"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Balancing Act: Old & New Storytelling Traditions

Finding balance on views of how to expand the art of storytelling amongst the elders versus the next generation of tellers of 18-30-year olds is not impossible as some may think in the storytelling community.

Perhaps it is fairer to keep age out and name the two views as traditionalists and innovators. Most people will probably see themselves as mixtures of both. This may already show that we as individuals and as a community must decide our stance.

Let us see how these two groups may fare in three categories:
1. Technology
2. Discovery
3. Coming Together as a People

Traditionalist: Tends to resist mixing the art with other mediums, especially for radio programs, television broadcasts, podcasts, blogs, etc. Narrower definitions of storytelling are common to exclude performers who do not normally call themselves storytellers such as radio personalities, stand-up comedians, filmmakers, etc. Though microphones may be used to perform or recordings may be made on CDs or DVDs to sell as merchandise, this is usually the extent of technology considered acceptable.

Innovator: Promotes the use of technology including downloadable stories on ipods, podcasts, blogs, MySpace, digital stories, or anything that advances the visibility of storytelling to the general public. Theatrical elements such as lights and sounds are more open to use though not always incorporated. There is more acceptance of using other words to describe storytelling such as spoken word, performing art, and narrative theatre in advertising materials.

Traditionalist: Honors stories from all times and cultures and seeks to show respect from which the roots of the stories take place. Any act of irreverence is looked down upon. There is recognition that each storyteller brings something unique in the telling. Often the teller searches for how to build bridges of understanding, peace, memories and information for the audience.

Innovator: Encourages the exploration of the art form in most, if not in all, ways. Respect for the roots of the story are acknowledged though not always respected through use of humor, shock-value or other dramatic tools. Sometimes this leads to riskier or sensitive subjects, which could shake the typical “G” or “PG” material produced for most storytelling audiences. Fringe festivals, story slams, and coffeehouses that support the spoken word are venues for this kind of teller. Tends to invite all as storytellers despite backgrounds.

Coming Together as a People—
Traditionalist: Supports storytelling as a way to strengthen families, communities, and nations through informal gatherings such as front porch tellings (also known as kitchen table tellings), neighborhood block parties, or other spontaneous functions. Other forums such as storytelling festivals, story swaps, and conferences are welcomed. Sometimes seeks others within the art through membership of a guild or with the National Storytelling Network. At the same time, if the organization should disappear, the teller comforts self that the art would continue as it has from the beginning of time.

Innovator: Outreaches through service or action-based projects, as these activities are popular on campuses across the nation. Whenever there is a natural disaster, medical need, or call for peace, several of these college-aged people rush to make a difference. The storytellers of this age group have often put together benefit concerts, like what was done for Hurricane Katrina, without any direction from organizations.

If you are both traditionalist and innovator, then you are not alone.
In many respects, one could say that there is already a balance of tradition and innovation within the American Storytelling Movement. The general mixture of the storytelling community is not split 50/50. My guess is that we are seeing more of a 70/30 with 70% leaning towards traditionalism. As the current 18-30-year-olds age, however, we will see a shift more to the innovation side. There is not a right or wrong percentage for the split to occur. Whatever the balance needs to be at the moment, that is what we will see.

Rather than define the “proper balance” of the American Storytelling Movement and the direction of storytelling, here is what an ideal balance would feel like:

Trust would be placed upon both traditionalists and innovators that decisions are in the best interest of respecting the art of storytelling

Value as a member of the storytelling community would be felt even with the differing views

Recognition would be given to those who uphold the traditions as well as those who evolve the art

Leadership of the art would evoke experience from traditionalists and from innovators

Here are shifts towards the innovator side through some actions by the National Storytelling Network:
1. Desires to have an 18-30-year-old on the Board of Directors
My proposed next step: As every state has a state liaison to represent the area, so could there eventually be a second state liaison from the 18-30-year-old range.

2. Reserves space in Storytelling Magazine for New Voices column
My proposed next step: This column could be offered to colleges across the nation for part of their campus newspapers. This would not be the first time that newspapers glean from other sources. Think of the Associated Press and the relationship with worldwide newspapers. Campus newspapers are no different.

