Thursday, September 25, 2014

TV Head Audiences: What Are They and How Do You Crack Them?

photo Credit

There is a very odd thing I see in audiences.  I spent the first part of my career looking at it and trying to understand it.

What am I talking about?  I call them the TV Heads.

TV Heads have obviously spent lots of time in front of a screen where their behavior has zero effect on what will happen during the course of the time they are plunked there.

They have been trained to sit and stare at 'entertainment' without registering anything.  They are staring at you, and it looks like nobody is home the same way they stare at screens that are not video games.  You may have encountered this phenomenon.  Most audiences have at least one or two.

If you turn off the television while one of the TV Children is watching, they will complain, but may be completely unable to tell you what they were just watching.

Combine this with a situation where they do not often see live performers, and you end up with  an odd combination of behaviors.

Many years ago I did a show in a library in Miami that serves a low income community.  There were metal detectors and an officer stationed at the door to the community center in which this library was housed.  The meeting room filled to bursting with family units, elders who'd come alone, and unaccompanied children between the ages of seven and ten.  In the back of the room was a table covered with cookies, snack bags of chips and cold lemonade.

With few exceptions, this inter-generational audience stared at me in blank silence for the entire performance.  I was working as hard as I could to get some kind of response, and it was not forthcoming.  It was the longest show of my entire career as a standing room only crowd made absolutely no sound, didn't smile, and barely applauded between the stories.  When it was thankfully over, the bulk of the audience turned and made a mad dash to the treats that were on the table in the back of the room.  Clearly they had come for the free food, not the stories.

 I sank into the chair covered in sweat feeling both defeated and a bit like a zoo exhibit of an odd animal that nobody could identify.

The librarian came up to me and said, "That was wonderful!"  I thought she was being polite.

Then, a woman in the front row who had nine stair step children came over to me with her youngest in her arms, bent down and whispered, "We never leave our house.  This is the first time we have ever come to the library.  We will come back."  She gathered her stairs step children...who walked in descending order  of height after her, and left in complete silence.

Cookies and punch in hand, children rushed the stage to share how much they enjoyed the tales.  Adults did the same, smiling and waving as they left.  At the time, I had no idea what had just happened.  Apparently, they'd spent forty-five minutes watching some kind of video together.  You're not supposed to make any noise at the movies.  It's rude.

How can you identify TV Heads in your audience?

1.  No affect - TV Heads tend to have very blank faces when watching something.  They don't smile or laugh or frown.  The idea that their expressions will have some effect on what is in front of them is foreign.

2.  Face on hands -   Fists or hands on their faces such that it would be impossible for them to speak.  They are not in any position to actually participate in the activity at hand.

3.  They are in their living room - These audience members treat you like a video.  They sometimes maintain a low buzz of conversation the entire time to you perform without understanding that their behavior will have any impact on you.  I've had kids get up and come and stand right in front of me while I'm telling.  They are not being rude...well they are, but actually all they are doing is behaving the way the would if I were a television.

photo credit

4.  Lack of Participation - These audiences are completely oblivious to the interacting elements.  If you watch Dora the Explorer, you know that whether or not you participate with that cute little brown cherub, she will continue on as if you did.  These audiences are so busy staring they often participate a beat behind, or they only partially engage their bodies even though they are paying attention.

I am not saying they don't enjoy the event, they do.  They are just having trouble bridging the gap between what they are used to and what they are experiencing.  They might not make any sound at all the entire time, and they may not crack a smile.

So, how do you get the TV Heads to fully participate?  You have to work it.

1.  Begin the telling by asking questions of the audience.  ex.  "How many of you have parents who yell?"  This sets up the behavior you are expecting, and it will help some of them start less passively.  This also builds rapport, and gives everyone a place to begin.

2.  Check in with the audience during the set and allow for their input to help shape the stories every now and then.  ex.  "Does anybody know what animal ham comes from?"  (My favorite answer to this one was lion.)  Checking in with the participants makes sure they are still with you, and assures them that even though they are watching, their participation is still part of the event.

Lausanne School in Memphis, TN...Workin' it!

3.  Come up with questions that relate the story back to their current lives.  example:  'How many of you have ever been dared to do something you know you are not supposed to do?"  This is one of those, 'just raise your hand' moments.  This might occasion the listeners to turn to someone next to them and share a quick story or even a word or two.  Allow for the bit of chatter before you go on with the tale.  Helping the audience put themselves in the middle of your story makes it personal for them.

4.  Find humor in the things they do.  "How many of you know a boy who falls out of his chair for no particular reason?  Don't point, it's not nice!"  Allowing the audience to laugh or point at themselves or acknowledge that they are living in pieces of the tale in the moment keeps them actively engaged.  They might go back to sitting passively after the moment, but usually they retain a bit of a smile.  That expression is better than the blank one!

It doesn't work with all of them, and we all feel keenly the ones we can't reach, but these steps give you a good chance!

