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!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Text of Epaminandas

This is the Text I will be using for the series.

Part 1 - Enlisting the Audience Covert and Overt
Part 2 - Enlisting the Audience
Part 3 - Enlisting the Audience - Covert

Part 4 - 5 Tips for Enlisting The Audience

Basics of Epaminondas -The crafted version of this tale takes 30 minutes.

Once there was a little boy named Epaminondas.
One day, his mother sent him to his grandmother's house. They spent the day together. On the way home, his grandmother gave him a piece of cake.
Epaminondus  was afraid he'd drop the cake, so he held it in his hands. On his way home he squeezed it so tightly, it smashed through his fingers.

His mother was unimpressed.
"Epaminondus, you ain't got the sense you was born with! That is not how you bring home cake! If you have something that small, put it under your hat!"

The next week, he went back to his grandmother's house. She gave him butter to take home.
"How am I supposed to take things home to my mother? Ah yes! I should put it under my hat!"

The butter melted.

His mother was unimpressed.

"Epaminondas! You ain't got the sense you was born with!
If you have something that runs, put it in the stream and cool it down until it isn't running anymore."

The next week, he went back to his grandmother's house. This time she gave him a puppy.
"How am I supposed to bring home something if it runs?" Ah yes! I should put it in the water!"

The puppy was quite bedraggled by the time he got it home.

His mother was unimpressed. The puppy was fine.

"Epaminondas! You ain't got the sense you was born with!
If you have something alive, tie a string around it gently and lead it home!"

The next week, he went back to his grandmother's house. This time she gave him a ham.
"How am I supposed to bring this home? Well, ham comes from a pig, and a pig is alive. I know!"
He tied a string around the ham and dragged it home.

His mother was unimpressed.
"Epaminandus! You ain't got the sense you was born with! From now on I'm going to your grandmother's house, and you stay home!"

The next week the mother went to grandma's house. She left six pies on the front steps to cool and told her son to mind how he played in the pies. Then she left.

Epaminondas took off his shoes and socks and minded how he put footprints in each pie. He tasted his foot, decided they were so yummy, he'd eat one.

When his mother came home and saw what he'd done she said, "Epaminandas, you ain't got the sense you was born with, and you might never have it, but I love you anyway."

Audience Participation: Covert and Overt - Part 1

Text of Epaminondas

Part 1 - Audience Participation: Covert and Overt Part 1

Part 2 - Enlisting the Audience

Part 3 - Enlisting the Audience - Covert

Part 4 - 5 Tips To Enlist The Audience

The audience is a critical tool in the art of storytelling. Being able to connect with an audience, convince them to follow you on a wild escapade through the imagination, and give you permission to invade their minds with thoughts, images, and ideas is a must for a successful telling experience.

So, how do you do it?

Well, for starters, assume that every audience member has their own battles that they were fighting just before you began.

Your goal is to make them lose track of those battles and stand beside you in whatever quest you have planned for them. In order to do that, you must be present with your audience. Storytelling only happens when you and your audience are sharing something between you.

Audience participation is an excellent way to achieve this.

For me, every single story is an audience participation story.

Now, that does not mean that every story I tell requires somebody from the audience to get up onto the stage. It also doesn't mean that every audience is required to jump around or even speak in unison.

When I say they are actively participating, it means they have been drawn into your world. You can tell they are with you by how they react to you during the telling. Every story I tell has moments built into it that allows the audience to express their place in the adventure.

To that end, I think about audience participation in two different categories.

One is overt. You are calling on the audience to participate.

One is covert. You build things into the story that allow an audience to respond in particular ways. Their reactions can tell you where they are and help you decide if you need to change, add, or emphasize something.

Let us begin with the overt forms of audience participation.

1. You Call Someone Out of The Audience To Participate On Stage: This is as simple as asking for a volunteer.

2. Rehearse The Audience: You tell the audience what you want them to do. They practice it several times, and then you start telling.

3. Assign Parts: You tell parts of the audience to do certain things at certain times. ex. "When the lion says, "Stop!" Everyone on this side should yell, "Not until Monday!"

