Thursday, June 29, 2017

Adjusting In Mid-sentence: Telling To The Audience You Have Not The One You Wish You Had!

Hotel Florence
I spent most of the week in beautiful Florence, SC.

I enjoy this gig. Eight sets in four days.

I stay at the beautiful Hotel Florence.

Paula Childer's amazing staff drives me all over the area so I won't have to get lost.

The libraries are all unique in their own ways, and the kids and adults are fun.

Some sets I might have eight kids and a handful of adults, and some sets I might have over one hundred.

Summer Rules Apply:

1. Whoever Shows Up Get's Stories.
2. As Long As The Audience Outnumbers Me It's A Show.

Today, Thursday, I had my favorite two sets.

Teen ghost stories. I choose three tales from my spooky arsenal, I get kids from ages eleven to seventeen, and I creep them out.

Well, my noon show started out promising. I got five teens and one young tween. Right before I started, a woman came in with two appropriately aged kids and a three-year-old.

Already I am having the "mom" issue. I don't like telling really scary stories to little kids. There isn't any reason to put creepy unpleasant images into their little heads.

So, I began with Boogin in the Gray Graveyard, which is a Bogle story. My tale is a variant of Lucy Dove by Janice Del Negro.

In the midst of this tale, five more people appear and settle into their seats. They seem to mostly be old enough, so, no problem, but I have one older teen who is acting oddly. She won't look at me and stares out the window. Most likely she is someone who is easily scared and has decided she is just going to cope.

Whenever I scare her, she laughs and hits the girl sitting next to her. Oh, well.

My daughter does body art. This is one of hers.

Second story is the Skeleton Woman. I just realized that I learned this story from Janice the first couple of years I was telling!

The tale is about a woman who eats all the flesh off of her own bones.

Goes all right, but the girl keeps giggling.

Then, just as I am about to start my third story, Mr. Fox - which is essentially about a very charming folkloric serial killer - into the room come fifteen children aged four to nine.

I tell Mr. Fox, but it is the most watered down version of the tale I can manage. Then, because the story has gone so fast, I have time to tell Red, Red lips.


When I encounter sets that don't go as planned for a variety of reasons, I try to step back and assess what happened as clinically as possible. I am my worst critic, and I am always sure it was a horrible set, nobody enjoyed it, and it was a complete failure. Whether true or not that is how it feels.

The questions I use to assess the situation:

1. Did the audience enjoy the set?

The audience says they enjoyed it, jumped, laughed, and had some fun.

One of the kids who was there the whole time, said, "that last story got me."
It was Red, Red, Lips.  I had to laugh.

One of them said, "The first story got me." That was the Lucy Dove tale.

So, I accomplished the first most important task. I facilitated kids having a great time at the library. I also shared some memorable images, interested them in storytelling, and motivated at least one of them to go and check out 398.2 in the library.

2. Did the librarians enjoy it?

Yes, according to them they did enjoy it. They jumped and laughed and had a good time with everyone else. They were thrilled I adjusted on the fly and I was flexible.

3. Did I enjoy it?

Today was a day when storytelling was work, and I ended up doing all of that crafting on my feet thing and rearranging, editing, and modifying that so many performers have to do when things change rapidly. So, reading an inappropriately aged audience and telling them tales as they entered was the job. I think I did it, but it was not as polished and clean as I like sets to be, so I was disappointed in myself.

4. Did I fulfill the contract?

Well, I was supposed to tell ghost stories for teens. Since I didn't have an audience of teens, I didn't feel like I could do that. They did get ghost type stories, so...kinda?

Despite my feeling as if I didn't have a stellar set from my own standards, I fulfilled the contract to the best of my ability, and the librarians thanked me for taking the age of the kids into account as I told the tales.

Three hours later, I had another set at another library.

Twenty-six teenagers.

I went full drippy, gory, with jumps and horrible sound effects just because. Lost two after the first story who decided it was too much. The rest stayed to the bloody end. They were creeped out, screamed a little, exclaimed, "Oh God!" "Oh No!" "Don't look!" hid their faces in their hands, plugged their ears, and one kid hid in his shirt about half the time. They shuddered, jumped, laughed, cringed, shivered, and stared in horror for forty-five minutes.

They loved it.

I feel much better.

Happy Telling


  1. I once had a concert in a library that was billed for kids -- a "Women in History" show, I think it was. As the show was about to start, much to my horror I looked out and there were ZERO kids--only adults, and many of them seniors! Now for those of you who perform for all ages, you know what this means: switching over to a completely different set. Which is what we did, but we had not rehearsed ANY songs for adults, and I was wracking my brain to think of adult songs that fit the bill, none of which I could think of! But we muddled through.

    Halfway through the set a family came in with small kids. Switch again, with me asking the adult audience if it would be OK with them if I did some songs for the kids, and they all agreed. I closed out the afternoon with family music, as the adults all seemed to enjoy it. So I learned a lesson that day long ago.

  2. Thank you for sharing this experience. Rich Knoblich and I tell at a resort lodge at a firepit. We can get families with little ones, bored teens and folks enjoying a glass of wine. Sometimes it's against a backdrop of a cornhole game and kids beating each other with a giant chess set. It truly keeps us on our toes!