, and speakers, both in and out of the studio; even though I was ‘just a drummer’ and never had the voice to sing outside of a shower or car! I discovered that different voices did not always sound good on the same microphone. Some mics were okay all round microphones, but some mics worked well for one singer and another mic worked better for a different vocalist. Guitarists choose amps to project a certain sound or feel. Drummers use different skins, have kit and cymbal manufacturers they preferred over others.
As a storyteller I was able to bring all this knowledge with me, and when I got ‘kitted up’ for larger performance spaces and for venues where the acoustics were lavatory quality, I knew what to do. (All my old equipment was left in the UK and sold, or given away over 20 years ago.) I tried out a number of microphones when I recorded my first CD as I know my voice has a strong sibilant side. For fun, I tried out the most expensive mic the studio (Pepperbox Studios in Vermont) had in their collection. My voice sounded scratchy, and hissing to the point it might make one wince. The mic sounded great on someone, just not me! I tried out a few other microphones and found one that cut the sibilance down and brought a slightly deeper resonance to the mix. That mic I liked a lot. It is the same with speakers. They have their own ‘colour’.
Our art requires us to be heard and understood. As storytellers we need to have equipment which allows us, even in the most horrendous of situations, to be clear as a bell, to be heard over traffic, wind, heating/cooling systems, or rude patrons, amongst other handicaps. As professionals we need to be aware of what is available, what makes us sound good or bad, and most importantly how to set equipment, and a room up for success. We display our professionalism and that we are worth our salt. We show we know what we are doing. People then know we take our profession seriously. It shows our customers, be they libraries, museums, businesses, theatres, etc. that we can be trusted to do a great job and that we can be hired again, and that means more work for all of us.
We want an audience to go home having felt they were in an intimate setting, having an intimate experience, no matter the size of venue, or number of bums on seats. Maybe we get the room set up so perfectly, they leave not even realizing there was amplification. We need to know how to amplify a room for ourselves. Finding and using the right equipment properly is so important. As I implied, and can confirm, the equipment does not have to be the most expensive. But it does have to be right – for us, as individuals.
Why Sound Matters by Simon Brooks, © 2016
Simon Brooks hails from Britain and has been perfected in the States. Simon performs all over New England and his storytelling recordings have won awards. Simon has been telling stories in front of a captive audience since 1990. Most of the time his audience forgot they were locked in. Simon’s early experience with bands as well as being a storyteller made sure he knew how to make himself heard. Be Loud, Be Loud, But Not Too Loud is his response to other tellers who might also need this knowledge! Simon’s four CDs are available from his shiny new look website.
By Glenda Bonin
In the past two years, my storytelling repertoire has expanded to include audiences of elders – some in vigorous health, and others dealing with a variety of medical conditions and memory loss. For the most part, these audiences are associated with senior living communities or private assisted living sites. I have identified and served five audiences in this demographic: (1) active older adults; (2) seniors living at a group site in order to enjoy activities and meals in the company of others; (3) individuals attending day-care services; (4) older elders requiring some form of supervision and medical assistance, and (5) residents in need of memory care services.
At first I was not certain I wanted to provide programs to seniors in assisted living communities, although my current age now places me squarely in this age group. My early experiences of telling stories as a volunteer in nursing homes in the 1980s were less than satisfying. At the time, it seemed to me that the audiences were not prepared to hear stories, and I was left with the impression that a storytelling session was considered a convenient opportunity for the staff to take a break.
In 2014, I received a call from a woman who asked me if I would be interested in telling stories at an assisted living and memory care site in Tucson, Arizona. I explained that my storytelling work focused on children, students, family groups and large community events. The caller, Sandy, was persistent. Once she told me her story, I agreed to consider her request.
She told me she had recently placed her mother in an assisted living facility. She noticed her mom had little or no interest in bingo, sing-along sessions, craft projects, and soothing live music. Sandy said she thought her mother would respond better to some form of creative, verbal stimulation. She hoped storytelling might work because her mother had taught English Literature until her retirement. Since words and language had been the primary interest of her mom’s teaching career, Sandy believed stories would be the answer to an unmet need.
I did a bit of research about creative aging and memory loss, and agreed to see if what I had to offer might have value for someone like Sandy’s mother. I donated a storytelling session at the site where her mother was a resident. As I prepared for the performance, I decided to bring along some story-related artifacts to see if these items might provide something extra for the residents to enjoy.
Sandy was with her mother during that first story session. Fourteen residents, two staff members, and the owner of the facility were in the audience. I was delighted with the positive response. After the show, the owner asked me if I would consider doing a weekly program at three of his residential sites.
I spent two months doing research, and I attended as many workshops as I could find to become more knowledgeable about elder issues, creative aging and memory loss. From May to December, I delivered twenty-nine different story programs to three different assisted living sites. The weekly pace was quite a challenge, but well worth it since these weekly sessions made it possible for me to have programs to draw on as my customer base grew.
