Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Storyteller's Perspective: 5 Things a Storyteller Can Do for You, and 5 Things They Won't

Following in the line of my previous post, here is another handy list about the little-known profession of storytelling.
Let's say you located a storyteller, and you would really, really like to throw some money at them in exchange for their visit to your school / library / museum / festival / theater / children's event. There is a problem, though: Many times organizers are not quite clear on what a storyteller is, and what it is that we do - or don't do. Not making things clear in advance can result in awkward conversations, mutual annoyance, and toddlers having uncontrollable pillowfights on the storytelling stage.
In order to make sailing the ocean of story smoother, here is a handy list.


1. Babysit.
This is important, you guys. Do NOT expect the storyteller to watch the kids while you walk off to have a beer at the festival tent. Storytelling is performance and entertainment, not a child care service. Most of are are not even qualified for that.

2. Train your students.
Don't take a storyteller into your classroom and then sit down in the back to grade papers / read the newspaper. If your students are disruptive, it is not the storyteller's job to break up the story in order to keep regulating them. Do the courtesy of helping to create a classroom environment that allows for the best possible storytelling experience.

3. Work for free.
Okay, so sometimes we do. On very select occasions. But never assume we do it for free just because we enjoy what we do.

4. Do stand-up.
Some of us are funny. A lot of us are funny. Some of our stories are funny. That, however, is still not the same as stand-up comedy. Stories require longer attention and investment from the audience. If you plan on having three hundred mostly drunk people in a hotel restaurant with music in the background, storytelling might not be your best bet.

5. Do background noise.
This is essentially the same as above. If you have people playing cards / having conversations / filling out raffle forms / getting their nails painted, invite someone who does music. There is nothing more annoying that being delegated to being a background radio channel at an event and having to speak your stories while people have their backs turned to you.

Okay, so these five probably sounded outrageous and self-explanatory, but you would be surprised what storytellers run into every so often. Better safe than sorry.
And now for the more entertaining part:


1. Work with adults.
While most of our invitations are for schools and children's events, we do work with teen and adult audiences. In fact, there are many stories that are too long, too serious or too complicated for children. It is always a special pleasure to have engaged grown-up audiences.

2. Educate.
We like telling stories, and we like talking about our stories (yeah, I established that before, didn't I). Storytellers work well with school and library programs because we bring a lot of extra knowledge along with our tales. Storytellers are not just pure entertainment. We also educate and question. We do breakout sessions, classroom discussions, and workshops. A lot of us are educators by origin. Do ask.

3. Adapt.
Ever thought "too bad there are no stories that would go with this theme?" Stop thinking that. Storytellers have vast repertoires and it is part of our job to seek out new stories and new topics. However outrageous your theme for Summer Reading Program or history class is, ask a storyteller if they can work with it. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

4. Travel.
We do. Quite often. You might have to cover the cost, but we will come to you and bring all our stories. Don't let distance stop you if there is a storyteller you really want to hear.

5. Return.
Storytelling is not a one-shot show. Most of us have enough stories and themes to work with for years and years in the same place. And the more we return to the same audience, the more we learn about them, and the better we get at picking the right stories for them. Just because you heard a storyteller once, doesn't mean you heard it all.

In case you are interested, try finding your local storytelling organization. For the USA, you can search through the National Storytelling Network. For Europe, you can look for the Federation for European Storytelling. For the rest of the world, search for storytelling in your respective languages, or look for Facebook groups! There are a lot of us out there.


Csenge (@TarkabarkaHolgy) at
The Multicolored Diary - Adventures in Storytelling
MopDog - The crazy thing about Hungarians...


pamfaro said...

Wonderful post on this, Csenge! Your list and comments are RIGHT ON! :-)
Thanks - Pam

Holly @ Cat Hair and Glitter said...

Not sure if I mentioned this on your last post about story telling, but I meant to. We have a story telling festival with several tents and it lasts for a few days. Everyone looks forward to it every year.

J Lenni Dorner said...

Good points. :)

cleemckenzie said...

Storytellers don't have a union it seems. :-) I love hearing a good story told live. It takes some special talent to bring characters and plot to life.