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!

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