The more you can get audiences to rethink what their bodies are doing, keep their brains working in the moment, make them contemplate things going on in their lives, relate to the people around them, and encourage them to play with words, images, and sounds the better chance you have of reaching the TV Heads.

Happy Telling!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Story Parenting Teenagers: A Run Of The Mill Conversation.

Story Parenting adolescents

Last night at dinner, my husband asked a simple question.  “Honey,” he said to me, “What would you like to do for your birthday?”

“I don’t know.”  I told him, “I haven’t really thought about it.”

“Well, we are going to be celebrating it on the fourth since you’ll be out of town on the sixth.”

My fourteen-year-old daughter looked up.  “What do you mean?  She’ll be home most of the week of her birthday.  Why are we celebrating on the fourth?”

My husband gave her a look.  “What’s the problem?  Have you got something going on the fourth?”

“Yes.”  She replied.  “I’m planning to overthrow a small republic that day.”

There are all sorts of places the conversation could go at this point. There are all sorts of things the grown people could say.  There are lots of options…but this is a home where there are two gifted and cursed adolescents.  All bets are off all of the time.

Both my husband and I looked at my daughter.  

My husband said, “Well, you’re going to have to reschedule.”

My daughter looked put out.  “I can’t just reschedule something like that!  Don’t you know how much planning goes into overthrowing a small republic?  This has been in the offing for months.”

My husband shook his head.  “You could have picked a better week to do it.  We have Phantom of the Opera tickets for the following Thursday.”

“Oh,” my daughter informed him, “that won’t be a problem.  I do most of my work during the weekday.” 

“When?”  I challenged.

My daughter gave me a cryptic look.  “You don’t know where I am all day.”

My husband thought he had her.  “Oh, so when we think you are at school you are not?  How did you manage that?”

My seventeen-year-old son piped up.  “When I get the call, I put on a wig, scrunch down, and take her place.”  He shrugs.  “Nobody even notices.” He is six inches taller than she is, not to mention the other physical differences that definitely mark her as a girl and him as not.

I pounce.  “Who takes your place?”

My son waves away my concerns.   “We have a nameless, faceless corporation that takes care of that.”

photo credit

 My husband attempts to get the situation back on course.  “So, what do you want to do?”

My daughter turns to the corner of the room and says, “Karl, we have to change the date for the overthrow.”

My son frowns.  “How are you communicating with them?  How can they hear you?”

My husband shrugs.  “You can secure microphones anywhere.”

“Yeah.”  My son agrees, "but how can she hear what they are saying?”

Meanwhile, my daughter has continued to speak to the corner.  “Of course you should call the Chinese Mafia.  Why wouldn’t you?”

My son turns to me.  “I didn’t know the Chinese Mafia was involved.”

photo credit

My husband sighs and says, “What do you want to do?”

My daughter is upset with Karl.  “Don’t argue with me, Karl!  Just move it!”

My husband says.  “You know, we could always just do it on Friday.”

My daughter looks annoyed.  “We just changed the date!  Thanks, dad.”  She goes back to yelling at Karl.  Ultimately she suggests they put the whole thing off for three weeks.  “Maybe you should reschedule for the beginning of November.” 

My husband sits back in amusement.  "Why would you want to overthrow a republic?  Why don't you overthrow a dictatorship?  Our country is a republic, you know?"

My son turns to me.  “Maybe I should start talking to myself.  Everyone else at the table is involved in a conversation, and I'm starting to feel left out.”

In an attempt to assuage his sad voice, I put a hand on his arm.  "I'll talk to you."  

My husband takes a deep breath and tries to regroup in the face of the insanity all around him.

In the end, we decide to take a family road trip to either a museum we have not visited, a zoo, or the Biltmore Estate.

Biltmore Estate

(Later during the same dinner, we reflected that the phrase ‘train’ of thought did not adequately describe what goes on in the minds of most of our family members.)

My daughter decided she has a dolphin of thought.  That’s a long story that I will not tell at this point.  Let's just say her dolphin veers all over the place and cannot be counted on to get from place to place in any sort of linear fashion.

My son wanted to have a Velociraptor of thought, 

My daughter thought my son should have a slot machine of thought because of how random he is.    I pointed out that slot machines don’t actually move.  My husband suggested a pogo stick of thought, but a pogo stick pro can actually go in a straight line, and my son's thoughts haven't ever gone in a straight line in his entire life.  Then, we thought perhaps he had a two-headed snake of thought.  

In the end, he decided he had a Sidewinder of thought.

I have a platypus of thought.  I even made up a short story on the spot, which I shared with my family about why I am the platypus.  It went over well, and was accepted.

My husband is the only one of us who has a ‘train’ of thought.  I mean, he is logical, steady, dependable, and he doesn’t like it when things are not on schedule.  We all assured him that this is what we like best about him.  Somebody in our house needs to be sane since the rest of us are off our rockers.   Needless to say, he did not like the idea of being the only one having a ‘train’ of thought.  He wanted a hover car of thought, but hover cars are way too unpredictable.  Ultimately, my husband went with elephant.

