Sunday, November 5, 2017

Time Management In An Olio: Tips For Not Being A Clock Hog

Pro Tip!

If you are part of an olio, and you are told you have seven minutes...DON'T TELL FOR MORE THAN SEVEN MINUTES!

That is easy enough to say, but it is not always easy to do, you say? Well, have no fear, here is a blog post to help.

When people organize events, they want them to run as smoothly as possible. They don't want to be too off time. If you run ten or fifteen minutes (heaven's above) beyond the time you are supposed to use, then you crunch everyone else, and you stress out the organizers.

I am not the only one who starts rethinking their stories as they realize someone in the line-up has just decided time be damned and is going on and on and on.

So, how can you make sure that you are not committing this truly abominable sin? Here are some suggestions.

1) Do not tell a story that requires a great deal of ad lib. 

As soon as you start adding to the tale, if you get lots of audience response, it might be hard for you to move through the story. I have seen any number of tellers who get lost in their own work, and blow right through their time. In fact, if you have some kind of really hard deadline like ten minutes or less, don't ad lib at all unless your story is only four or five minutes long, or you have an amazing interior timekeeper and can get back on track.

2) Know your story VERY well.

If you are in an olio where you need to keep time so everyone gets their allotted time, Do Not choose this moment to tell a tale you have never told before, and aren't sure how long it will last. Want to make sure you blow right through your time?...wing it. Having a great idea of how long the story will take is your best ally in not infuriating your fellow performers.

3) If you know the story normally takes thirty minutes...don't try to tell it in seven!

Unless you have successfully managed to tell this story in the allotted time, don't break it out and see whether or not it works when there are five other people counting on you to give them their space to perform.

4) Be honest with yourself about your inner timekeeper.

Your inner timekeeper gives you a heads up about when you are getting close to time. My inner timekeeper is really good with stories I know well and have told hundreds of times, but it is less good when I am working with an unfamiliar story. In that situation, I set a timer. There is no shame in setting an alarm to make sure you don't tell a twenty minute story when you are only supposed to tell a twelve minute one.

5) if you think you might need an external time keeper...arrange for a signal with someone in the audience.

You can always ask someone to give you a sign when you have two minutes left. This is usually enough time to wrap up whatever you are doing and come to a conclusion of some kind.

Don't get a reputation for blowing through your time. It will follow you.

Good luck out there as we come into the cold part of the year.

Happy Being A Considerate Teller!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Care And Feeding Of The Voice!!!!

On the road again!

I am perpetually on the road again!

This fall I am traveling, telling, teaching, and generally. doing all the things I can!

Meaning I am always on the road....again!

Yeah, I'm not a song writer.

I always use a microphone.  Always.  I have a pretty strong voice for speaking, and I can fill a space pretty well, but there is no need for it when we have such technological marvels as microphones. 

I often encounter people who are a bit annoyed by my request that the forum offer a microphone.  If they do not have a good sound system, I will bring my own, but I always ask for one.  There are some general responses when I ask for amplification.  They are as follows.

The space is not that big.

Our last performer didn't use a microphone.

There aren't that many children.

You have a pretty big voice.   

None of that has anything to do with why I want a microphone.  The fact of the matter is that a storyteller only works so long as their voice is intact.  If you over stress your vocal chords, you can cause yourself months of hurt. 

I am a trained speaker.  That means I have years of vocal training to help me get through a show if the mic should fail, but it is never my desire to power through forty five minutes of intricate vocal work while still being loud enough to be heard by two hundred people in a gymnasium, which was surely never built with acoustics perfect for a single performer.

So, with this in mind, here are some tips for those of us who work in the telling fields.  This is mostly beginner stuff, but it sometimes helps to be reminded.

1 - if you are doing something with your voice and it makes your throat a bit sore...stop.

2 - if you drink water during your set, room temperature water is best.  Your vocal chords are at their ease and move freely when they are warm.  Hitting them with cold water means you are straining them until they warm up again.  Don't fight yourself.

3 - Only you know how long it takes for your voice to recover after you hurt yourself.  Don't push it.  If you feel like you have to pull back from a story because it requires a bit more than you have, tell something else.

4 - If your throat is sore after a performance, unless you are ill, it means you are straining your vocal chords.  Get yourself a good reference book.  Better yet, contact Doug Lipman.  He should be able to point you in the right direction!

