Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Required Essay For The First Day Of School: I'm glad summer is almost over!

What I Did On My Summer Vacation
by Donna Washington

The 2018 - 2019 school year in NC was a bit funky. 

Spring break didn’t happen until very late, and it was staggered in such a way I didn't actually get a chance to have a break.

The David assured me that I had a light summer schedule, which to me meant that I was going to get lots of writing done, and I could get recharged from the strange season of gigs.

The Raliegh Durham Airport where I spent far too much time
Technically, he was right. I did have a light summer in some ways. It was not the work that killed me; it was the traveling. 

My light summer started with a retreat up at Wildacres with some friends.

I got home in time to repack and head out to New Hampshire with The David.

We drove up there and then took a ferry out to an island that was ten miles off shore.

Star Island, NH was beautiful
I was there for a week teaching adults for about an hour and a half each day, staying in a dormitory with The David, and watching barn swallows teach their newly fledged chicks how to hunt. I also did four other storytelling sets just because I didn’t think it was fair not to work with some of the kids. That was on me.

I got home from New Hampshire. Slept in my own bed for twenty-four hours and then drove to South Carolina for work.

Home for twenty-four hours drove to Georgia for work; got home and The David graciously drove me to my show in High Point.

By this time, I was wrung out, but things were just getting started.

I had a series of single shows, then flew out to California for the Storytelling Summit. I saw so many good friends!
The Fabulous Carrie Sue Ayvar

Diane Ferlatte!
Tim Ereneta - One of my friends from college
Mitch and Mary

Charlotte Blake Alston and Brenda Wong Aoki

I was home for twenty-four hours and then flew to Montreal Canada to consult with a business for a couple of days.

I was home for two days and then flew to Nashville, TN to sit on a panel at the National Conference of State Legislators Summit about using storytelling in politics.

I met the hosts of The Road To Now podcast Bob Crawford and Ben Sawyer. They recorded our panel discussion and aired it on their podcast.


The day after I flew home I was recording two CDs in a studio all day.

One day to rest, and then I did the United Arts showcase.

The summer is almost over.

The fall is going to be busy, but not summer kind of busy. I’m looking forward to being in one spot for more than three days at a time, and sleeping in my own bed on a regular basis.

Oh, and if you guessed that I didn’t actually get much writing done…you would be correct!

Happy Summer!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Seven Days To Go: The National Storytelling Summit Is Coming

Time is a ticking on by, everybody!

The summit is on the horizon!

Seven more days to go!

Online registration is closed...but don't worry. You can still sign up in person.

There is so much going on there you will be sad to miss it.

There is so much good crammed into this conference I am not sure how this schedule can hold all of it! I'll prove it.

Heather Forest.

That's right. I'll say it again.

Heather Forest.

Liz Nichols
She's an author, musician, and storyteller who will be talking about storytelling and composition.

Liz Nichols is also going to be there. She's going to be talking about using storytelling in museum galleries.

One of my favorite powerhouse teams is also going to be there.

Milbre Burch and Gay Ducey. I'd go see those two women do anything. The fact that will be talking about being an effective MC? Well, that's going to be a thing not to miss!

Tell it, Gay!

Sara Beth Nelson

We've also got Sean Buvala giving an intensive called "How to be a medium fish in a small pond."  I'm guessing this is about making a living within your local market...I could be wrong though. You'll have to come and see!

Then there is the wonderful Sara Beth Nelson talking about telling challenging stories.

Nirajana Ela Bajeree
There are some names on the list I know nothing of, but the research I have done on who they are makes me excited to learn more about them. Take Nirajana Ela Banjeree for instance. She will be talking about storytelling and social justice! Her background makes her an amazing spokesperson! Check out her link above.

The more I look at the list of tellers strutting their stiff this year, the more excited I am that I will be there!

Michael McCarty
Antonio Rocha
Priscilla Howe
Jennifer Munro

Here is one of my favorite Jennifer Munro tales!

There is more!

Beth Ohlsson
Rachel Harrington
Cici Woo who founded "Chew On This Storytelling"

Oh, that's just Friday! I didn't even run down the performances!

Could you bear to be anywhere else?

I certainly can't!

See you there!


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Ten Days To The Storytelling Summit: Good Stuff!

Ten Days To Go!

I know, I know. You are wondering, "Why should I be on site for this? What is the big deal?"

