Friday, December 30, 2016

Enlisting The Audience Part 3: Covert

Text of Epaminondas

Enlisting the Audience Part 1: Covert and Overt

Enlisting the Audience Part 2: Overt

Enlisting The Audience Part 3: Covert

Enlisting the Audience Part 4: 5 Tips

In the last post we discussed how overt and covert participation work together to help a storyteller read an audience.

Reading an audience gives the performer a chance to figure out what they need to do to effectively connect with an audience, but, in my opinion, the best part of the covert work is when it engages an audience so deeply that they become tandem tellers.

A good example of this happens in the second chapter of the Epaminondas tale.

The story starts with a sequence of language that is repeated throughout the story, but of course the audience doesn't know that the first time through. Some of the audience members are taken by how physical the story is, and they are already trying to mimic what they are seeing as it happens.

When Epaminondas gets to his grandmother's house they have an interaction that is also going to be repeated.

After that, we get into the particular language in the episode.

The first special sequence at his grandmother's house establishes some rules for the audience when we are not in repetition mode.

1. After Epaminondas and his grandmother clean up the kitchen, I go through some ingredients his grandmother is gathering. The sequence ends when I say, "His grandmother baked up a great big chocolate cake."

2. A number of the audience members make some kind of yummy sound. "mmmm" in various pitches and lengths.

3. After they make this sound, which I am pretty sure is coming so I wait for it to subside, I say, "with thick chocolate frosting."

4. The audience makes the exact same sound they made before, but usually louder and more enthusiastically.

None of that is prompted.

5. Next, I say, "His grandmother gave him a great big ol' slice of that cake." I mime cutting a slice of cake, and then I mimic whatever sound the audience has just made to signify yummy. Some of them will laugh at me at this point, but it is not lost on them that I have taken their sound and incorporated it into the story.

What does this mean? It means it is okay for them to add things to the story. It is okay for them to make noise. It is okay for them to play with me. That is the covert instruction. Some audiences figure out at once that they have some power over me, and they begin to search for other places to take over the story.

This happens in the first five minutes of the telling.

The next bit happens when his grandmother cuts him another piece of cake to take home to his mother. I make the same yummy sound with this second piece of cake. Inevitably, some audience members predict that he is going to eat this piece of cake as well. I hear it whispered all over the room.

He doesn't, He smashes it through his fingers because he's worried he might drop it.

(There is  a whole bunch of literacy stuff going on at that point, but this post isn't about that, so we'll leave that for some other time.)

His mother is upset when he gets home and the audience gets to say his mother's refrain. She tells him that if he gets something small he should put it under his hat.

The opening comes around again.

The entire sequence repeats from causing a ruckus to going to his grandmother's house. At the end of their second day together, grandma gives him some butter.

Now comes the moment when we go tandem...if it works.

1. He takes the butter outside and asks, "How did my momma say to bring stuff home?"

2. I get a mix of four reactions.

a. Some raise their hands - still asking permission or a conditioned response
b. Some answer while sitting perfectly still
c. Some reproduce the whole mime sequence I used when his mother told him what to do while saying the words in rhythm.
d. Some don't respond at all. Either they don't remember, don't care to participate, don't realize I actually want a response or they are still in television mode and don't realize they have to do anything to further the story.

Either way, the audience realizes around the same time the he plans to put two pounds of butter under his hat.

I say, "He took the hat off of his head. He put the butter on top of his head. He put his hat back on. He started walking home." I pause. "It was a really hot day."

All over the audience kids make predictions out loud. "It's going to melt!"

Now, the last time they made a prediction many of them were wrong. This time they are waiting to see what will happen.

I say, "He got butter in his hair." I make a surprised and disgusted face, but I say nothing.

Some members in the audience vocalize the sound that goes with that face. "ewww" or something like that.

I say, "He got butter down his face." I make the same face. More voices make the "yuck" sound.

By the third time - when butter is going down his neck - the whole audience is reveling in making the sounds I am not making, but they know belong in the story.

If I get an audience who just watches without making the sound, I have an ace in the hole. the fifth thing that happens is he gets butter in his pants.

The audience makes the "yuck" noise very loudly at that point - even the ones who haven't been involved up to that point tend to react.

Last but not least he gets butter in his shoes.

- The coolest thing about that sequence is that without any prompting, by the second reaction, the audience decides en masse just how long they are going to make the "yuck' sound, where it goes, and how intense it is going to be. It sounds like we have rehearsed it.

The first time it happened, I was pretty shocked. Now, I set it up covertly from the beginning and I expect it.

From that sequence on in the story the audience is empowered to participate to the point where I don't actually tell much more of the story. The only bits I vocalize are the things that happen at grandma's that are not part of the repetition. They do the rest, and they offer up sound effects and everything.

The key to effectively using covert audience participation is, of course, crafting. The more crafted your material, the better you can use it to create an amazing experience with an audience no matter what age.

I have one more post in this series. It will be a series of tips for using audience participation techniques to keep your audience actively participating all the way through your set.

Happy Telling!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Enslisting the Audience Part 2 - Overt

This is part of a series of blogs on using covert and overt audience participation.

I have been thinking about how to structure the posts in this series and have discovered that it would take me a couple of chapters of a book to really go into this. That is not happening in this space, so I am going to try to give the best outline I can about how I use this technique. 

The problem I ran into when I started writing about this was that the two - covert and overt audience participation - are joined such that I would have to completely craft out this story and then go back and explain how each piece works. There are way more steps to this than I realized when I started trying to put it into words.

I hope it is pretty obvious, but it took me years to work out how to do it, so here goes.

Epaminondas is one of those tales perfectly suited to overt audience participation.

- It takes place in clearly defined episodes
- It lends itself to repetition
- It builds from episode to episode

With these structures built right into the story, consider the possibilities for creating language that is repetitive.

1. You can have something the mother says to Epaminondas every single time he comes home
2. You can have a response to whatever the mother says 
3. You can have a repeated sequence for why his mother sends him to his grandmother's house
3. You can have a repeated sequence when the boy goes off to his grandmother's house
4. You can have a repeated sequence when he gets to his grandmother's house

The coolest thing about the overt participation in this story is that it is entwined with all of the covert audience participation.

Okay, let's get into the crafting.

Overt - How do I set up this story?

Before I tell this story, I employ two overt storytelling techniques: Rehearsing the Audience and Encouraging Participation.

I introduce the character's name, Epaminondas, and take the audience through a syllable by syllable pronunciation.

I use hand gestures for each syllable. 

After the pronunciation bit, we say the name together several times until I'm pretty confident that most of them can say it.

After that, I say to the kids, "Can you give me a moment to say something to your teachers(adults)?"
They always give me permission.

I turn to the adults and say, "Storytelling is not a spectator sport. Please do not sit and stare at me for the next forty minutes. That's disconcerting."

Some adults are mortified.
Some adults smile.
Some adults fold their arms in annoyance.
Some adults laugh.
Principals love it.
Some parents are game.
Some parents dare me to make them. (It takes a great deal for me not to editorialize about these parents, but I am pleased to see that I have not)

 After that, I introduce the mother's response when the kid has done something particularly foolish.

"When his mother gets mad at him, she puts her hands on her hips and says, "Epaminondas, you ain't got the sense you was born with." This sentence is said using neck isolations. Your chin thrusts out, and then your head goes side to side, and it finishes with the chin trust. This usually gets a laugh because it is a complete break from the very down to earth "instructor" sound they've heard out of me up to this point.

I tell the audience this is their part of the story. We rehearse the words without the neck isolations. 

I begin by saying the phrase several times without asking the audience to participate. After that, I invite them to try. 

After they are mostly saying it with me, I say, "One more time, say it with me."

Then we practice the neck isolations. Lots of kids can't do these, but they have fun nonetheless. The grown-ups who have decided to play actually enjoy this.

After all of this I say, "Now, let's put them together."

We do the neck isolations while we say the phrase in rhythm.

Then I say, "You'll know it is your turn to say that when I say, "She put her hands on her hips and said," - put your hands on your hips- "Epaminondas! You ain't got the sense you was born with!"

Lots of times audiences applaud for themselves after they get to this point. 

After that, I say, "I think we're ready. Let's tell this story!"

Let's take that three minute segment apart....

Covert: What do I get out of this that I didn't specifically ask for?

If the audience laughs uproariously in a way that has more to do with being in the gym or out of the class than that word really merits- Make sure that as you go through the next five minutes you give them solid parameters of what you expect of them during the telling.

If the audience has no response at all to his name - You might be dealing with a group of children who have been told on pain of death that they should only respond if the storyteller specifically tells them they can - These guys might need some loosening up to get them to really participate

Keep an eye on how many of the students mimic the hand gestures I use while articulating the syllables.... 

If there are only a few over the entire word, these kids might need more prodding to really go for it.

If a few start and the rest join in before the word is over...then they are coming along fine.

If they all jump in at once with the hand and inflection...HOO BOY!

If the adults in the room have absolutely no intention of working with you...that's a good thing to know right at the start!

If some of the adults are game keep an eye on them because they might lapse into just watching you over the course of the story. You can prompt them a bit. They won't mind.

If the principal is game, make sure you use her/him as a touchstone. Other adults will respond to that.

If the audience is having trouble getting the rhythm of the mother's words, adjust the speed of the telling.

If the audience jumps right in...take them as far as they are willing to go!

Once we finish putting our neck isolations and the mother's words together I see how the audience responds. They are usually very excited to find out what we are about to do. That energy is what carries us into the story. I tend to use this story as the first exposure for young audiences who may or may not have ever seen a storyteller. It is a good first story for young listeners.

All of this happens before the story even starts.

In the next post, I'll deal with a chapter out of the story that I love. It has to do with building the relationship with the audience that allows them to actually take over parts of the story. The sequence works about ninety-nine percent of the time. That one percent usually figures it out by the end. 

It happens in the butter sequence.

Happy Audience Maintenance!