5 - Don't let someone talk you into hurting your voice.  Just because you can bring the power to fill a room doesn't mean you should.  Voices need a rest.  The older you get, the more that is true.  The microphone gives your voice more running time.  It also means you are directing less energy into the level of sound and you can devote that energy to the craft 
of the tale.

6 - Keep a supply of whatever thing makes your throat feel best with you in cold or drier months. Whether that is lozenges or gum drops.

7 - Wrap up that throat if you are out in the weather. Scarves are cool....okay, maybe not, but they can be necessities!

8 - Let it rest when you can. Listen to it when you need to. Nurse it before things get out of hand!

Fender Passport Sound System

Like I said, much of this is obvious, but every now and then, it is good to be reminded that if someone gets testy with you about amplification, it is okay to remind them that they are only getting one or two shows from you, but that is not the end of your obligations.  if you blow your voice out on Tuesday, is that fair to the four shows you have on Friday?

I am on the Road in Illinois Tonight at Dominican University!

Happy Telling!

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Power of Artists In Schools: The Best Gifts!

Today marks the 50th time I've gone around the sun!

I have had some wonderful gifts.

The David traveled with me to California. That is always a treat!

I always love my birthdays. Some years I am at Jonesboro, TN at the National Storytelling festival. This year, if you want to hear what's going on, but you cannot get there, they are streaming the festival live!

Live Stream!!!

I am not at the National Festival. I am in Lodi, CA this year. I'm telling and relaxing...not at the same time.

Yesterday, I was at a school where I worked with everyone from k - 8.

The principal came up to me at the end of the day and said, "I'm already getting great feedback. The Kindergarteners left your performance and went back to their room for writing time. Some write, some draw depending on their abilities. For the first time, every kind wrote and they wrote far more than they ever had. Even the child who hasn't written anything all year, and always starts crying when it is time to write was excited and wrote without any prompting."

The gifts just keep on coming.

Today I got a chance to tell to a k-12 school, and I had one young senior who was slumped in his seat when he arrived, but perked up as the telling continued and was all in it by the end. He came up to me after the set was over and said, "You are the best storyteller I have ever heard."

I was also mobbed by an entire group of first graders who all needed hugs.

I took a nice long walk with the mister, and when I got back to the room, I found this video waiting for me.

I have been celebrating the joy of storytelling for several weeks. This video was put out by the United Arts Council of Wake County.

So, for all the joys of performing, and because there are thousands of folks gathered in TN listening to storytelling, I say what a great trip it has been around the sun!

Can't wait to see what the next 365 days will bring.

Happy Telling!


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Storytelling Is A Joyful Thing

Anyone who has spent any time telling for children has heard this phrase....

- Every time we got in the car they had to listen to your CD. No offense, but I got really sick of hearing your voice! -

There are days when I am getting up at stupid 0'clock to head out to a school, and I think to myself,

If I worked conferences more often or any other type of venue, I could still be asleep! Why does the bulk of my work have to begin at 8:45am?

-As an educator and performer, I know how impactful storytelling can be to brain development, language development, communication, literacy, and empathy...that doesn't mean I have to be the person out there doing it at such a foolish hour of the morning!

Sitting in traffic at 8:30am makes thoughts like this careen around in my head like a pinball.

All of that, of course, is before I get there.

Writing this blog has been an interesting journey for me. Sometimes I get so caught up in the inside/business work of being a storyteller I forget that there is the absolute fun of it. The anticipation of waiting to share a great tale is palpable in me, and often even the audience before we ever begin!

I spend so much time writing about the business of telling and the craft of telling, I don't always focus on the absolute joy and reward of it.

I don't want anyone to think storytelling is an easy, throw away thing to do.
I don't want people to think that there is no work, skill, or craft involved in this art form.

I probably don't spend enough time reveling in the experience on this space. So, today, I will share some of the good stuff.

The Barking Mouse
Antonio Sacre
- I was in South Carolina and one of the Kindergarten teachers asked me, "Do you know Antonio Sacre? For a period of time in my family, his was the most important voice of my kid's childhood. We loved him. We still tell his stories. We were with a family who primarily spoke Spanish when we saw him, and all of the kids fell in love with him. We played his recordings so much, we can tell all of his stories by heart. They are in their late teens now, and they still talk about him and tell his stories.

