"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Storytelling Generation Gap: 4 Ways to Close It

Many storytellers wonder about the next generation of storytellers, especially as to whom will continue the American Storytelling Movement that was jumpstarted by the National Storytelling Festival in 1973.

The future could seem dim if you looked only to the attendance of 18-30-year-olds at the annual National Storytelling Conferences. I could count using two hands--with fingers to spare--the number of 18-30-year-olds at the 2007 National Storytelling Conference.

Often people ask how to attract more young people to the art.

Four Ways to Positively Connect with 18-30-year-old Tellers:
1. Attend events where an 18-30-year-old would go
2. Allow leadership to be equally shared and/or given
3. Offer friendship that is genuine rather than assigned
4. Wait for the 18-30-year-old to initiate mentorship

Attend events where an 18-30-year-old would go
If the desire is to have more 18-30-year-olds at storytelling events, then people must be willing to go to where this age group roams. You do not have to appear as a stalker. When you go to their events, then be quick to introduce yourself. Feel free to share why you are there such as, "I have never gone to a slam before" or "I heard this would be a good place to find 18-30-year-old storytellers/artists." Being the quiet observer is also fine.
Some suggested places:
1. Poetry/Story Slams (see previous blog for more details)
2. Comedy Clubs
3. Coffeehouses with Open Mikes
4. Campus Events sponsored and/or led by Students
5. Fringe Festivals

The Internet is a wonder tool in that you can go to a search engine such as Google and type in key phrases like "poetry slam + (state where you live)" and receive a schedule of events. Comedy clubs are found anywhere though they tend to be nearby college towns. If possible, go to the Student Centers at universities and ask where the students like to hang out on and off campus.

You may discover that their events clash with what you deem "quality entertainment". Withhold your judgments. Instead, ponder on why certain themes or motifs repeat. For example, you may find a lot of poems at a poetry slam based on peace and/or the angst towards war. Some pieces may reflect current events such as the high suicide rate among college students or the struggles of mental illnesses and disabilities. Though some swear words may be inevitable, are you able to wade through the vocabulary and discover the speaker's beliefs and values towards the subject?

Allow leadership to be equally shared and/or given
Sharing leadership is one way to demonstrate trust. This provides a way for the leadership torch to be passed voluntarily. Otherwise, the torch may be grudgingly given as people pass on and there would be little experience for the young adult teller to lead successfully.

While extending the opportunity to serve, young adults discover that the storytelling community is willing to embrace newfangled ideas. Though certain traditions are vital to be untouched, the young adults could learn early of the proper balance for the American Storytelling Movement.

Offer friendship that is genuine rather than assigned
Heads seem to swing quickly in my direction as I am a young teller amongst an ever-graying crowd of storytellers. As I talk with some people, I often wonder if their interest is only triggered by my age. What responses, if any, would I have received if I was 30 to 40 years older?

As the storytelling community is a kind and supportive one, I may simply be experiencing the same hands of friendship that any other teller would receive.

Before you approach a young adult teller, ask yourself these questions--
1. What assumptions do I have about this young adult teller? Would the young adult teller appreciate these assumptions if expressed?
2. How does my body language and voice inflections show respect for the young adult teller? For example, do I fold my arms as if to protect myself from what this teller may say? Do I use my "parent" voice when speaking with them?
3. What results do I expect in return for extending friendship to this teller? Would the young adult teller be offended by my intentions?

Wait for 18-30-year-old to initiate mentorship
There is a temptation to see an 18-30-year-old perform and then to offer to be a mentor. The young adult may not be at the stage to ask for help. In fact, age is misleading. After learning more about the 18-30-year-old, you may discover that you should be mentored by them.

One area that young adults could assist older tellers is in the technological field. They have grown up with tools such as websites, blogs, and podcasts, that could launch an older teller's career.

Plus, the young adult could have been telling stories longer than the older teller, especially if the young adult started the storytelling path while in elementary school.

Once mentorship is agreed between both parties, here are some tips--

A mentor does not have to be someone you know well. In fact, a mentor does not have to be someone you know at all. It could be a risk meeting a new person for a mentor, though, from taking risks, you could be highly rewarded.

Take the time to learn of each others’ interests and the trust will be built that will make for productive coaching sessions.

Though structure and goals are nice for the sessions, be open to go down unknown paths. As a story often has a life of its own, a coaching session also have a life of its own.

I would hope that any coaching or mentoring would lead to a strong and lasting relationship. Keep each other updated as to progress with stories.

Record the coaching sessions for future reference. For the mentoree, the recording makes it possible to progress on the story. For the mentor, the recording makes it possible to progress on the skills as a friend and guide.

Above all, have fun and be ready for amazing adventures.

Perhaps one day it will be said, "Generation gap? Nah--we are in good hands."

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
(801) 870-5799

Sunday, July 01, 2007

College Big Cats: Tracking/Capturing Performances

Roaming and performing at colleges and universities can sometimes leave a storyteller with a feeling of being in the jungle. Without a tour guide, one can get lost. Depending on the adventures sought, there are many ways to connect with the 18-30-year-old audiences. I will provide a teaser, while more details and jungle laws will be shared during my workshop presentation at the 2007 National Storytelling Conference in St. Louis, MO.