If you have an interest in telling stories to an underserved and growing population of appreciative listeners, I invite you to attend my workshop, “How to Successfully Deliver Storytelling Programs to Senior Living Communities,” during the July 21-24 2016 National Storytelling Network Conference in Kansas City, MO (storynet.org/conference). I am eager to share the lessons I learned after being approached with an unexpected and serendipitous request to create a program for a teacher living in an assisted living facility.
So far this journey has been pure joy for me, and I sincerely hope that after learning about my experience, some of my storytelling colleagues will be inspired to go back home and develop their own story programs to serve this receptive audience.
Glenda Bonin came to storytelling in a round-about way. She discovered a love of theater when she was in high school, and learned quickly that a good story made good theater. Glenda told stories as a volunteer at a New Jersey library when her children were young, and subsequently developed a part-time business as a children’s entertainer. She’s made her living as a full-time storyteller since 1996 and continues to find new ways to develop as a professional. Glenda is equally comfortable telling stories with her puppets to 5-year-olds, recalling western history tales at local ranches, and sharing personal reminiscences to folks in senior living communities.
Phone: (520) 629-0270 or (520) 235-4171
By Cindy Rivka Marshall
How do communities or organizations encourage understanding and respect of human differences? Those of us who deeply understand the potential of both story sharing and story listening have a lot to offer.
I use personal storytelling as a tool for diversity work. I have strong faith in the power of story to build bridges across differences. I have developed models for groups that can help to break down barriers and connect people across differences.
The fourth annual “Hear Our Voices” event was held in early March at a Boston area high school. Devoted to increasing understanding of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ,) the program included speakers, some of whom are members of the school community. They shared anecdotes from their personal experiences and received appreciations from listeners with a structured response technique. Small groups of students and staff debriefed after the program in facilitated sessions.
Since its inception in 2013, I have had the privilege of consulting on the design of the program and have trained the staff, provided prompts to the speakers, offered behind the scenes story coaching, edited the flow of the stories, and most importantly, helped to create a safe space for marginalized voices to be heard.
One year, the prompt was: “Tell about a time when you kept silent about your LGBTQ identity.”
Avi, a confident young professional, returned to his former high school to tell this story: “The summer after junior year, I was part of a volunteer trail-building crew in the White Mountains,” he said. “One evening, this guy, Josh, said he couldn’t imagine being friends with gay people, since they’re all so feminine and flamboyant, and he jokingly started talking with a lisp and dangling his hand. I remember thinking, you should say something. If ever there was a good situation to prove him wrong, it’s now. I remember my heart pumping quickly, because I actually was considering coming out to the group. But in the end, I got too scared and didn’t.”
When asked to offer appreciations, one student stood and said, “I resonated with Avi’s story about how it feels when some part of you is invisible to others. My dad has a disability, but I don’t usually talk about it.”
Another teen stated, “Avi’s story made me realize I shouldn’t assume anything about the people around me. I’m going to stop making gay jokes.” Many students nodded in agreement.
At the end of the program, the Head of School said, “You’ve given us a new modality. It helps us to shift out of the rebuttal and debate mode into empathic listening. It encourages us to listen from the heart rather than just the head.”
While the model I describe here was used to address LGBTQ issues, it can be applied to other identity issues such as race, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, disability or ethnicity. Hearing personal stories, particularly those of people who have been silenced, marginalized, or targeted, has the potential to open the hearts of the listeners and create change—change in attitudes, policy and social change.
Of course, changing attitudes and working towards equity is an incremental and complex process for any group. Story sharing programs alone cannot satisfy the need for systemic change. But I am eager to continue offering these programs to help make communities safer for all.
Cindy Rivka Marshall will be offering a participatory workshop “Hear Our Voices: Build Understanding Across Differences” at the NSN Conference. It will be a chance to experience some of the techniques described here and think about ways of bringing this work into your own communities.
Cindy Rivka Marshall aims to “reach, teach and change with stories.” Her consultation and training in the use of story modalities addresses the needs of congregations, schools, organizations and individuals. Along with performing stories, Cindy facilitates groups to share stories and coaches individuals to craft stories, with the goals of enhancing learning experiences and building community. She runs the Dancing Tree Story Workshop in Needham, MA and has produced several award winning recordings of her stories.
By Mike Speller
In the afterglow of the wonderful buffet published in Storytelling Magazine’s “Coming Home Laughter” edition, I am proud to say NSN chose the Professor to share his Humor Kourse at the upcoming summer conference/workshop. So now I have plenty of material to copy, paraphrase, and claim as my own. I am joshing, of course!
Seriously, how do you follow that compendium of comic artists? Pardon moi, comic Storytellers. I aspire to their levels of creativity, confidence, and arte del commedia. However, I am confident I have something different to offer you, gentle reader. Do not say ‘tragedy’…I expect more of you.
First, let’s get our terms in order. Somebody’s dictionary defines Comedy as the end-product (ie, skit, play, Presidential race); Humor is the ability to create and/or perceive amusing things a.k.a. comedies, big or small; and Laughter is a violent physical and audible reaction to comedy, usually involving milk out the nose.