4. Encourage The Audience To Participate: This is as simple as saying that you might need help, and they should feel free to jump in.

The Covert forms are much more interesting to me. Here is a small sampling of things you can do with an audience.

1. Build in a place for the audience to participate if they want without asking them to do so.

2. Allow for moments when you expect some kind of reaction from an audience whether verbal or physical, but don't linger or emphasize them.

3. Check to see who if anyone is mirroring you.

4. Monitor the audience to see how they are reacting through particular points in the tale

I was planning to go through all of the covert and overt in this post, but after reading what I'd written I decided it was too wordy and some of it didn't make sense out of context, so I scrapped it.

I'll take another approach that I think will make more sense.

I'll do a ?three? part series using a single tale showing how I present it for performance. The story we'll use is Epaminandas. Here is a version that came out in picture book form.

Next week I will break down this story and explain how, why and where I use both covert and overt elements. I will explain what I do, what I hope happens, and what usually happens. I will also talk about how the covert elements that I build into stories help me shape and craft material over the long term.

Now, there are some of out there who will remember this story because of its appearance in an incredibly racist text back in the early 1900's.

Before you start yelling at me about this story being "inappropriate" I would like to point out that the story is not responsible for the heinous pictures someone decided to add to it.

It is actually based on a type of Jack Tale. There are a number of these tales and they deal with Noodleheads, or people who aren't clever.

I have had African American adults of a certain age thank me for telling the story because they were able to reclaim it after the horrendous pics in the book they remember from when they were elementary school and somebody thought bringing in this book was a great idea since they couldn't find many books with black folks depicted in them.

Either way, check out the bare bones of the story.

Happy Participating!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Kids Are Capable: They Just Need To Practice.

I am here in beautiful Beaufort County North Carolina for a week.

I've had a pretty easy tour through this part of the world. Two shows a day means I have lots of time to write, relax, and well, mostly just write!

I was given an interesting challenge today. I had to convince some grown-ups that their children were perfectly capable of handling an assembly.

I'm used to going into a middle or high school and having the principal be leery about my ability to hold the attention of a prepubescent or worldly wise audience. What I am not used to is a group of folks who don't think I can hold the attention of six and seven-year-olds.

We got a call earlier this week from a principal who was concerned about the length of the program I was going to offer. She was worried that even thirty minutes would be too long, let alone forty-five minutes and an hour was out of the question. These, she informed me, were only first graders, and they didn't have the attention span or the capability of an assembly that was longer than half an hour at the most.

The David told her that I was not planning an hour long show. I was just going to do forty-five minutes. This did not fill her with confidence.

The David told me that even though he assured the principal that it would be all right she had her doubts.

I arrived at the school in the morning, and first few adults I came in contact with told me that their first graders were "rambunctious", "immature", "wild", "not well behaved". The assistant principal let me know that she would come in and check on me as much as possible to make sure I was all right during the show.

I also found out it was a Pre-K - 1 school, but there was no way the Kindergarteners could handle an assembly.

Well, I'd planned to tell Why Mosquitoes Buzz In People's Ears, maybe Too Much Noise, and possibly a little finger game, but after all of this certainty that the kids wouldn't sit I threw that out of the window. I decided we were going to go for one of those involved, slightly unsettling European folktales. I settled on Rumpelstiltskin.

Now, you might ask, "Why would you tell that story?"


My telling of it is about forty-five minutes long, it is highly participatory, and it fits nicely into all of the language requirements I employ when telling to a pre-reading audience.

I decided that not only was I going to tell a forty-five minute story, I was going to tell for an hour...unless it would disrupt the schedule.

My goal was simple. After I told for an hour and the children were well behaved it might open the school up to offering the kids more arts opportunities instead of keeping them out because of "short attention spans" and "inability to engage with presentations".

The telling went very well indeed, and the kids had a smashing time. When we hit forty-five minutes, I pointed out to the teachers that we'd been sitting for that long. They looked shocked. I asked them if I could tell another story, and they were enthusiastic. I told a fifteen minute story and then dismissed silence.