- I got an email from one of my friends who lives in Kansas who wrote, "Oh my gosh, my husband and I were walking through this park, and we saw an advertisement for storytelling, and we were like, "Hey, maybe Donna will be there." You weren't there, obviously, but we saw this amazing performer. Antonio Rocha? He was fabulous! He was a mime storyteller! We didn't even know that existed. He did this thing where he almost got carried away by a big balloon! Have you ever seen him?"
Do you know this guy named

- A teacher at one of the middle schools in Chicago came up to me as I was packing up to leave, "You came to my middle school when I was in seventh grade. I will never forget it, and today, when I heard you were coming, I was through the roof. I have been talking to my kids about you non stop all week, and they were prepared to be disappointed because they said nobody could be as good as I said you were. When they got back to the class, they were blown away. Now, all they want to do is talk about you. Thank you."

- I've been asked about a whole host of other tellers. They always start you know...and then they launch into the story of where they saw the teller and how important that person was to them and their family.

I don't know all of the storytellers they list, but I am usually familiar with the stories they told.

When I get in front of middle school audiences within about one hundred miles of where I live, I often ask them if they saw me as elementary school kids. Most of them have. They are the easiest audiences. They already like stories, they remember me, and they are anxious to see what we are going to do next.

In the end, they almost always ask for tongue twisters because that is something I do with elementary school kids to get them to start playing with language.

 It is always cool to me when some seventh or eighth grader stops me and says, "Listen to this" and breaks out with a tongue twister. Their next statement is usually something like..."I learned to do that after you did tongue twisters for us."

I've worked with Freshmen in college who've geeked out over seeing me because they remembered me from elementary school. It is quite fun to watch some eighteen year old kid announced, "Epaminandus, you ain't got the sense you was born with!"

Our next door neighbors moved to Texas some years ago. They contacted me last November and told me that out of nowhere, their ten year old started telling Bastienello unprompted. He hadn't heard the CD in years. His fourteen year old brother told it with him. They had a blast in the car. She sent me a recording. It did my heart good to hear it. The audio is really low, but I sat glued to the computer listening to them retell that story with both sass and "bro" language. It was hysterical.

The next generation of people who love stories, support storytelling, and want to be storytellers is moving through our schools. I am honored to be one of the people on the front lines helping them to experience, love, and be excited about storytelling as an art, career, and consumer.

If you work in schools, sitting in front of you is a kid who might one day get up on stage and begin the work for the generations that follow.

From My Scrapbook!
I know this for certain because when I was a Freshman in high school, I sat in an audience and saw a storyteller with a puppet. The show was called The Wizard and Groark. I loved that show. I went up afterwards and got an autograph from the performer.

Many, many years later I was at a storytelling festival in Ocalla, Fl and I could barely contain myself. The fellow who I shared a stage with was none other than Randall McGee. aka The Wizard.

I couldn't wait to tell him that I'd seen him when I was a kid. I couldn't wait to tell him that he was my first actual professional teller. I couldn't wait to admit that the reason I knew that I could do this was because I remember seeing him all those years ago.

Randall McGee and Groark
I remember how excited I was. I can still feel it even as I look at these pics I just posted!

 I get to see that excitement on the faces of so many others.

Storytelling is a joyful thing.

Yes, it is a great deal of work, yes, it is an exhausting business...but it is definitely a joyful thing!

Happy Telling!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

30 Years As A Storyteller!

My season is in full swing. I've only been visiting my home for the last few weeks as I drive all around the eastern United States.

The work has been fun and interesting.

The workshops have been successful.

The kids have been great.

The educators and parents have been great.

I have been having the time of my life.

I've also been mixing it up a bit.

After thirty years, I feel like I know what works and what doesn't. I feel like I have a good handle on my material and what I want out of it. I feel like I'm pretty good at selecting stories and composing story sets.

What I am discovering is that I seem to have moved into one of those periods where things are bubbling up to the top. Just as I get comfortable, I begin rearranging the room. I'm starting to dare myself about the work just to see what happens.

I am trotting out new material and reworking old material just trying to see how it hits an audience . I'm learning new introductions, and different ways to work folktales and personal narrative together so they speak to various populations. I'm finding nuances, connections, and coming up against ideas that have never occurred to me.

Peter Cook
I'm going to be in Chicago in October at University of Chicago on a panel about using gesture and body in storytelling. Leeny is going to be there as well! I will get to see the healing Megan Wells, and the wonderful Janice Del Negro.

I'll be out in California on my birthday, and in the schools. I don't know if I'll get a chance to visit....but I might.

I also managed to secure a literary agent, and I am now deep in edits for my first novel. Somehow, I overcame my unwillingness to admit that I really want to be writing more for a living, and someone out there said they'd give me a chance.

I'm equal parts terrified, excited, and still in disbelief as I try to reshape a novel for the real world and not my own enjoyment.

Heathwood Hall
I'm sitting in a Hampton Inn in Columbia, SC this afternoon after spending the entire day at Heathwood Hall teaching and telling.

The last few weeks have been quite a wild ride.

One of my adopted ten rules of thumb for the artist is, "If you keep hitting the target you are probably too close."

It is hard to move that target because you might miss...but if you don't move it, you don't get anywhere as an artist.

Today I'd planned to write about being honest with yourself about booking shows so that your first set is as crisp as your last. What is the largest and smallest number of sets you can do in a day and deliver the best quality and why?

I will blog about that next week, but I am feeling pretty transformed about the work I'm doing, and I am finding it hard to be practical!

So, I will continue to throw pasta agains the wall and see what sticks, and hope I come out of it better able to do my job.

I wonder if this has something to do with turning fifty this year?
My kids both in college?
Feeling like I just hit a new phase in my life?
Watching my nieces and nephews get older?
Celebrating my thirtieth year as a professional storyteller?

Who knows?

Ultimately, it doesn't matter. I moved the target. I mean to spend a decade or more trying to perfect my shot.

Happy Experimenting!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Final Day of Teller In Residence - Thoughts on Day 5

My last day in Jonesborough at the International Storytelling center was wonderful. I taught a two hour workshop about literacy and storytelling.

I got a chance to visit the farmer's market.

It was strange to be in the town without the streets blocked, the crowds roaming everywhere, and the shops so full I couldn't enter. I'm glad I got to see Jonesborough as it is every other week of the year!

I had a great conversation with Susan O'connor. Drop her a line if you can. She had a burst pipe and a flooded kitchen when she got home from visiting her grandchildren. Send her some good energy.

Kiran was hanging out at a diner and I just happened to run into him. He was, as usual, hip deep in social activism - finding beds and shelter for people affected by Hurricane Harvey.

I met Krystal Hawkins who has stepped into Becky Brunson's massive shoes and is acquitting herself well.

I am both humbled and energized by my time as Teller-In-Residence.

The story of the rise of storytelling as a profession in our country is one that fills me with gratitude.

I am proud to be part of this continuum. I am honored to be a member of this community.

After my last show, a young man named Jay came up to me.

Jay: "Do you know Rives Collins?"

Me: "Yes! He is the reason I am a storyteller."

Jay: "Really? The reason why I'm here is because I had to see a professional storyteller and write a paper about it."

Me: "Cool! He's amazing."

Jay: "Not only that, you say you live in Durham, NC, right?"

Me: "Yes."

Jay: "I was born in Durham, NC."

Me: "Really?"

Jay: "Yeah."

Me: "Durham Regional Hospital, right?"

Jay: "Yeah!"

Me: "My husband used to work there, and my daughter was born there."

Jay: "Wow. You know. I keep getting signs from the universe that maybe I should be a storyteller."

(He explained to me that he and Rives have the same middle name. It is an unconventional one!)

Me: "Do you want to be a storyteller?"

Jay: "Yeah. I think I do."

Me: "Well, let me tell you, this is a possible career. You can make a living at this."

Jay: "I'm thinking that this might be the way I want to go."

Me: "Good luck."

The story continues......

Happy Telling!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Teller In Residence - Reflections on Day 4

Home Sweet Home For The Week!

They came for the show this afternoon, and then bought me ice cream at JJ's Eatery and Ice Cream.

They were visiting from outside of Knoxville!

I bumped into this guy....

Dropped into the Lollipop Shop on Main Street

I stand up when I tell stories, but this cool, custom made storytelling chair they have at the center is enough to make me wish I sat!

Having an Amazing Time!

Happy Telling!