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,
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance