"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Monday, December 15, 2008

Personal Stories Matter: Connecting with Others

This was a paper I wrote on July 6, 2006, which was before this blog was created.

Many people deny that they have personal stories that would be of value for others to hear. As a result, significant moments in time are either forgotten or ignored. Despite our uniqueness as individuals, we share universal experiences. With the proper support and guidance, more people would be willing to share their own stories.

Requests from friends and audience members influenced storyteller Nancy Wang to experiment with autobiographical stories. Normally, she focused on folktales with her tandem partner and husband, Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo, through Eth-Noh-Tec. She hesitated because, ". . .I struggle with my fears of being boring and mundane, self-indulgent and self-righteous" (Wang, 2004, p. 18).

Wang is not alone in her feelings as storyteller Donald Davis shared how many people wonder what makes their life so important (1993). Davis continued that we determine our "identity maintenance" or our view of ourselves through the personal experiences we relate.

People tend to know themselves better than any other subject. Writer Henry David Thoreau expressed, "I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience" (Thoreau, quoted in Writing Life Stories, p. 1).

As Nancy Wang had grown up as an Asian American, organizer Susan O'Halloran insisted that Nancy tell at the Just Stories: Asian Voices Storytelling Concert. Wang was tempted to tell a folktale and then decided to tell her personal tale. She noticed that people from other ethnic groups confirmed her experience as one of their experiences. She discovered what Joseph Campbell, author of The Power of Myth, had already observed:
Furthermore, we have not even to risk the journey alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to slay another, we slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world" (1988, p. 151).

In The Power of Story, storytelling is recognized as a folk art form. This art is daily performed throughout the world. Relationships are built between people when history is shared. We become more "real" to each other. For example, when a student discovers that their teacher was once a child, the child realizes that the teacher does not sleep in the classroom (Collins & Cooper, 1997).

Visualization is one key to capture the audience's attention to a personal tale. Donald Davis shared the importance of all the senses and says that the term "visualization" can be misleading as one usually thinks of sight. He encouraged the other senses such as smell, sound, taste, and touch. These senses provide a path for the audience to follow and the plot can be understood.

One way to have clearer images could be through maps through childhood or present places. These maps could be inside a home or the entire neighborhood, which trigger scenes like a movie. Knowing the place means you can know what happened in that place (Roorbach, 1998).

Caroline Feller Baur shared that the best way for her to create a personal story is to tell it out loud before writing it down. In fact, she prefers to delay the print form as the written form may freeze the style of the performance and "lose the charm of everyday speech" (Feller Baur, 1993).

Before the stories reach an audience, Bill Roorbach suggested conducting a self-interview and pretending that the personal experiences are worthy of newspaper headlines or the top story of a television station. With an interviewer like Barbara Walters, how would the tough questions be answered? What moments would cause the listeners to talk about it the next day? Roorbach advised that if interviewing yourself is difficult, then have a friend interview you. This way, you can discover what your potential audience will want to know about your life (1998, p. 117).

Roorbach considered the delving into the soul as "research". He knew this was a word that people cringe to hear. Yet, he insisted that through personal research, as done through the self-interview, you find the pieces that are missing. One missing piece could be the question of world events that happened at the same time as your personal event.

Donald Davis believed that rather than looking at your stories from present time on backwards, he felt it was easier to think of your earliest memory. When it is time to tell the story, the "cradle-to-grave chronology" as discussed in You Can Write Your Family History, could repel the listener since you do not often meet a person on the street and rattle off vital statistics like birth and marriage and death. It is most common to start in the middle of an event and then go back in time (DeBartolo Carmack, 2003, p. 96).

Ultimately, you know if the story works for the audience by the response given when shared. Laughter is a good sign of understanding and your story progresses. Other times, the audience may look confused because an event that seems so clear to you is in need of details by them. When the audience is bored, then you must recapture their interest (Davis, 1993).

Boredom may come if the audience does not understand the purpose of the story. Storyteller Bill Harley explained:
We are not free to share our psychodramas with an audience unless what we are really talking about is the human condition. Every storyteller has an ego, but it should be kept in check long enough to make sure you are not talking because you think everything you say has value. Most often, personal stories are boring because it is not clear what the story is about" (2004, p. 15).

The search for meaning may take years, as was the case when Harley had a story of his friends and himself in the cafeteria and piling peas and carrots on one tray. Finally, he realized the story was about how children overcome powerlessness with adults. The story became clearer to him and, in turn, became clearer for his audience.

Barbara Clark echoed Harley's thoughts and shared that if the point was unknown to the storyteller, the point was also unknown to the audience (Clark, 2003). The stories that have the deepest meaning for you may have already been told as you met family and friends around the kitchen table or on the porch.

As we continue our quest to tell personal stories, then we notice we are not alone. Most people are not comfortable in sharing their lives for an audience yet we tend to share intimate things to our friends. When we hear the applause for telling our stories, then we will come to realize that personal stories matter.


Campbell, J. (1988). The Power of Myth. New York: Doubleday.

Clark, B. H. (2003). "Developing Personal Stories". A Beginner's Guide to Storytelling. Jonesborough, TN: National Storytelling Press.

Collins, R. & Cooper, P.J. (1997). The Power of Story, teaching through storytelling. Scottsdale, AZ: Gorsuch Scarisbrick.

Davis, D. (1993). Telling Your Own Stories for family and classroom storytelling, public speaking, and personal journaling. Little Rock, AR: August House.

DeBartolo Carmack, S. (2003). You Can Write Your Family History. Cincinnati: Betterway Books.

Feller Bauer, C. (1993). New Handbook for Storytellers. Chicago: American Library Association.

Harley, B. (2004, July/August). "Crafting Childhood". Storytelling Magazine. Jonesborough, TN: National Storytelling Network.

Roorbach, B. (1998). Writing Life Stories. Cincinnati: Story Press.

Wang, N. (2004, July/August). "Just Because". Storytelling Magazine. Jonesborough, TN: National Storytelling Network.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Former Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Performance Blog: http://familyfamine.blogspot.com
Other places to find me: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Professional Storyteller

Monday, December 01, 2008

Asking for Directions: 3 Maps for the Storyteller

We, as storytellers, may not always ask for directions in the stories we create. The images of the stories' settings and perhaps the characters allude us though we have the map of the story as an outline.

The stories I share seem bare-bone until I immerse into the world itself in which the action takes place.

One of the reasons storytellers build repertoire is so they can be more flexible and choose stories that connect best with their audience at a moment's notice. By expanding your view of the story's setting, this, in many ways, expands the possibilities and the spontaneity within one story.

Three maps help storytellers:
1. Map of the Landscape
2. Map of the Mind
3. Map of the Place of Story Development

Map of the Landscape
The Greek storytellers remembered their epic tales by walking throughout the countryside. This promotes a type of body memory in which your feet and legs provide as much memory as your brain. Even your nose, hands, and eyes take part in the memory as the senses pick up details that may be lost otherwise.

Sometimes a journey to a zoo or a botanical garden is enough to open the mind to animals and plants that may be common to the story you are sharing. You might scan a map and find out the lay of the land in regards to mountains, rivers, plains, and other remarkable features.

The story could be historical or even a folktale from another country. If the opportunity arises to visit the actual or similar place of your story, then take it. Sometimes places are imaginary or are difficult to go to even if they exist.

"The Once Upon A Time Map Book" by B.G. Hennessy and illustrated by Peter Joyce introduce you to six lands: Neverland with Peter Pan, the Land of Oz with Dorothy, Wonderland with Alice, the Giant's Kingdom with Jack, Aladdin's Kingdom with the Genie, and the Enchanted Forest with Snow White. Aerial views are shown complete with a compass and a key of special paths. For example, the Enchanted Forest has the hunter's path, the dirt path, the miner's trail, and the winding stream.

Some of the landscapes are labeled even if in the original stories they are not named. Storytellers have as much right to name places as authors. Mentioning these names may not be important to the story, though it does make the places more real and thus more tellable.

At times the location may be your own home as the main character could be you, childhood friends, or relatives. I enjoy drawing my home as if a giant walked by and ripped off the roof and then he placed me on his shoulder so I could look into the rooms from above. Adding color dramtically increases recall ability. Then, when completed, it is time to give a "tour" by pointing out what moments and memories happened in the rooms.

It is not enough to say "Here is the kitchen" and "Here is the hallway". Rather, one could say, "Here is the drawer in the kitchen where Dad kept the flashlight and he didn't know I knew it was there" and "Here is the hallway I had to sneak down and every so often the ground would squeak and I would freeze until I thought Mom and Dad didn't hear me." Storytellers Kevin Cordi and Karl Behling as well as many others use this technique to teach others to find the stories within.

Any maps you draw or create are wonderful to keep in a binder for future reference.

Map of the Mind
Every character has their own back story that often is never known to the audience. Maybe it was not even known to whoever wrote the story in the first place. This has the idea of playing with perspectives that may develop the attitudes, facial expressions, or postures that you decide to use for the actual telling.