I have a little dismissal trick I like to do with the kids. They leave quietly and are very proud to have done so.

After the set, when the multi-purpose room was completely empty, the assistant principal said, "That was amazing."

She proceeded to tell me that they'd had a different assembly at the school in the past that wasn't completely age appropriate, and the kids hadn't even managed to get through twenty minutes of the thirty minute program before they'd had to call a halt.

I pointed out that I'd offered age appropriate material.

She waved that off at once and announced that it wasn't that, but that I had presented the work in such an engaging way. I switched the conversation back to content. I pointed out that kids this age are actually hard wired for storytelling.

She informed me that she'd left to go back to her duties after about twenty minutes into the story, but she was kind of bummed. She'd bumped into the principal who'd asked how it was going. She'd told the principal it was going well, but the woman was still worried. She told the vice principal to go back into the assembly just in case I needed help.

"I didn't say anything to her," the vice principal admitted, "but I was happy to go back because I love that story and I couldn't wait to get to the part when she guessed his name."

We talked a bit then about the importance of stories in children's lives. I told her I was disappointed I didn't get to tell with the Kindergartners and she said she was disappointed in that choice as well.

"The next time you come," she said, "I'll make sure everybody gets to see you."

I thanked her and left the school.

The David called to check on me. "How was the assembly?" he asked.

"After all the worry, I was sort of annoyed that the school had such little faith in their kids. So, I told for an hour and dismissed them quietly back to their classes."

Laughter on the other end of the phone. "I knew you were going to do that."

I've been chewing on that all day. I certainly have been in schools where the kids were difficult, the work was hard, and the telling was like offering up my blood. It was completely possible that when I got in front of these children, they would all turn into the zombie apocalypse of audiences or something of that nature, but I knew right away this was not going to be the case.

The most important thing I do before I open my mouth is to check out the audience. I see how the kids come in, what their teachers are doing, how they are behaving with each other, and how they respond to the break in their schedule.

Last week, I had a kindergartener come into their multi-purpose room, look up at me and say, "Oh God, not another assembly." The police and firefighters had been there all day because of Veterans day and she was heartily sick of looking at presentations. By the end of the set, she was right in it with everyone else, but she came in clearly not expecting to enjoy herself.

There are lots of ways to diffuse a tough audience.

The kids who marched into the multi-purpose room this morning were not even close to a problem. What I did notice was that only a few of the teachers bothered to participate with me. The rest of them sat like stones. Two were actually facing the opposite direction during much of the telling until the end when they gave up being annoyed by the assembly and decided to enjoy it.

As is the case with lots of schools, the kids take their cues from the teachers. Luckily, we were all too busy playing to worry about what the detached grown-ups were doing. By the end of the set, a number of teachers decided to join in the fun.

Not for the first time in my career, I wanted to shout at the might not be the kids!

Don't assume they can't sit still! Don't assume they have no attention span. Expose them to arts and ideas. Model good audience behavior. Kids won't get any better at being an audience member if they don't know what to do. Give them space to practice.

Happy Telling!


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Play is the Best Way: Using Language Games At Home and In The Classroom

Over the last month, I have been doing some interesting workshop facilitating.

I was hired as part of a grant to work with kids in classroom settings. I don't tend to do that sort of work these days. Most of my exposures in schools are performances.

I've been in fourth and fifth-grade classrooms. Since I don't really have the patience to teach, I try to find exercises that I love that I think will help schools get the most bang for the buck.

To that end, I try to design exercises that the kids will enjoy, have some hope of recreating by themselves if they want, and have a variety of applications for classroom educators.

What that has meant over the last month or so is that I have been teaching language based games.

Language based games are any game you play that focuses on using language creatively, listening intently to another person, stretching your vocabulary, and solving problems.

Now, that probably does not sound like it would be all that much fun.

In fact, Tuesday, while I stood in front of a group of fifth graders and announced we were going to be playing language games, one of the girls rolled her eyes, threw back her head, stared up at the ceiling for a moment, and made an audible sound that roughly  translates to, "Oh god, please just kill me now."

