"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

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


Tim said...

I hope your workshop was a success!

Did you address the college entertainment booking circuit and conferences?

Eric Wolf said...

I heard people talking abuut your workshop at the conference. So I know it was well received.

Professional Storyteller Rachel Hedman said...

As far as I can tell, the workshop went great and more attended than I had planned.

As stories evolve over time, so do workshops. I look forward to when I can present the workshop again to apply more things I have learned since then.

I did discover that I should have submitted it as an 3-hour intensive versus a 1 1/2-hour workshop so that there would be more time for interaction and application.

I hinted at college entertainment booking circuit and conferences though I was already scrunched for time to at least give a foundation on which to build. I would love to hear your own experiences in that area.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman