Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Storyteller's Toolkit: Facial Expressions

The Storyteller's Toolkit is a simple way to talk about the elements that storyteller's use to present a story.  These do not include puppets, props, costumes or anything extraneous.  You can certainly use all of those things as a storyteller, but they are not standard tools in the toolkit.  

The basics in the toolkit are as follows.

Voice:  If you missed the post just click here.

Eyes:  If you missed the post just click here.


Hands:  If you missed the post just click here.

Body:  If you missed the post, just click here

Easy enough.  In keeping with my new policy about blog entries.  We will deal with each of these one at a time.  Today's selection deals with facial expression.

The best thing about writing a blog has got to be the research aspect.  I spend lots of time reading what other people suggest, think, and discover, and then I get to decide what I think, suggest or have discovered about it.  The information about the use of facial expression is no different.  So, let us discuss what I found out about using facial expressions from hours of jumping around the web, and ferreting out the best practices I could find.  

For starters, lots of the advice I got was about using facial expressions with children.

Kid's Encyclopedia

Tell the story with your face

Why Facial Expressions are Important

Then, I found a number of reference that simply said it was important.

"Jackie Torrence is proof of the power of facial expressions."

Storytelling and Communication:  Discourse in Deaf Communities

Here is an article about using close ups of facial expressions in eLearning situations

I found this WikiHow page that gives a step by step look at how to tell a story!

The last article, but hardly the last reference, is about cultural differences in facial expressions that I found both fascinating and informative.

Perception of facial expression differs across cultures.

After all of the reading, I can state that I definitely think using facial expressions with children is a good thing, but I also recommend it for adults.  They enjoy it as well!  Yes, facial expressions are important.  Using them does enhance storytelling.  Saying that doesn't make it an easy thing to do!

The coolest thing about facial expression is that just as babies learn vocabulary and figure out how to respond to the world by watching facial expressions and listening to the tones of our voice, people continue to pick up language in this manner right up until the time they hit puberty…after that the pituitary gland kicks in and everything switches over to sex, and you have a whole different set of things to manage!

So, let's start with a master storyteller who knows how to work a face!  Peter Cook, one of my absolute favorite storytellers.  He has mentored me on any number of occasions about nonverbal communication.  Watch this man's incredible face, though, I know it will be hard because everything he is doing is fascinating!

Some Basic Uses:  Your face offers you a chance to share a kinesthetic link with your audience.

Bring characters to life - Work very specific character faces.  Whenever the audience sees the expression they will be able to more fully engage and follow the story.  examples:  The squint, the big eyes, the mouth over to one side, the wrinkled nose, the annoyed expression

Create Atmosphere - Your face tells the audience the mood or atmosphere of the story.  examples:  scary, exciting, suspenseful

Asides - Your face lets us know when you are talking to us directly.

Set Tone - Is this story funny, serious, scary?  Your face can let us know what sort of ride we are about to have.

Slow Motion Expression  - Allowing your face to slowly settle into an exaggerated expression.  This allows the audience to go on that physical trip with you.  examples:  fear, anger, joy, disgust, discovering you are in pain.

Change the mood of your stories - Your face gives the audience an indication that the story has moved on to another beat.  examples:  relax, be worried, everything is okay, something horrible is about happen, somebody just fell in love

Foreshadowing - Use your face to inform your audience of what is coming next!

Here is a telling of The Laughing Place.  Brer Rabbit's laughing face is the key to the whole tale.

Having said all of that, I know that not everybody is anxious to make faces on stage.  Some folks feel quite inhibited, some feel foolish, some people aren't naturally expressive, and find the very idea of making exaggerated faces uncomfortable.

If you want to add expressions, the best way to begin is to sit and imagine expressions.  Happiness, sadness, anger, excitement.  Imagine what you think it looks like, and then see if you can make your face 'feel' like it is excited or happy based on the image you have in your head.

Some people like to use a mirror.  If you want to look at yourself in a mirror as you make the expressions, go right on ahead, but there are lots of people who do not.  Me, personally, I do not.  I find that when I practice with a mirror, I become distracted by things other than 'does this expression convey sadness?'

I practice the expression until it 'feels' right, and then I try them out with friends, family, or in stories.  I ask, 'does this work here?'

Start small if you aren't using much expression.  Work on techniques for transitioning and mood if you have managed the basics.  Your face is never neutral, we are learning something from it every second you are performing.  Choose what we are learning.  Create the atmosphere on purpose.  Lead us through the story by choosing facial expressions.  Craft your face to reflect your tales.

Empower yourself.  Empower your stories!

Happy Telling!

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