Several of her peers sitting nearby nodded their heads slightly in solidarity.

After an hour, one kid sitting near the front announced that he'd never had that much fun doing anything in his life, and everyone in the class started cheering...including the girl who was contemplating spending an hour in a coffin instead of the library with me.

So, when I say language games....

-What Are They?
-Why Play Them In The Classroom?

As to the first question, "What Are They", the answer is simple. Language games are shared events where you play with words in community.

I come out of a family, and formed a family where playing with language is essential and second nature.

My husband and daughter love puns.

My son loves using non-conventional words. He's also the king of Sniglets.

At one point he and my daughter started a conversation using nothing but numbers. My husband and I sat in the front seat listening to the two of them going back and forth as if they were arguing, only they were saying things like:


This went on for almost five minutes before my husband said, "Orange!" really loudly as if he were admonishing them.

At which point I said to him, "There is no need for that kind of language."

It went on from there for about ten minutes. We do love or language games. Formally you could call us logophiles, but the truth is we are word nerds.

In the classroom, I don't teach kids games like that, lots of kids find that kind of nonsense play difficult, frustrating, and think it is silly and refuse to even try it. I have an exercise in one of my residency modules where kids have to speak gibberish, and some of them absolutely rebel at the whole idea!

My family loves such things.

It is nothing for the four of us to just start saying words that all begin with the same letter until nobody can think of a new one, then we move to the next letter.

One of our kids' absolutely favorite language games when they were younger, was Mad Libs. They went through the booklets so many times they could tell which story the other was feeding them based on the combination of verbs and nouns. They got bored with those and started doing the ones online. After a while, they just started writing their own. Language games rock. 

In classrooms, I play three different types of circle games, and one rock, paper, scissors variant.

"The Good Thing Was, The Bad Thing Was" is a circle game.

The kids sit in a circle and the first one says, "Once there was a ________", it could be anything. ex. tree, cat, piano, house, man, slug

The next person says, "The good thing was"....and they have to say something good happening in the situation or to the character.

The next person says, "The bad thing was"...and they have to try to destroy the character's world or situation.

Some simple rules -

-You can't kill your character
-No weapons

Another game is, "That Reminds Me of...", which can get tricky for television kids who are used to having all of their information fed to them, and find it difficult to come up with their own visuals.

The first person says, "I'm thinking of..." you need a noun of some kind or an action verb, so let's use "soap".
The next person says,  "Soap reminds me of..." and they say whatever they are reminded of, let's say "bubbles".
The next person says, "Bubbles remind me of bathtime."
The next person says, "Bathtime reminds of rubber duckie."
The next person says, "Rubber duckie reminds me of Sesame Street."

You get the idea. The point of the game is to keep going around until someone is reminded of the original word, in this case, the word "soap".

My family played this game at restaurants waiting for food to be delivered, at the dinner table, in front of the fireplace of a winter's evening, waiting in line for something, or anytime we were all together, and we just wanted to goof off a bit.

I find that there are two kinds of people who play this game. Those who are trying to remind you of the original word by coming up with subjects that follow the theme of the words all while pointing back towards the original, and those who try to move the game as far from the original word as possible. I have one of each in my family.

Example: My daughter starts with the word "grass".
My son is forever looking for words that fit with the flow of the round while leaning back towards the original word. So, let us say that he gets a word and is delighted when it reminds him of the word "blades".
My daughter grins at him and instead of saying "Blades remind me of grass", she would say something like, "Blades remind me of skating."

Now, you can't just say random words, there really has to be some connection in your brain. Because we don't all think alike, it is possible for someone to say a word that seems truly random and not related to the stream of words. You can stop the process and ask the person why the word reminds them of what they said. The person who is challenged has to explain why they said the word they did. If it turns out they cannot articulate why they said the word, they have to choose another one. This makes certain that people aren't just choosing words randomly to end the round. They really need to be reminded of something.

We also play, "Rock, Paper, Scissors, Everything!" and "One Word Stories".

