Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Luscious Green Grass in Beth Horner's Garden: Storytelling Is Too A Competition!

We may have done future professional storyteller's a disservice by shouting 'everyone can be a storyteller'!  Not because everyone doesn't have a story to tell, they do, but because not every one of them is going to be able to hang out a shingle, and become a professional storyteller.

It takes time to establish yourself in this field.

It can take years to build up a reputation so that you can work enough to support yourself, your spouse, your children and your pets.

Then there is the work itself, which can be quite grueling at times.

Then, and this is the part we don't talk about much at all, there is all of the competition.

Yes, there is competition in the storytelling world, but it takes on a different aspect than in other art forms.

For starters, you are not competing for the same parts.  Unlike theatre where there are only seven parts, and the director makes the decisions based on what they see in their heads, the field is much more open and the players can take on many different aspects.

There are hundreds of festivals all across the country, and they are all looking for tellers.  Chances are there is one out there for you if you go looking.

It isn't like Broadway where there are only a few big theaters, and you are trying to sell out every seat in the house, and make money for your backers or they will close you down.

Heck, you can tell stories to tiny audiences for years and years and years.  Nobody is going to come and announce that because you can't draw more than fifty people at t a time, you are no longer going to be allowed to tell stories.  We aren't competing for audiences.

It isn't like we have a Grammy award equivalent where storytellers are awarded best story, best folktale, best personal tale, get my drift.

Authors put out books, and then their works are pitted against each other for awards all over the country.

Incidentally, Congratulations are in order for Bil Lepp whose book, The King Of Little Things,  just won a Pen award.

Storytellers don't really have that either.  Well, you can apply for a Storytelling World Award, but they give out way more than just one.  Your work is evaluated on the merits of its worth, not on whether or not it is better than someone else's work.

So, where does this competition come from then?

Go get a mirror.  You see that person?  That person is your competition.

Work to be better than the person you are looking at in that glass.

When I put a new story together I am not trying to figure out how to be:

funnier than Bil Lepp
more soulful than Carmen Deedy
folksier than Donald Davis
more tuneful than Diane Ferlatte
more socially aware than Michael McCarty

I grapple with the tale, my style of telling, my understanding of the story, and how much I like the material; not what any other teller in the world might be doing in that moment.

I ask some simple questions.

1.  What does this story need from me in order to be successful?
2.  What does the audience need from this story in order for this to be successful?
3.  What does the audience need from me in order for this story to be successful?
4.  What does this story need from the audience in order to be successful?
5.  What do I need from the audience in order for this story to be successful?

I answer those questions, and I've got a story I can tell.

Will it be 'better' than someone else's?  Not why I tell that story.  I picked the tale, I tell the tale, I stand behind the tale, and I've got to love the tale.  If I don't love it, I shouldn't be telling it regardless of whether or not I think it is a 'good' telling.  That's just my opinion of course, do whatever you like.

I was having dinner with the incomparable Beth Horner the other night after the Wake County Storytelling Festival.  Beth has been a dear friend of mine for over twenty years.  She is also one of my early mentors in the field.  I always love seeing her.

Beth started telling me about what some other storyteller was up to, and I got that wistful look on my face.

I said, "I wish my career was that exciting."

Beth looked at me, picked up a piece of paper, and threw it across the table at me.  She started carrying on about how ridiculous it was for me to make that statement considering all of the things I was doing.  Then, to my amusement, she began complaining about her own career, then, stopped and started laughing.

I noted that it isn't possible to do everything, and take advantage of every opportunity, and it always seems like somebody else is doing something more exciting, interesting or fascinating than you.

Beth nodded, "Yes, even in storytelling the grass is always greener."

So, the next time you begin to wonder why you haven't ever been featured at Jonesboro, or why you only did fifty schools last year, or why you don't do more work in libraries, or how come Mr. X is always at place Y, and you haven't even been there once...take a deep breath, look in your mirror, and consider all of the beautiful, luscious green grass behind you.  Consider the fact that somewhere out there is another person looking hungrily at that grass, and wondering what you did to get such good, sweet stuff.

Then, put the mirror down and get back to work!

The competition you face is too stiff to sit around wondering what someone else might be doing.

Happy Telling!

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