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.
"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.
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)
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