Susan O'halloran
I suppose that depends on your interests...

Want to partake of some Susan O'halloran?   That's right. I started with something huge.

Now you're thinking, "Slow your roll, girl! You put everything on the table! You started with your aces. How are you going to top that?"

Others might be saying, "I have no interest in building strong, diverse, compassionate, understanding communities in the world! What else have you got?"

George Dawes Green

Well...there is the keynote speaker this year. He might interest some people. His name is George Dawes Green.  Apparently, he founded something called The Moth. Some of you may have heard of it.

I know, I know, that isn't everybody's cup of tea either.

So, I didn't mention the Master Classes. They will be taught by a range of storytellers and they will cover topics like podcasting - a thing about which I know nothing, the power and art of storytelling: The Griot's Gift - I'm going to this one because Charlotte Blake Alston.

Click on the Master Class Link to see them all!

Doubtless, there are still those of you saying, "So what? I just want some storytelling. That's all I'm about!"

Well, that isn't a problem.

There will be loads of storytelling. In fact, there are fringe shows. You know, those shows you won't find on offer during the kid's hour. The after hours, intimate tellings that are often on the cusp of risky or downright risky? Finge!

Jeff Gere, Cynthia Changaris, Ann Harding, Dorothy Cleveland and Barbara Schutzgruber, and Norah Dooley will be strutting their stuff.
Jeff Gere

Here is the complete list of Fringe shows. Something might tickle your fancy!

Oh, and just in case you were wondering...that's just THURSDAY!

How is that for an opening?

Come! Join Us! Trust me, there is something here for everyone!


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Youth Educators and Storyteller's Alliance - YES! 11 Days To Go!

National Storytelling Summit

The Summit Is Coming! the summit is coming! the summit is coming! the summit is coming!

                                                           July 25th - 28th

I belong to the Youth, Educators, and Storyteller's Alliance/Stories in Higher Education Special Interest Group, or SIG.

We specialize in using storytelling in education for every person on their lifelong journey through learning.

Do you belong to a SIG?

If not, there are quite a few possible options.


I am a member of YES! I hope you are too.

 If Yes, Hooray! Glad you are on board!

You are eligible to participate in our mentorship program!

If No, click the link to see what we are about.

Do you have questions about performance in educational settings?

-How does one get started in this aspect of storytelling?
-How do you find work?
-What are effective ways to work with kids in schools?
-What kind of stories should I tell?
-How beneficial are showcases?
-What are showcases?
-What should I charge?
-What are some resources?
-What kinds of stories work best for different ages?
-Should I teach residencies?
-How do I write a lesson plan?
-How much work do I need to do with the teachers?
-Can you make a living only working in schools?
-I don’t work in schools, but now I’m curious.

Are you interested in using storytelling in your work with youth?

I am an educator, and I want…

-To use storytelling to make my lessons more engaging!
-To use storytelling to help my students become better public speakers.
-To learn to tell better stories!
-To start a storytelling club!
- To use storytelling to create community in the classroom.
- To teach my students to tell stories. What should I be expecting of them?



If you have had questions like these, observations or thoughts about working with stories in educational settings, but few answers, then YES is the place for you!

Would You Like a Mentor to Help You Tackle Your Questions about Storytelling in Education?

If you are already a member, you have the opportunity to work with a mentor if you want one!

If you are not a member and getting a mentor to help you through some of these questions sounds like a good idea, click the link below!

We offer four hours of mentoring over the course of two months – FOR FREE! If you want or need more, then you can work out an arrangement with your mentor.

Here is a list of storytellers who offer mentoring opportunities for YES!

Don’t let another day go by with unanswered questions. Let our YES Mentors help you today!

"Wait a minute!" you might say. "All of these links are fine, but want to talk to someone in person!"

Well, you are in luck!

YES is going to be hosting a "Stump The Pros" panel at the summit! Come and ask us questions. We might not have all of the answers, but between us...there isn't much we don't know about working with stories in education!

See you in California!

Friday, July 12, 2019

National Storytelling Summit Twelve Days And Counting!

Chocolate Martini
http://www.charlotteblakealston.com/ - She'll be there!
Carrie Sue Ayvar will be there too
Priscilla Howe is going to teach us about writing

National Storytelling Summit Is almost here!

It is almost here! It is almost time. We are California bound.

