Thursday, December 7, 2017

Life Hack: The Travel Bag

Yeah, I'm a fool for Vera Bradley bags

I am done with touring for the year! Time to clean out and restock my travel bag!


When first I began to travel, I would load the bag with the toiletries from my side of the sink.  I'd take my lotion, skin conditioners, toothpaste, and whatever I thought I needed, put it in the bag, and then pack my clothes.  This process meant that I would occasionally turn up at my final destination without necessary items.

Every now and then I would forget essential cords, like the ones that go to my phone or computer.  After a few years, I decided there had to be a better way.  

I remembered that when I was pregnant, the literature suggested that I pack a bag with everything in it that I would need to take to the hospital with me when I went in to have the baby.  

If it worked for a trip to the hospital, it ought to work for longer trips, especially since I was anticipating taking such trips.  

With that in mind, I put together my storytelling travel bag with duplicates of all the supplies I need on a daily basis.  Then, I put the bag in my closet in easy reach.

What’s in it?

1.     A cord for my computer
2.     A cord for my phone
3.     Toiletries (Toothpaste, floss, toothbrush, you get the picture)
4.     Skin Care Regime (Oil of Olay to Jergens)
5.     Nail care regime (files, polish, creams, base and top coat)
6.     Cough drops and other throat needs
7.     Aleve (because sometimes life is a headache)
8.     Melatonin (a sleep aid when my travel schedule makes me jittery)
9.     Extra pens and pencils (You can't ever have enough)
10. Contact lens solutions (Including eyedrops)
11. My sleep mask (I like it really, really dark when I sleep)
12. Dread accessories (If you don't have dreads, use your imagination)
13. Shower cap  
14. Sleep net (I hate rolling over and pulling my own hair)

My travel bag

There are a few more things in there, but you get the point.  The toiletries are all kept in a 'kit' so that I can keep track of them, and it is easy to see when I have to replace things.  

When I get ready to leave for a week, overnight, two weeks, or however long, I only have to put my clothes a in the bag.  

When I get home, I just take out the clothes.  Everything else stays in there.  If I have to fly, I take out the large bag with my regular size toiletries and replace it with my flight kit.

 Packing has become a breeze.

For wherever your travels might lead!

This set up might not work for everyone, but it is a timesaver for me.

Every little bit helps.

Happy Traveling!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Process v.s. Product while in Residence

I truly hate doing short residencies that are meant to end up in a performance.

This is not the case if I am brought in to work with a group of kids who are already planning to present something. In a general classroom setting with a myriad of different kinds of kids...I don't enjoy it.

For a small number of kids, being on stage will be one of the most amazing things in the world, and perhaps they will get bitten by the performance bug, and someday they will be on Access Hollywood talking about that artist that came to their rural elementary school and opened their world...

Then there are the children who will freak out about it...

These are the children who will hate the performance with a red hot hatred. These are the children who are so shy they can barely open their mouths in front of their peers, and this forced performance will absolutely confirm every fear they've ever had about being on stage.

This is the person you encounter on line in the grocery store who will tell you that they were forced to get up in front of everyone, and that was the moment when they realized they had no talent and would never, ever, ever want to be on stage again.

The bulk of the children will fall in the middle of the spectrum.

As a born ham, I never had trouble speaking to anyone anywhere. I didn't really get shy kids when I was younger. I didn't grow up in a family with any, and most of my friends were anything but. That doesn't mean I didn't know some...I just didn't get them.

I took them at their word that they were scared to speak, but I didn't get it.
I remember well parents who found their shy kids embarrassing, and they attempted to force them to get over it.

This idea that if you just showed shy people that they had nothing to fear they would come out of their shy shells and be like everyone else is a myth that got picked up somewhere, and it is often used to scar shy children. 

Some grow out of being shy, and others never do. That is just how it is.

Recently, I met sixty-one absolutely marvelous third graders. We played story games, language games, and did a short skit at the end of the week.

In small groups, these kids did really well. When we did tableau work, and they had to stand before their peers, but  didn't have to say anything, they were fabulous. Then, we had our first speaking work.

Despite having ample time to practice their little skits that lasted only about thirty seconds, I had an entire class where none of the four groups could get all the way through the skit. Once they were standing in front of their peers, they just stared at them and went silent. The lines they were able to recall as long as they were in small group slipped away, and they couldn't even remember what they were supposed to do.

In the other classes, we had a variety of outcomes.

One little boy couldn't manage anything but giggling. He was a guard without any lines at all, and he giggled all the way through the five line skit they created.

One group had five kids, and only two of them were willing to say anything.

We had people who, while they were working with their group, couldn't seem to find their way, but when they were standing up in front of the group, they turned into forceful performers, and took everyone by surprise...including themselves.

Several other kids absolutely bloomed and had amazing characters that every single person in class enjoyed. We laughed and loved their wild characters, but they were the exception to the rule.

I bring all of this up because when we originally conceived this residency, I explained that what I was going for was working on communication and interpersonal skills. The district was excited about that. I explained how I would be doing that, and they were very excited. Then, they added an extra two days and asked if the kids could do a performance.

They didn't bother to tell me they wanted one until I showed up and got the schedule.

On our first day together, Monday, I did performances for the whole school.

After the show, the director realized I was not anxious to have the kids do a performance. He asked why, and I explained that if we were going to do a performance, then we would need to work all week doing that, but I only had each class 4 times for 45 minutes a day.

That would mean that in four 45 minute sessions I would have to get over sixty kids ready to stand in front of their peers and possibly the parents or other members of the school to do some storytelling.

I explained that we might be able to produce some semblance of storytelling, but we would not be able to focus on the slow, deliberate work of learning some of the basic skills that could be carried over into other areas of their lives. I also suggested we could do an exhibition where we showed the other kids and their parents what we had been doing all week.

In the end, we agreed to focus on small group and communication skills, and not sweat the "performance".

I have done some storytelling residencies that culminated in performance, but those usually require multiple hours each day with the same group of kids, or more than just a few contacts, and we go through a very particular process to reach our goal. It is much more geared to working for an audience, not small groups to learning how to better communicate with peers. That could be a side effect of the work, but it is not the main thrust.

All of the kids in those intensives are successful, and I work hard to bring each kid to a place where they feel comfortable. Any kid who doesn't think they can do it, I work with...however, I don't force kids onto the stage.

I will always choose process over performance if I can, because learning the process is like teaching the kid to fish. If they understand the process, they can apply it to many different circumstances, including getting up on stage someday if they wish.

We all progress from stage to stage at our own pace. Forcing square pegs into round holes is never a good fit.

Some people adore the performance aspect, and couldn't imagine not having a presentation.

As an artist teacher, stay true to what you do, articulate it as well as you can, and help your charges succeed...wherever they are.

Happy Teaching and Telling!

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!