The storyteller can ponder on the personalities anyone they may encounter. I say "encounter" because you know you have developed a strong character if he or she reminds you of someone you know--someone you may "encounter" in the grocery store, on the football field, at work, or in the home.

A starting point may be as simple as wondering what the character's favorite color and why that is the case. I recommend having a partner come up with questions so you do not have the pressure of thinking of questions and answers.

I like considering what a character may do in their spare time. As stories tend to focus on action and not necessarily on the "down time", the answers can be whatever you want them to be. I like to be a little accurate in my guesses by delving into the culture from whence the story came from.

Map of the Place of Story Development
Lately for my "Family Famine: Hunger for Love" narrative production, I have gained specific story buddies. I meet every Friday afternoon with Holly Robison to focus purely on "The Gardener's Wife" story from Colombia while I meet every Tuesday morning with Julie Barnson to dedicate time to an Ojibwa tale of "Forsaken Brother". By stepping into their homes, I am reminded of whatever story I practice there.

Upon the stage, if there are moments I fade or forget, then I may take a mental journey through their homes and remember where I was when certain ideas came concerning the story. My mind would have made an imprinted map.

With some maps now in tow, you can find your way through any story. The trick is to transfer your map to your audience. That is something entirely different.

At least you were willing to ask for directions for yourself as a teller.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Former Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Performance Blog: http://familyfamine.blogspot.com
Other places to find me: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Professional Storyteller

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tales & Tunes: Notes on Music's Power in Storytelling

Thanks goes to Joanna Huffaker, group discussion leader, as well as to the Utah Storytelling Guild Olympus Chapter members for granting permission of the use of their comments/picture from the November 12, 2008 guild meeting. (In the picture, from back row to front and then left to right: Joe Heywood, Suzanne Hudson, Brian J. Fetzer, Nick Allen, Jamie Allen, Joanna Huffaker, Sharee Hughes, Rachel Hedman, Carol Esterreicher, Janine Nishiguchi, and Julie Barnson. Not pictured: Jan C. Smith.)

Long after a story is shared, the music within may linger in the mind. Whether we hum a tune, sing some words, or revel in silence, each of these ways has the possibility to connect us to the message and the mood of the story.

Joanna Huffaker presented questions to the Utah Storytelling Guild Olympus Chapter members and facilitated the following discussion--

Two Main Questions:

1. How can music enhance storytelling?

2. How can music distract from storytelling?

How can music enhance storytelling?

  • Grabs attention of audience
  • Sets mood for one story or for the whole program
  • Frames story at beginning, middle and end
  • Becomes the story itself

Grabs attention of audience—

Several storytellers start their sets with songs. For Ed Stivender, this is a way for the audience and him, who both are strangers to each other in the beginning, to become friends. Participating together as a group through song has a way of uniting hearts. Once pronounced friends, it is easier to keep attention throughout the rest of the program.

Sets mood for one story or for the whole program—

Without words, music can take someone by surprise and experience an array of emotions. Jamie Allen said, “Music communicates on emotional and spiritual levels. Music reaches in a way you couldn’t otherwise.”

Part of music’s gift is of comic relief. Joanna Huffaker remembered when storytellers have used a guitar for silly sound effects or to relieve some children’s fears by having monsters do the “Hokey Pokey”.

Tellers have their way to amplify the mood. Julie Barnson has told ghost stories by first singing a spooky song in the minor chord so that the audience would be prepared to hear the story behind the song. Since Jamie Allen is a mime, he carefully chooses the background music so as to reflect his intended theme.

Frames story at beginning, middle and end—

Whether for a story or for a whole program, I have used songs to act as “bookends” so that it signals to the audience that we are either starting or ending. When the audience hears the song for a second, third, or more time, then sometimes they feel inspired to join in or at least to reflect on the words of the song.

Even if the words are not remembered, the mood or message could be remembered. Joanna Huffaker and Brian J. Fetzer both thought to the musical magic within “Peter and the Wolf” by Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev where each animal or character had a certain theme upon entering the scene. Fetzer remarked, “Music can set the stage for the whole show.”

Becomes the story itself—

Bill Harley and Heather Forest are well known for creating songs where there is little to no narration and yet the story is so engaging that the audience can recall the words weeks, months, or even years later. Songs in story format are easier for our brains than purely poetic structures. Even Disney’s Fantasia has found success in this process.

At one time, Brian J. Fetzer had a song called “My Own Backyard”. Some fans requested that the song be transformed into a children's book. Fetzer is in process of having the song in manuscript form with some mock-up illustrations. Fetzer reflected, “Music can be the story. Music is a language.”

How can music distract from storytelling?