 -Why play this in the classroom?

Human beings learn through play. Nothing new there. What is cool about language games are what they do while we are playing them.

-Language games encourage children to speak in complete sentences.
-Language games encourage children to explore their imaginations.
-Language games are about advocating FOR yourself instead of AGAINST someone else.
-Language games expand the classroom vocabulary by exposing all of the kids to ideas, images, and expressions they might not hear at home or amongst their own peer group.
-Language games allow every kid to participate at their level even as they acquire more language.
-Language games improve a person's ability to use improvisation.
-Language games teach students to express themselves.
-Language games encourage children to listen, focus, and process when others are speaking.
-Language games encourage kids to look directly at people when they are speaking.
-Language games encourage kids to focus on choosing their words and considering why they are choosing them.

The more you play with language, the better you become at using it. The better you become at using language, the easier it is to adapt it to more formal uses like persuasive or creative writing. You also get better at advocating for yourself, something that serves you well in job and college interviews. Language games also make you feel more confident with language.

In a world where so much of what our children do encourages them to stare at screens, talk with their thumbs or forefingers, use abbreviations instead of entire words and employ short, percussive bursts of language, language games allow them to do something that is both fun and useful...

Soak in language!

Happy Gaming!

P.S. I realize I didn't talk about how the games can be adapted for curricular subject matter, but this post is getting long...maybe next week!

UPDATE: 11/17/16

I just got an email from one of the teachers I played language games with last week. She said that the kids have been playing the games I taught them at lunch, and she's actually played them with the kids in the classroom.
Mission Accomplished!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

National Association of Black Storytellers

This is where I am! 

Taught a workshop on crafting stories this morning.

Since then.....

Listening to wonderful stories!

Meeting wonderful tellers!

Seeing old friends!

Sitting at the feet of my mentors!

Sharing hugs, laughs, life, and love through story!

I'll be back to writing about something specific next week...after the election!

Happy Telling!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Marketing 101 Part 7: The Wrap Up!

Writing a series on marketing has taught me several things.

1. It would be possible to write about this stuff every week and still not cover everything...and I am quite through with this!

2. I never say as much as I mean to, but can fill up this space quite quickly with observations.

3. There are lots of people far more qualified than I to talk about this, and I am going to leave them to it!

This is my final entry in this series, and I mean to quickly wrap up my observations!

To Review:

1. The Questions I Consider About Marketing
2. Branding: Do You Have A Logo? Do You Need One?
7. Marketing 101: The Wrap Up!

I will endeavor to go through the last few points I want to make about this subject in this series.

1. Ghosts Of Marketing Past!

1. When I was a wee, baby storyteller back in the olden days, we used carrier pigeons to get out our message. Yes, then came Western Union and ultimately the post office...the thing we now call snail mail. These days, The David rarely uses the snail mail for marketing; contracts, yes, but that is about it. 

This means we no longer send out postcards. I used to design these myself, and I enjoyed it. We used Modern Postcards back in the day because they were one of the few services that offered what we needed. Today there are lots of companies that offer services like this. 

Barely scratched the surface! The coolest thing about this is that they will print and mail the cards for you. All you have to do is send in the designs. It is a no muss no fuss type of thing. 

Personally, I love postcards, and we got an okay return. In other words, they paid for themselves plus a little extra. I, however, am not in charge of marketing in my company....The David is, and The David controls the budget. 

What do we do instead? We have a vigorous online marketing strategy. The David painstakingly creates comprehensive email lists of schools and libraries in every state in which we market. He also finds out exactly who is in charge of booking cultural arts events for each school. This targeted marketing is much more effective in terms of reaching our potential clients. It also allows him to include links the client can click and instantly see the product they might be buying. 

Not nearly as sexy as postcards, labor intensive, but the return is much better, and since he does it in-house it doesn't cost us a penny extra. 

2. Online or Hard Copy Directories

There are companies that ask you to pay a fee, join a directory, and let them do the marketing for you. They say their directories are distributed far and wide, and your work will end up in front of thousands upon thousands of potential clients. We have signed up for things like this in the past. We no longer use them.