It is almost time for sitting around and talking about storytelling over Chocolate Martinis.

It is time to see people you haven't seen since the last conference.

It is time to meet the people you are only on Facebook with.

It is time to make new storytelling acquaintances and check-in with old ones. 

Most importantly....It is time to learn from some wonderful tellers.

I'm going to get a chance to take a Master Class with Charlotte Blake Alston on Thursday the 25th. 

Carrie Sue Ayvar is going to spill the beans on working with the tiniest audience members.  

Priscilla Howe is going to talk about using storytelling to teach writing. Ever wondered about that? Come and see!

I'm going to be there too!

Hope to see you there!


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Creative Process: If Only It Was Easier

These last couple of months have been work heavy ones.

This is always a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, I am working. Hooray!

On the other hand, if lots of things are happening, I have trouble clearing my head space for different pursuits.

The blog had to wait!

The work is coming in fast, hard, and interesting.

As artists, we are forever taking work that we don't have any idea what to do with but we accept the challenge. We tend to have really good imaginations, but even we cannot imagine all things under the sun.

We know our stuff, and we can do our stuff, but there are so many things we can't possibly know...being human and all.

So, when the world cracks open and people start calling and asking us to do things we never even thought to do with storytelling...it can be fascinating and intimidating. I have found that saying yes is always a good place to start, and then you begin to investigate and research and study. It helps to show you the world in a different way.

Most people who know my work know that I do not do personal narrative very much.
I'm not usually a fan of it either. Personal narrative is hard to craft and even harder to deliver well.

I am not a fan of watching someone bleed all over an audience and wallow in their own misery. I don't find that entertaining.

I am not a fan of watching someone angst all over an audience. I don't find that entertaining.

I am not a fan of watching someone unburden themselves of some horrific, painful, mind-blowingly personal thing on stage. I don't find that entertaining.

If you are taking more energy from an audience than you are giving them...then therapy might be a better choice for that story. We are paying you to be there, after all, not the other way around.

The audience really should walk away with something.

Now, I understand that these are my thoughts and not a rule of thumb. Especially since there is no rule of thumb, is there?

Who decides the standards for this art form?
Who decides what goes and what doesn't?
Who decides what storytelling is?
Who decides what constitutes a good story?

Well, the audience, I suppose.
If they like a thing, that thing gets duplicated.
Clearly, we are in a place where audiences - grown ones anyway - love personal narratives.

Quite some time ago I started working with some personal narrative. I have coached them. I have written them. I have performed them. I try very hard when I create them to make sure they hold to a very specific structure and pattern.

When I coach them, I encourage people to think about them with the same focus as a piece of folkloric narrative.

Lately, I've been asked to start teaching workshops where I help people tell their own stories.

So, here I am realizing a truth about myself.

I often dislike personal narrative because it is 'Me" centered instead of 'We' centered.

I often dislike personal narrative because I like my entertainment time to be way larger than life. If I could see it on a street corner, or down the block or in my kitchen, why go sit somewhere to have someone tell me about it?

I have this same relationship with movies. If I go to a film, I want to see wild, imaginative things that can't happen normally.

Give me a Neverending Story, a Princess Bride, a Lord of the Rings, an Into the Spider Verse...Star Wars, The Dark Crystal...
The Let's Pretend Record Series. My favorite! Miss them? Here is how you can get copies!

In the last few years, I've been going to workshops and learning how people are teaching others to find personal narrative.

What I really want is to sit through workshops where people CRAFT personal narrative.

I also would like to enjoy them more. I do like the really good ones I've seen. I started making a list of those, and what makes them entertaining. Taking classes from others has helped.

At which point it occurred to me that I should try to figure out how to break down the process and possibly teach it. That's been sitting in my head for about four years.

This morning, I got up with a full-blown idea. I wrote it all out.

Might even work.

I guess I'll have to start applying to teach this workshop so I can see if it has legs, actually helps people craft personal narrative, and figure out how to shape and improve it as participants teach me what works and what doesn't.

This workshop might be coming to a storytelling conference near you sometime in the next few years.

Man, the creative process is crazy.

Sometimes you have a thought and it blooms into amazing things that you can grab and go with almost at once.

Sometimes it is both grueling and slow with no end in sight. Four years of thinking, making notes, and cogitating produced nothing. Then, after hitting some unknown critical mass...inspiration!