3. Supports New Voices Discussion Group (18-30-year-old tellers and allies)
My proposed next step: With the monthly conference calls that are made for this group, there is small attendance. When goals are established and at least 30 members maintained, then the Discussion Group could transform into a Special Interest Group. Interestingly, membership to a group is not as important to this age group as to action. If the National Storytelling Network desires to see more of 18-30-year-olds, then "make-a-difference" programs need to be in place. Benefit concerts structured on a national level could be one such program.

4. Promotes Fringe at National Storytelling Conference
My proposed next step: Embrace a story slam as part of the National Storytelling Conference. Ever since the Fringe was introduced a couple years ago, the draw increased for 18-30-year-olds as well as for performers who may not label themselves as storytellers. Even so, only 10-15 of this age group attended versus over 250 of mainly 50+-year-olds. Varying the types of events/activities available at the conference serves as an invitation; sometimes all one needs is an invitation and feeling welcome in the storytelling community.

Balance is easier to accomplish if we remember that, regardless of age or views, that we are lured to storytelling for similar reasons.

Scott Russell Sanders lists ten main reasons:

1. Stories entertain us
2. Stories create community
3. Help us to see through the eyes of other people
4. Show us the consequences of our actions
5. Stories educate our desires
6. Stories help us to dwell in place
7. Stories help us to dwell in time
8. Stories help us to deal with suffering, loss, and death
9. Stories teach us how to be human
10. Stories acknowledge the wonder and mystery of Creation

***Sanders, S.R. (1997, Spring). “The Power of Stories.” The Georgia Review, 51(1), 113-126.

Within these reasons, is there room for traditional as well as newfangled ideas?

You know my answer.

Until we tell again,

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

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Tandem Telling: 3 Paradoxes, 2 Mouths, 1 Voice

Thank you to Carol Esterreicher for the collage pictures of Rachel Hedman (left) and Holly Robison (right) during "The Mirror."

Being a mind reader is helpful though not required when you want to tell stories with a partner. Many well-known tandem tellers are husband/wife teams, who tend to be able to finish each other’s sentences in the stories with ease. Beyond tandem storytellers by marriage, several friendship pairs exist. (See bottom for examples)

While discussing tandem telling, you will discover two voices in this blog: Rachel Hedman and Holly Robison.

Three Paradoxes of Tandem Telling:
1. Shared and Unique Experiences
2. Trust and Mystery
3. Scripts and Spontaneity

Shared and Unique Experiences
Rachel: Being human beings, we already have several things in common. Immersing into folklore uncovers certain themes that we all share, which is one of the reasons there are thousands of Cinderella stories around the world.

At first glance, you may notice that our age and hair color are similar. Each of us is married to supportive husbands who understand how much we enjoy telling stories. We live within 40 minutes from each other in Utah so it is possible to practice pieces.

Holly: Important, we also share similar passions of singing and expressing ourselves on stage.

Rachel: One of the major differences between us is that Holly has three kids while I do not have any kids. Holly is able to look at certain stories from a mother’s point-of-view where I lack that experience.

Holly: Hopefully I don't try to "Mother" Rachel.

Rachel: We also grew up in different parts of the country.

Despite our different styles in the telling of tales, the more differences we have, the more shared experiences discovered.

Trust and Mystery
Rachel: When finding a partner for tandem telling, I had to have enough trust. There is more than one kind of trust. I may trust that someone is high on skills but I may not trust in their ability to complete projects in a timely manner or vice versa. An excellent resource on trust is “Speed to Trust” by Stephen MR Covey.

Holly: We spent our time together talking about more than the topic of storytelling and even doing activities beyond storytelling. We have to know each other as more than storytellers.

Rachel: As for Holly, she had been involved in storytelling long enough to be high in skills. I knew her for over three years and in that time I knew she had strong commitment to whatever she promised to do.

Holly: As for Rachel, I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to tell with one of my favorite tellers. Anyone who knows Rachel can tell you Rachel does nothing half way.

I think we started with a good foundation of trust and luckily our experience only strengthened that trust.

Rachel: Three years or even a lifetime could never discover all the mysteries of myself or of Holly. . .

Holly: . . .like the mystery of Rachel's love for her car as a member of the family. The engine broke down and she had to say goodbye to that car and have her husband find another car to replace the void.

Rachel: Along the way of developing a tandem story, you may find out issues or struggles of your partner’s experience that could determine how you approach the piece. Perhaps if there was a story about a car that dies. . . or anything else that is emotional at the moment.