You might ask, “What was happening in your house that day to cause all of this at one meal?”

The answer?  Monday.

Happy Parenting

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Super Woman's Cape Needs Cleaning: Recovery Time

Her cape must get dirty every now and then

I would like to say that I never bought into the whole 'superwoman' thing, but I would be lying.  I want it all.  I want family, career, success, handmade crafts, cooking from scratch, and time to relax.

Well, I fall quite short of everything, but regardless of whatever else is happening, I try to remember to relax and unwind.  Being a traveling storyteller can get unrelenting at times.

I've had a pretty crazy few weeks between showcasing, performing and festivals.  Sometimes it feels as if I will never stop long enough to catch my breath, or, if I'm not careful, I'll meet myself coming or going.

So, how do you recover after a crazy jag of work...especially if you have only a short break between the crazy?

1)  Make time to actually do it.

I drove back from Columbia, SC tonight, I'm going on a family trip with my husband and kids tomorrow.  That means I have tonight...after I finish writing this entry!  I am going to lock myself in my room, soak in the tub, put on my 'sack', watch a movie and go to bed around nine thirty.  Yes, there are other things I could be doing.  I could always work on new material, write, hang out with my husband, play with my kids, or clean something.  Not tonight.  Tonight I'm off the clock.

My sleep sack is blue

2)  Find out what actually relaxes you.

I am an aroma therapy person.  I love the scents of vanilla and brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves.  When I need to relax, I break out my Bath and Bodyworks lotions, bath gel, and body spray and infuse my space with those scents.  For some people it is music.  For some it is movies or silence or hanging out with your pets.  Just because someone tells you what relaxes them has no bearing on what will relax you!  Advice is what you know works.

A little honey, a little milk, and life is very, very good!

3)  Draw the line.

How much time do you need?  If you only need a couple of hours, take them.  If you need the evening, ask for it.  If you need more than a day, see if that is doable.  Make sure you get regenerated.

4)  Don't suffer.  You needn't be a martyr.

Nobody wins if you are wired and stressed.  Nobody's life is better.  Not you.  Not the people who are forced to deal with you!

5)  Stay healthy.

A pint of Ben and Jerry's will only feel good while you are eating it.  Just sayin'.

6)  Actually Sleep.

If you binge watch something, or start doing a project or anything else, don't forget to sleep.  I used to do this all the time.  I would be wired and awake at two in the morning.  Even if you sleep late the next day, your body doesn't get the kind of sleep it needs if you throw your body clock to the wind.

This is important!

7)  Create a relaxation routine.

It took me a while to believe this was worth it, but it is.  Our bodies take cues from what we are doing to tell it what it is supposed to be doing.  Train your body to relax when certain stimuli are present and it will follow you Pavlovian style.

So, what does all of this have to do with Super Woman's cape?  I'm sure she always wants to be in the thick of things, but every now and then, the laundry must get done.  I'll bet she breathes a sigh of relief when she sticks that outfit in the machine.  She can't do a thing until it gets clean.  I wonder if she puts it on 'extra wash' every time.

Happy Relaxing!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Moonshell Festival in Nebraska

Moonshell Festival

At the Moonshell Festival in Nebraska with Tim Lowry and David Novak.  Telling in schools, telling at the festival, teaching a voice workshop, and flying home Sunday.  That's all for now.  Have a good week.  Here is some fun to tide you over.

David Novak doing one of his classics

Tim Lowry telling one o' them southern tales

Happy Festivaling!  

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Artist Meat Market

There are parts of my job that I love, and parts I absolutely despise.  Well, of course that's true, otherwise it wouldn't be a job.  The parts I love outnumber the parts I loathe.  Well, of course that's true as well, or I would be doing something else.  Showcasing is not one of my favorite bits of this life I've chosen.

The above clip is not from a showcase.  It is from an appearance I did at the Florida Storytelling Festival.  It is, however, an example of the kind of thing I do at showcase.  I get seven minutes, and in that seven minutes I tell two minute sections of three stories.  I leave, and then some other artist gets up and does seven minutes of something.  Sometimes the set can be as long as fifteen minutes.  Either way it is a merry-go-round experience for the buyers and a headache for the artists.

Photo Credit

I try to keep the number of showcases I do each year down to about three.  More than three, and I become decidedly grumpy.

I do the showcase in Raleigh, NC called United Arts every year.  That was weekend before last.

This year I did Center East in Skokie, Il.  I only do that one every other year. That was last Wednesday.

I will be doing the S.T.E.A.M showcase in Charlotte, NC this year for the first time.  That one is happening on Saturday.

I might be doing the South Carolina summer reading showcase for the first time...provided they invite me.  That one happens at the end of the month.

Hmmm.  That's more than three.

Well, that explains it.

I'll do an update about the Charlotte Showcase on Sunday.

Happy Marketing!