I wish being an artist was easier.

Happy Creating!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Bilingual Telling with Carrie Sue Ayvar

Where will you be tonight?

I will be online with Carrie Sue Ayvar learning about bilingual storytelling!

I hope to see you there!


Carrie Sue Ayvar

Happy Learning!


Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Microphone Is Your Friend

Today I taught a workshop at Northlands Confabulation! 

It was all about using the microphone. I've written about this in the past, but mostly to encourage people to ask for one, and why.

 Today I had the joy of playing with the mic with some storytellers.

Let's begin at the beginning -

Why should you use the mic?

It allows you to be conversational with a large number of people. It also allows you to get volume without having to do so much work. It saves your voice.

You only work as long as your voice is intact if you are a voiced storyteller. If you are in multiple venues, use interesting vocal work, or want any kind of nuance, you need a mic. Without one, you are likely to hurt yourself from overstressing your voice over time.

You also lose so much texture and tone without a mic.

I gave examples of how different something sounds when you move the mic away. Still, there are those who stress their voices.

There are lots of articles about the care and feeding of your voice if you do have trouble. You can check out my hot tips about that here.

Next, we talked about movement with a standing mic - 

The story happens in the space all around you. Whenever you move into that space, you break the storytelling illusion. Trust the story to fill the stage. Here is a deeper discussion about that.

Our next discussion was about sound effects -

We talked about sound effects with a mic

I started with a little bit of the Boo Hag, which is one of my favorite ghosty tales to tell.

I shared the scene where she spins off her skin. Very creepy.

Then, we talked about two different types of sound effects.

Unvoiced sounds - 

These are the sounds you make with your lips, teeth, and tongue. They do not involve your vocal folds. When you use unvoiced sounds with a microphone, the thing that adds volume is the air that comes out of your mouth and interacts with the mic. The more air you use, the louder the sounds, but none of it involves your voice! This often requires practice, but it is a very effective way to make great noises that don't stress your voice.

We also spoke of effective lip placement to get the most out of unvoiced sound effects.

This requires stretching your lips forward and parting your lips wide enough to allow the air to flow.

Voiced Sounds. - 

Voiced sounds require you to engage your vocal folds, and they are the animal noises, squeaking, walking, and any other kind of sound that involves adding voiced sounds that are not narrative or conversational.

Microphones allow you to exploit using a small amount of effort to achieve a great amount of sound. Some of these sounds could hurt your voice if you power through them.

Then, we talked about my absolute favorite thing....Jump Stories!

Jump stories happen when you lull the audience into complacency by creating a soft, even hypnotic
Antonio Rocha
mood and then you assault them with a sound. The "Boo!" moment.

How do you set that moment up to get the jump?

1 - Don't broadcast it.
2 - Slow down, move into a comforting tone.
3 - Use air and voice to make a loud enough sound to cause the jump.
4 - Use a far more quiet voice leading into the jump
5 - Don't just use your voice - Give your body a percussive moment as well.

One of the things we discussed was connecting your body, voice, and face. When you put all of these elements together, you will be able to figure out what parts of your story need sound effects and which do not.

Controlling Loud and Soft Sounds

We moved on from jump stories to talking about how you use the microphone to control how loud you want voiced sounds to be, and how you go through a story using the distance from your mouth to the microphone to make appropriately loud or soft sounds.

Some you make into the microphone, some you make away from the microphone.

Your body doesn't move away from the mic, your head does. Some sounds, like a crying crocodile, I make away from the mic, and other sounds like the wind or a whisper, are made right into the mic.

We ended our session by talking about how you control an audience with a microphone.

Controlling An Audience

If you are in front of two hundred kids, you can either use the mic to tell them to come back to center, or you can start speaking soft enough to catch their ears.

With really little kids, you can make odd noises into the mic that catch their attention.

Ultimately, what I recommend is that you think about the age group of the students, and tell age-appropriate material crafted in a way that makes it easier for the audience to consume.

Here is an admittedly dense post about using the audience. It has links to some of my posts about choosing and executing stories for various age student audiences.

To everyone who shared the workshop with me: Thank You! I had a great time, and as always, I learned many things from you.

To everyone who just checked in to see what we did: Welcome! I hope this little summary offers you a bite or two at the apple we consumed today.

Happy Telling!