I shall now expel, uh, employ my flimsy knowledge of the periodic table, and my graduate degree in hard-knocks to share four elements that make Comedy possible: Inspiration, Timing, Execution, and Response.
Inspiration. Some people are born Humorous, some achieve Humor, and some have no clue.
To those of you born funny…well, la dee da. With great humor comes great responsibility! Spontaneous wit is wonderful but don’t rely on your Phillips screwdriver to change that light bulb (metaphor at play there).
To the working stiffs who achieve Humor, I applaud you. Through accumulation of comedy intake or the proverbial light bulb going on overhead, if you can make it funny here, you can make it funny anywhere.
To the clueless? Nobody’s perfect. The comic savant and the laborer alike can always add to their repertoire of methods (NOTE: THIS is a subliminal pitch to register for my workshop!), so if all you do is buy a light bulb this time around…at least you’ve got one.
Timing. …Wait for it….Thank you! It applies not just to a pause between words but judicious follow-up after a serious event.
Execution. Whether you’re writing or speaking your Humor, there’s two aphorisms you should know. The first comes from the film “My Favorite Year” (c/o I wish I knew): “Dying is easy, Comedy is hard.” Second, comes from Mr. Shakespeare, et al: “Brevity is the Soul of Wit.”
Granted, you may think this premise or that punchline is enough to make an assassin pee his pants, but the true test is reallllly…
Response (Did you see that coming?). One joke/bit/schtick is merely a barometer. For consistent response and rapport, your sense of humor and its end-product must be compatible with your audience as a whole (usually requiring some form of research or NSN workshop, I daresay).
Professor Pickle is not a scientist—most of you already know there’s at least five elements on the periodic table. He is not a surgeon—though his jokes can be cutting. The Professor is a practitioner of comedy and/or humor who believes he can help others relax about the subject of Humor and create the good stuff when the need arises. And there’s always a need.
Mike Speller began his professional acting career educating kids for CLIMB Theatre, laughing with Fanny Hill Dinner Theatre, improvising with TheatreSportz, then opening Walt Disney World’s Adventurers Club. He’s been featured at the Sterling (IL), LaCrosse (WI), and Ray Bradbury Festivals; and is honored to contribute to the NSN mind-meld. Join his humor workshop at the 2016 National Storytelling Conference, 7/21-24 in Kansas City, MO.
by Carolyn Stearns
In the back of the closet, an old box in the attic, a jewelry box long forgotten, these are the places some of your family stories lurk. I have focused a portion of my work on unearthing these remnants of stories and fleshing them out. There are jewels of stories waiting to be told once more. There are family members whose memory has been relegated to a name and a date. Through telling their story, their life still teaches lessons and impacts the next generation of the family. You can honor a family memory with a story.
My historical family story quest began with my Great (x4) Uncle George. I inherited his writings, notes and a few artifacts. I have known about Uncle George all my life, but I never “KNEW” Uncle George. He was born in 1835, our lives did not intersect, that is, until I read his writings. Here was a glimpse direct from his thoughts. I am sure the care he took in writing his memoir was because he wanted his story told.
That was where my education in historical family stories began. It doesn’t matter if your family story is from 1960 or 1775, there is a process to bring it back to life. History is often considered a dry subject by students. Storytelling has the power to breathe life back into the dry data of time and event and make them personable encounters with another era. Just as CPR revives a person, I revive a family story.
My workshop, “My Roots are Showing; Collecting and Telling Family Stories” at the 2016 National Storytelling Conference (July 21-24, Kansas City, MO) invites participants to delve into family story and craft a tale that will reintroduce the family and your audiences. You don’t have to be a storyteller to appreciate a good family story, or to tell it. These are the stories children need to hear on the way to a baseball game, or school. These stories are to share when the relatives come for a visit.
You don’t need a famous relative to tell a great family story. With my process you will walk back through time and gather the pieces that fill out your story. You will also have prompts to help you gather stories before they are lost to time. Sit down with our elderly generation and collect as many story seeds as you can before they disappear.
How do you tell that story? How do you use your voice and body to make the story more realistic? What can you give your listeners to be sure they are not just hearing the story, but experiencing it? In my workshop we will interact with each other as we try different ways to breathe life into your story. Come with or without a story, I have the prompts to stir your memories. If you have a story you want to tell, a memento, a photo you want to use as a starting place, meet me at the National Storytelling Conference.
Everyone has some old stories that wait in the recesses of time and memory. I have the story CPR to bring them back to life. My roots are showing in my stories, those long ago relatives struggling in a world we don’t recognize. Let me help you unearth your roots, collect and tell your family story.
I live at the intersection of arts an agriculture. I perform all types of stories but am drawn to stories from history. My historical family story CD, George Henry Story – The Man Who Painted Lincoln was recipient of three awards. My workshops range from Family Stories to STEAM Ice Cream: engaging participants in the STEM curriculum with the Art of storytelling, alternative energy and making ice cream. I am part of the 9th generation to live on the family dairy farm, Mountain Dairy in Mansfield Connecticut.
You can find me on Social Media, Twitter, Facebook, You-Tube, Instagram and LinkedIn.