  • Plays too heavy in foreground
  • Takes away suspense of story
  • Positions and re-positions of musical instruments
  • Diminishes the story in theme or essence

Plays too heavy in foreground—

Joanna Huffaker enjoys watching “The Lord of the Ring” movies, though she noticed that the second and third film is so heavy with emotions and pounding with the musical score that she has a harder time concentrating on the storyline.

Brian J. Fetzer agreed that a tract could overload our minds and that the sounds should be planned so to avoid such interfering noise. He said, “Sometimes we think music must be quite loud when it could be quite soft and have more impact.” Usually, when Fetzer records sound effects, he must reduce it to 17% of the original level so the voice could be more forward for the listeners. He suggested, “The voice, with a few composed pieces, could offer a setting to the story.”

Takes away suspense of story—

A storyteller knows how to use dramatic pauses, and sometimes, as Sharee Hughes shared, “music can take away from the suspense.” At the same time, if there is too much of a pause where it becomes awkward, then it may be a sign that the story was not practiced enough. More than five or six seconds tends to be a “long” time. Brian J. Fetzer said, “Unless it’s a dramatic pause, then it would be considered a ‘technical malfunction’.”

When Julie Barnson and her family watched a certain movie, the music and sound was so harsh that Julie exclaimed, “We had to turn the sound off and watch the movie that way!” Brian agreed, “The ear is extremely sensitive. If you rub your fingers together by your ears, then you pick up the sounds.”

With all the talk of sounds, Jamie Allen reminded, “Silence is also music.” He continued, “We respond to rhythms and beats. The way we speak is to rhythms and beats. The way we move is to rhythms and beats.” Then the audience watches the movements, gestures, and facial expressions. Allen stated that the goal is for “the audience puts in their own music and beat.” With Allen’s professional training as a mime, silence takes even more importance than the average storyteller.

Positions and re-positions of musical instruments—

There was a time when Suzanne Hudson watched another storyteller take on and off their guitar throughout the program and even within the course of telling one story. It got to the point that Suzanne Hudson wanted to cry, “Leave the guitar alone!” She does not remember the stories told to this day.

For this reason, Julie Barnson is worried that she would be that kind of storyteller taking her guitar on and off. She avoids it by not bringing her guitar to storytelling engagements. To overcome Julie’s fear, the members of the Olympus Chapter agreed that observing Bill Harley or Heather Forest would teach some tricks. For example, Jan Smith noticed that Heather Forest sometimes shifts the guitar strap so that the instrument hangs towards her back when focusing on the narration rather than taking the instrument completely off.

Diminishes the story in theme or essence—

“Some storytellers have zeal and want to put music in, to force it,” said Carol Esterreicher. She saw it as an “intrusion” that could lead to something inappropriate. Joe Heywood remembered reading Doug Lipman’s book “Improving Your Storytelling” and learning about the “Most Important Thing” and everything should support it in some way rather than having other themes or sounds interfere.

Fiddler on the Roof", the first play that Jamie Allen acted in, was by accident as the director watched as Jamie danced about with feeling. Though Jamie did not know how to play the fiddle, he learned. So whenever he watches “Fiddler on the Roof”, he pays special attention to whoever is cast as the fiddler, the one who symbolizes tradition.

In spring of 2008, Jamie Allen watched one particular showing of “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City. He deemed it “the worst play I ever saw.” The fiddler concentrated so hard on playing that he did not make eye contact nor did he dance with Tevye, the main character. Jamie warned, “When you lose yourself in the music, you can lose the whole story.”

Jamie did not have the perfect skill at playing the fiddle, though he had the emotions that were necessary to connect with the audience. To this, Carol Esterreicher stated that she was thankful that to have music within storytelling, that it was not necessary to be a good singer. Janine Nishiguchi pointed out that sometimes people can chat or “talk” the music as Rex Harrison did in the musical “My Fair Lady”.

As you ponder the amount of music to use within your stories, keep in mind that you do not have to be perfect. Being connected to your story and to your audience is the goal.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Former Co-Chair and Current Member of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Performance Blog: http://familyfamine.blogspot.com
Other places to find me: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Professional Storyteller

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Diversity in Storytelling: Bridge still to be Built

Storyteller Jon Spelman stated, "A lot of people do not get a chance to be heard or to tell their story." While presenting at the 2007 East Tennessee State University Storytelling Institutes, he urged us to be willing to listen to others and to build bridges with other groups.

The Bridge
Sometimes a rushing river of misunderstanding and fear divides racial, social, and religious groups so that nothing can be heard except for shouting stories of anger from one side of the shore to the other side of the shore. Rather than raising our voices with threats and hatred from the places we stand, we could build bridges through the stories we share so that we could meet halfway, look into each other's eyes, observe views on both sides of the river, and finally return home with a new perspective.