Now, that does not mean these services are not worthwhile for some artists, but we were never able to track the efficacy of these services. When it comes to our marketing budget, if we are shelling out cash for something, we need to be able to track the return. If we cannot see a  return on our investment, we discontinue a service. We typically give such services like this two or three years. 

There may be artists who have found such services financially lucrative or at least a good brick in their marketing strategy, but they have never worked for us.

The reason for this is that most of our work is in schools. The contacts for schools change on a regular basis. They have lots of other ways to find artists and are not as likely to use these directories. Libraries don't seem to use them either. If you work in theaters or have some other type of venue, these might work excellently well.

3. We no longer create marketing pieces in-house. They are always outsourced.

4. Is there something you used to do that you no longer do, but someone else might want to try? Leave it in the comments section!

2. Other Marketing Resources - 

There are lots and lots of blogs that deal with marketing. Just type in what sort of advice you need into Google, and let the internet do its thing.

As for me, I have taken any number of workshops about marketing. There are, however, two that stand out as being exceptional.

Dianne De Las Casas offers an in-depth marketing workshop. You want to know how to reach people, get your name out there and shock the world? Find out where this woman is offering a workshop, and take it!

The other one that struck me as being a stand out in the world of marketing workshops was given by my blogging goddess mentor Karen Langford Chace, and the dashing Simon Brooks.

Karen Langford Chace
One of the coolest things about the workshop they designed is that it not only talks about marketing strategies, but offers a comprehensive look at what type of storyteller you are, what might be your strengths, and what you are most proud of as a performer. The questionnaires they created help you figure out not only how to market, but WHAT to market. It is a very clever approach, and highly effective if you are at the beginning of your marketing career, or thinking about taking it up a notch.
Simon Brooks

There is so much more that could be said about resources and books and people, but I will stop with these two. I did say that one could spend their entire life writing a blog about marketing, and that is not my intention! If you have a link to or a suggestion for who gives a bang up workshop, or a great book you read, feel free to offer that information in the comments section so we can all  benefit from it!

3. The Marketing budget

How much money should you be spending on marketing?

Well, here are some questions.

How much did you actually spend on marketing last year? Do you know? Do you track that? What counts as marketing

-Your website
-Hard and soft marketing
-Advertising in Publications
-Fees for arts councils
-Art Fairs

Can you make a good estimate as to which of your activities produces the most revenue?

Once you know what you spent and what you earned, you will be able to figure out what percentage of your gross was spent on marketing, and what sort of returns you got. This brings us to the burning question:

The simple answer is if you want to grow your business you have to invest in your marketing strategies. Not all marketing strategies are alike. It isn't a bad idea to sit down and evaluate your various marketing activities. 

The best way to track efficacy is to simply ask anyone who books you how they found out about you. In fact, as The David just reminded me, it is the ONLY way to track that!

Some marketing strategies require time to reach fruition, some need to be rolled out at once, some are ongoing. How are they serving you? If there is something you are doing that is a continuous drain on your resources with no clear reason to continue doing it, then it might be time to consider reinvesting that capital somewhere else.

In Conclusion:

The more I write about this the more I realize there are lots of things I never even touched upon...but that will have to be for another day and another time. 

There are lots and lots of ways to market yourself. I am sure you have come up with clever ways to get the word out about your work and the products you offer.

This series deals only with the paper products we produce, it does not touch on all of the other marketing that we do! 

In future blogs, if I say, "You've got to market like crazy every year just to keep your hand in the game", this is the sort of thing I mean. 

Producing and distributing marketing materials that are professional and effective can increase your bottom line, improve your market share, and let everybody know that we storytellers are not in this as a hobby. 

Storytelling is a profession, and it deserves to be treated as such.

Happy Marketing - 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Marketing 101: Cohesion - Why Does It Matter?

Welcome to the sixth, and almost last post in this marketing series!

1. The Questions I Consider About Marketing                                    
6. Cohesion - Why Does It Matter?
7. In Conclusion

  1. the action or fact of forming a united whole.

Okay, lay out your marketing materials in front of you. What have you got? Do you have a business card? What about a brochure? Maybe some handouts with information about services you offer? Possibly you have a press packet, or maybe some clever gimmicks? (I know a juggler who gives out frisbees) 

Got them all laid out? Great! Now, look at them. Do they look like they've been produced by the same artist? Is there anything about them that ties them together? Could you pick up any piece of your marketing and hand it to someone and they could identify it as yours in a few seconds? 

If someone had more than one piece of your marketing, would they realize the two pieces belonged to the same artist? Would they associate the material with you and with each other?

Why you might wonder, does any of this matter? 

When you are trying to encourage people to invite you into their space, you need to keep your name, image, and offerings in the running. People don't tend to hire artists upon first viewing. You most probably will get sent to the back of the line, especially if there are budgets to consider. It often requires multiple encounters and good reviews before some venues will take a chance. 

Clients need to remember your name, image, and what you do. Every piece of your marketing should constantly be reinforcing those things.

Your marketing is the foundation on which you will build your outreach to customers. The more cohesive it is, the better your ability to reinforce the image you want to project. If your marketing pieces do not work together, then they are not providing reinforcement. They are like well meaning soldiers running in all directions with no plan of action.

Some basic thoughts:

1. I know that early on in this series I said you didn't need a logo. If you have one, it makes creating cohesive marketing much, much easier. So, while you don't need one. It is not a bad idea.

2. Color schemes aren't a bad idea either. Picking a color scheme for your marketing helps it jump out at people. They can identify you with the patterns or the color.

3. Your pieces are easily identifiable as being from the same place, and your client can see the thoughtfulness and professionalism of the work. People do think about you differently if your marketing is well put together and thoughtful. It makes them believe you will carry this over into your business.

4. How you present yourself is important. As I've said several times in this series, there will be a number of people who might not encounter you personally before they see your marketing materials. Consider the difference between getting some random items and getting some cohesive material. 

One of the things we face when we are dealing with our marketing materials is that they are not all created at the same time. We get our business card, and then four or five years later we get something else. We are constantly making sheets for clients because our offerings change, or we need to put something together for a client, and it works out so we keep it.

This is where your stationary can play a role.

Putting stationary together is pretty easy...especially if you have a logo. When you send out sheets, just use your stationary and it will automatically fit into all of your other marketing themes.

As for me, when we got our marketing redesigned, one of the things I told the group was that one of my signature stories was called The Exploding Frog. They thought that was pretty funny.

When I got the first drafts of the material, I noticed that they'd worked a frog into all of the marketing. Every single piece of marketing features that funny little guy. You can see him peeking onto the stationary.

He makes an appearance on the back of my brochure.

Here he is on the back and front of my press packet

On the front of my business card

If you head over to my website, you'll see that my website has the same graphics and images as the rest of my marketing, and my logo is front and center. That little frog is there as well.

Recently, we realized that my website is not compatible with cell phones...when we got this thing designed you couldn't surf the net with a phone! So, that is on our list of things to fix. I am pretty sure if you get a website designed these days that is automatic. If your site was designed quite some time ago, you might want to check on that.

My little saying about stories also makes an appearance on my business materials. 

This is from my website

So, let's ask the question:  Does your marketing need to be cohesive? No, absolutely not. There is nothing that suggests that your marketing must all have the same look or anything like that. 

You are not required to rethink every piece of marketing, and if you are having great success with your current hard marketing, then keep doing what you are doing.

However, if you are in the process of designing new marketing, revising your marketing pieces, or just making new things, it isn't a bad idea to have them working together. It comes down to a professional look that reinforces who you are. 

Cohesion allows you to build on the foundation you've created, and reinforce the images you want your clients to have. Each individual piece should add another element to that image, and reinforce your professionalism, thoughtfulness, artistic merit, and desirability.
Cohesion, every element in the universe is doing it!

Happy Marketing!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Press Kit: What On Earth Is This?

This is the outside of the folder

1. Part 1: Marketing 101: Questions
2. Part 2: Marketing 101: Logos 
3. Part 3: Marketing 101: The Business Card
4. Part 4: Marketing 101: The Brochure
5. Part 5: Marketing 101: The Press Kit
6. Cohesion: Why Does It Matter?
7. In Conclusion

When I first began in this business twenty-nine years ago, I attended my first Center East showcase. 

I knew I needed to offer the PTA reps something, and I was pretty sure my small business card would get lost as they picked up larger offerings from other artists.

Two days before the event I got an idea.

I went to Kinkos, rented some computer time, and created seven or eight documents with pithy quotes and what I felt were grabbing titles like "From the Front Lines". I also printed a price sheet and a short biography. (I didn't have much to put on that bio at that point!) Every single sheet had my contact info on it so that if the pages were passed around anybody could reach me if they had only one piece of paper from the packet.

Each sheet was printed on a different color of paper. I also printed a couple of recommendation letters.

I took one of each sheet, put them in large manilla envelopes, stapled my business card to the top left corner, and closed the packet with the metal clasp.

For years, that was what I handed to prospective clients. I always called it the Pr Packet. Turns out  there is an actual name for that thing. It is a press kit.

Press Kit - A package of promotional material about a product, candidate, or service 

There are some beautiful things about a great press kit.

1)  It does the talking for you
2)  It should give people a quote mine.
3)  It should link people to your online presence
4)  It should make you look uber professional
5)  It should give a feel for who you are and what you do - vibe, I think I'm saying it should have your vibe
6)  It should make people feel excited about what you offer
7)  It should be a visual feast
8)  It should have practical information about your services and products
9)  It should have biographical info
10) It should sell you well

When The David and I had all of our marketing materials overhauled, I sent that manilla envelope off to the group who designed our new look. They took my various marketing sheets and turned them into something pretty cool.

I now have an updated press kit. My little sheets of multi-colored paper have grown up!

Here is another one.

The various sheets are different sizes. They fit inside the folder which has my bio and other pertinent information. The sheets are all focused on the various services I offer.

The business card has its own little holder

 "From the Front Lines" is actually the smallest piece. It goes at the bottom. We were getting new ones printed when I took this pic!

Fully loaded! Brochure, card, and sheets

My biography is printed on the left inside panel, as well as some more info about me

What is in my press kit?

-Pricing for storytelling
-Info about my books
-Pricing for my CDs
-A sheet for Workshops
-A sheet with fun quotes for promotional use
-I always put three or four recommendation letters behind the last sheet
-A business card
-A Brochure
-The back and inside cover of the kit has information about who I am and what I do.
-I have a mix of quick pick information and more in-depth information to mine for introductions, or to introduce me to a panel of potential clients.

I keep a couple of these with me at all times. During the summer when I work in libraries, I give out a handful of them when teachers or other interested parties approach me after shows and ask how they could get me at their venue or event.

So, do you need one of these things?

It is very handy, but like everything beyond your business card, you don't have to have one...but it is very handy!

Having some kind of more in-depth kit you can give to potential buyers might not be a bad thing.

If the brochure is like a giant business card, then your press kit is like a really involved brochure!

Now, the truth is, lots of artists have virtual press kits. They are way cheaper as you have no printing costs. I have included some links to articles that have ideas about how to put a press kit together.

1. This article offers some creative ways to present a press kit.

2. A Press Kit idea for a band...this could also work for any artist who creates recordings.

3. You can actually design your own press kit on this site! 

4. Another online portfolio creator for a recording artist. Looked interesting.

5. This is a how-to for Indie films, but I thought it was interesting, so I threw it into the mix.

So, now you know what it is and how we use it. You can make one virtually, have one printed, or you could forgo the whole thing!

If you decide to create one, there are lots of options. Your press kit could be an elaborate affair, or it could be simple. Either way, it is another potential tool in the arsenal of getting your name out there and expanding your bottom line!

Happy Marketing!

Ahem, do you remember me asking you to keep your eye on that little frog? I hope you did! We'll be talking about him in the next post!