It has been great observing fellow story tellers at the Weber State Storytelling festival. I thought for today’s creativity discussion in Rock Soup, I would relay some observations of what I’ve seen other tellers do to handle their audience, address difficult questions and make a more engaging story.
There are always two questions that are hard for a teller to answer. I think that the teller Kim Weltkamp addressed them beautifully. when a child asks, “Is that story true?” she answered, “That was truly a story”. I loved Kim’s response to “What part of that story is real?” she said, “That’s was really a story.” loved it! How she modulated her voice maintained doubt if the stories were true or not. she still answers the child’s question in a vague way that maintains the mystery of the story.
A youthful teller by the name of Lindsey Fry told a Pony Tail story. There were three areas that had one line sentences that caused surprise and a strong reaction from the audience. some of the boys at the elementary wearing pony tails to imitate the story character’s pony tail and later in the story all the boys doing so. another surprise in the story referred to such chaos at the school that girl students accidently ended up in the Boy’s bathroom. these three references in the story created surprises, humor and touched upon potential embarrassing moments that kids would respond to.
Techniques I observed from the teller Eshu Bumpus. he tests his sound system early. Since he tells stories from Africa he has many African words and phrases he teaches the children. the phrases often become part of the story. to keep children engaged he will ask them questions often where the answers comes from something he said earlier in the story. he dresses up in African attire that is a great draw for the kids. another thing he does is when he has kids repeat phrases he will modulate his voice to different ‘personalities’ of voices and the kids are eager to imitate him. he has some very silly voices. How does he handle interruptions? he will ask the child’s name and he will put that child’s name in the story and continue his story.
One way Eshu does a transition between one story to another is he’ll clap a rhythm and the kids will follow him. when one child asked how he came up with story he told them to memorize the number: 398.2. that is the fairy tale and international story section of the library. I have an idea. using the number 398.2 would make a good hash tag for tweeting on the topic of storytelling or fairy tales in general.
Motoko tells stories from her native country of Japan and often dresses in a kimono type top. when she comes on stage and prepares the mic she will hum a pretty melody. she will engage children in the story by having them repeat a clap in rhythm. she has a good way to respond to questions asked in the middle of her performance. when they interrupt her she’ll say “I’ll answer your question later.” And she’ll continue her story. I learned that Motoko and Eshu will often do concerts together which is a nice combination.
It is always great to get smart ideas from other people. one good idea is to glue a clock to a board so that you can put the clock on a front chair of an auditorium so that a story teller can see the time when they’re doing a concert. another great idea is the staff has a bunch of pictures drawn by elementary children of their illustrations of famous fairytales. Those pictures decorated the walls in the buildings where the story concerts are taking place. I see three advantages of this. one, the kids have fun subject matter to illustrate in art class. two, it gives early promotion for an activity the kids will be attending. And Three, it sets the mood for the story telling.
The Weber State story telling conference is in its 16th year and they are doing a good job. (community.weber.edu/storytelling/)