Scripts and Spontaneity
Rachel: Since we needed to understand the cues of when to jump in for our part of the story, we did use scripts. Not all tandem tellers use scripts, or at least do not share the stories word-for-word. Solo storytellers may shake their heads to scripts as this increases the chance to be frozen to words so that the stories stay stagnant. However one feels about scripts, this is a decision that every tandem team needs to make.

Holly: Just as many stories told begin on the page of a book before they are molded by a teller; our scripts were our jumping-off point.

Rachel: I believe that the more Holly and I tell as a tandem, the more spontaneous our stories will be.

Holly: I noticed that the more we told our stories and became more comfortable with them, the more we made the stories our own in words and actions.

--Script Excerpt--

"The Mirror", Korean tale adapted for tandem telling by Rachel Hedman
P1=Partner One (mainly farmer, grandmother, grandfather)—Rachel Hedman
P2=Partner Two (mainly wife, shopkeeper, boy)—Holly Robison
Both = Both Partners

P1: The farmer gathered everything in his cart to sell at market and before he left, his wife called,

Both: “Will you get something for me?”

P1: The farmer nodded. “As you will be caring for your parents and my son while I am away, it is only fair that I buy you something.”

P2: The wife smiled and yet she worried. She knew her husband was great at caring for the farm but he was a little . . .absent-minded.

Both: “Look at the moon.”

P2: “You see how it is in crescent shape? It looks like a comb that I would like you to get for me at the marketplace. So to help you remember what I want. . .

Both: “Look at the moon.”

--End of Script Excerpt--

Rachel: I have always enjoyed the power that can happen from a chant given by two people, especially for emphasis for a key part of the story.

Now compare to Holly’s style of scripting--

Holly: In "The Burro's Load", a Mexican tale, I played Pedro and Rachel played the Burro. Below is the ending.

--Script Excerpt--

Burro: The next day we went to a seashore market and I found that I liked carrying sponges even more than I liked carrying feathers. I could even run along the path with the lightness of the sponges. When we got to the stream I went down, down down.

Pedro: I expected this. Burrow did not expect what happened next though. When he stood up the load was heavy.

Burro: Heavy! Heavy is an understatement. I staggered out of the stream under the weight of … of whatever magic was on my back.

Pedro: Burro carried those water-filled sponges all the way home with the water dripping down his legs and behind, but that was the heaviest load he ever had to carry. For he never laid down in the water with packs on again.

Burro: You got that right!

--End of Script Excerpt--

Rachel: Though both example stories are scripted, you may notice that Holly’s style of writing allows more spontaneity in the telling. She focused on two characters of the story and had the piece told in the 1st person from two point-of-views rather than the 3rd person style for “The Mirror.”

Even though one person would be in charge of each story, we always left it open for our partner to add a little of their own personality to whatever part(s) that were needed to be filled. Holly may have had a certain pictures of Burro, though I had my own ways of interpreting Burro’s personality.

Holly: That is where most of the trust comes in. In trusting each other we could allow the partner to add themselves to the characters and we could talk about what we thought the story needed.

Rachel: Now that you have heard about three paradoxes. . .

Holly: of tandem telling, this is Holly and Rachel saying. . .

Both: . . .tell something together!

Sampling of Tandem Tellers (no particular order):

The Storycrafters with Jeri Burns and Barry Marshall (wife/husband)

Eth-Noh-Tec with Robert Kikuchi-yngojo and Nancy Wang (husband/wife)

Omar and Lori Hansen (husband/wife)

The Folktellers with Barbara Freeman and Connie Regan-Blake (cousins)
***Though they market now as solo tellers, if they are at the same event, they will sometimes share some tandem tales.

Story Quilters with Cynthia Restivo and B.Z. Smith (friends)

WonderWeavers with Tina Rohde and Colleen Shaskin (friends)

The Beauty and the Beast Storytellers with Mitch Weiss and Martha Hamilton (husband/wife)

***The National Youth Storytelling Showcase has a tandem category beyond the three age categories of elementary, middle, and high school-aged tellers. One year there was a group of three girls who told together. Elizabeth Rose, the NYSS Director, coined the term “tridem” for trio telling.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman and Holly Robison
Professional Storytellers
Rachel--info@rachelhedman.com, http://www.rachelhedman.com/