We don’t see many 18-30-year old storytellers because people avoid college audiences. I am one of those rare 27-year-old tellers while most tellers are on or beyond retired age. Without examples of storytellers, the students will not see how this art can be applied to their careers or that professional storytelling is an option.

One out of many jungle laws:
A lion called by another name is still a lion.
Most people hear the word “storytelling” and think of an old woman telling stories to kids, unless they have attended an event such as a storytelling festival and saw that the majority of audience members were adults. Using the word “storytelling” is one way that tellers bring more visibility to the underappreciated art form in comparison to the respect given to music, dance or theatre. Yet, sometimes other words are needed to describe storytelling for the novice listener.

Some words used instead of storytelling in college venues:
Spoken Word
Narrative Theatre
One-Man/One-Woman Show
Adult Storytelling

One time I discovered how hard it was to define storytelling let alone any of the other above terms. I mistakenly thought it would be an easy first question to ask the 24 storytellers I interviewed for my thesis “Transformation of the Storyteller’s Identity and Role Through the American Storytelling Movement”. If storytellers have problems explaining “storytelling”, then how can we expect novice listeners to know the difference?

A college’s experience with storytelling determines what word is most appropriate to use.

The following storytelling experiences were available on or nearby Brigham Young University:
1. BYU Storytelling Club
2. Storytelling every Monday night at the BYU Museum of Art for over 8 years
3. Timpanogos Storytelling Conference (regional level) co-hosted by Theatre and Media Arts Department on campus as part of the Theatre and Community Stories Initiative 2007-2008
4. Proximity to Timpanogos Storytelling Festival in Orem, UT that can reach attendance of 14,000 to 20,000 people
5. Performing Arts Concert Series had professional storyteller
6. KBYU combined efforts with PBS to create a TV special/DVD of “The Call of Story”

Among the BYU culture, fliers and posters effectively drew audiences using “storytelling” as part of headings. One could still find the occasional student who thought storytelling was only for kids.

Florida Atlantic University, when sending out its news release on January 16, 2007, used phrases such as “adult storytelling”, “one-woman performances”, and “performance is akin to great stand-up comedy” to describe styles of national storytellers Carmen Agra Deedy, Judith Black, and Beth Horner.

At the U.S. News and World Report website, you can search for the most popular cultural and campus events at colleges across the nation. When you see events like open mike and coffeehouses in this list, then already you know to connect with “spoken word.” When theatrical productions are the emphasis of a school, then “narrative theatre” makes the most sense to use. Liberal arts schools tend to be more familiar with “spoken word” and “narrative theatre”.

To find the lion, first find the gazelle.
You may have determined what word is best to describe “storytelling”, though this does not guarantee an audience. You need to understand national and local college student trends that, in turn, could determine genres/types of stories to tell to the 18-30-year-old audience.

Look to the positive and negative headlines about students such as these:
1. “Self-promoting Websites feed narcissistic generation”—March 13, 2007, Grand Rapids Press
2. “Students with mental troubles on rise; Colleges add suicide response teams, counselors”—June 25, 2007, North Jersey Media Group Inc., The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
3. “Religion, spirituality on rise for current college students”—March 30, 2007, The Pitt News via U-Wire, University Wire
4. “Workshops, art, dinner to focus on Utah’s black culture” (how students combine efforts with the community)—February 23, 2007, The Salt Lake Tribune
5. “Study: College gambling reflects national trends”—April 12, 2007, Duluth News-Tribune (Minnesota)

With a few newspaper articles, already ideas for storytelling programs/themes should abound. The first headline of the “narcissistic generation” may inspire egotistical tales. Folktales could have the ability to expose human weaknesses while not sounding preachy. Sharing stories from another time period could prove that self-centered people have always existed.

At poetry readings, more themes are centered on mental illnesses, which seems to fascinate the 18-year-old to the adult. Perhaps with all the studying that students do, it is only natural to worry about mental illnesses.

As for sacred stories, some colleges have religious affiliations like Roman Catholic, United Methodist, or Presbyterian. Though stories of the same creed would do well in these schools, these places usually embrace religions of all kind. College students are at the age that they want to know why people believe what they do. The World Religion course is popular at Brigham Young University even with the majority of students being Latter-day Saints.

With storytelling program ideas in mind, you may be ready to seek contracts with universities.

This leads to another jungle law:
A lone lion is always hungry.
Storytelling does not have to be the sole performance on the stage.
If the university has had little to no events involving storytelling, then automatically plan to partner with at least one of the following:
1. Clubs and Organizations
2. Professors
3. Musicians, Visual Artists, etc.
4. Storytellers of 18-30-year-old range

This is where your tour of the jungle must end for now.

As mentioned before, the information shared is a teaser to a much larger workshop presentation.
The workshop has these objectives for participants to --
1. Identify resources and partnerships that will secure storytelling performance and workshop contracts with colleges, universities, or anywhere 18-30-year-olds can be found
2. Apply the research and statistics from student feedback and college campuses through the nation to promotional materials, thereby creating a loyal fanbase
3. Support storytellers of the 18-30-year-old range in a positive and effective manner

Feel free to ask me about the other secrets and laws of the college jungle.

Until we tell again,
Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
(801) 870-5799