We may still hold the same views as when we first stood on the shores without a bridge, though this time we would remember that for every issue or thought there are people, neighbors, and friends involved. You can love people and still disagree with their views.

Perhaps you will hear my story and how being part of a minority group:
1. Influences Current Repertoire
2. Contributes to Repertoire Development
3. Determines Goals for Future Public Performances

As you read my answers, please reflect how these relate to your life and feel free to share them with me.

The following thoughts come at a time when I have been attacked verbally for who I am. My experience is extremely mild compared to what many of my friends have experienced in California where death threats and vandalism is rampant.

What minority group is victim to these hate crimes? Those who belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also nicknamed Mormons or LDS.

Persecution is not new to those who are LDS. We have been driven from New York to Ohio to Missouri to Illinois and finally to Utah in 1847. The last few decades have been relatively peaceful as the LDS faith has become a worldwide religion with over 13 million and growing members and has contributed much in the way of humanitarian causes from the 2004 Tsunami in Indonesia to dozens of hurricane rescue efforts in the United States including Hurricane Katrina to donating over 100,000 wheelchairs to developing nations to shipping 142,000 pounds of medical supplies to Myanmar and countless others.

Though the United States is a land known for freedom of religion, unfortunately this does not prevent hate crimes or people who are unwilling to listen so to understand.

I may have more boldness in my personality than those who find themselves as part of the majority. I was one out of a handful of LDS youth who attended my Wisconsin high school that consisted of over 2,000 students.

Ever since living in Utah where over 69% are LDS, it is strange to be considered part of the majority when most of my life I have been part of the minority. I do not have to explain or defend myself as much except for my online involvement as then I am conversing with people around the world.

I have been asked random questions, sometimes sincere and sometimes mocking, from middle school years to the present like "Do you have horns on your head?" or "Are you forbidden to dance?" or "How many husbands do you have?" The answers: No, No, and One.

Influences Current Repertoire
As a storyteller, I see my role as building the bridge of understanding so that others may see the other side of the shore if they so choose to listen to my stories.

Interestingly, the stories that would add most to building that bridge cannot be shared at one of the storyteller's traditional venues: public schools. Mentioning religion, particularly Christianity, seems taboo these days. This fact encourages me to approach other educational settings such as universities, libraries, and museums that are more tolerant. Diversity is often celebrated at these places.

Even among these more open venues, I am in a constant debate if some of my stories would be appropriate or welcome. One of my signature tales, "Shattered Grapes in One Row Too Many" (can be heard on left side of this blog), does not mention the LDS Church specifically though I do have lines like "It was announced over the pulpit one Sunday that volunteers were needed to help harvest the grapes in the vineyard. These grapes would be dried into over 250 tons of raisins to be shipped around the world for humanitarian causes."

Besides lines that reference my background, I merge many personal and original tales with portions of LDS hymns. Those who happen to be LDS in the audience will recognize them. Usually the hymns introduce comedy to the scene as in my story "Ere I Left" when, as a middle schooler who delivers newspapers, I encounter "the dog" and a song comes to mind that starts, "Ere you left your room this morning did you think to pray?"

At times songs mixed with stroies express views on the profound such as how to deal with the death of a loved one like when my cousin two years my senior died on my birthday while away from family at Girls' Camp. Two hymns "If You Could Hie To Kolob" (traditional or rock version found) and "How Great Thou Art" were sung with the other girls at camp in an attempt to comfort my grief.

Contributes to Repertoire Development
Two years so far I have performed at the Scandinavian Heritage Festival in Ephraim, UT. Perhaps a LDS connection would seem strange until one realizes that most of Ephraim's settlers were Scandinavian LDS pioneers. To fill four 30-minute slots of no-repeat stories, I needed to know at least three hours of folktales. Ever since this repertoire development most of my story sets, outside of this festival, include at least one Scandinavian tale due to the number of stories I know from this culture.

Then in 2006 the Cultural Arts department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent out a call for theatre, music, and visual art submissions that reflect different aspects of the church. Though storytelling was not a category listed, I determined this was a chance to introduce another art. You could say that storytelling is a minority art form.

The theatre category seemed best to pursue and rather than submitting a solo piece, I approached two other LDS storytellers, Suzanne Hudson and David Bullock, as well as two youth tellers to combine for the "Growing up Mormon" storytelling program. Part of the inspiration came from storyteller Ed Stivender as he is known for "Raised Catholic (Can You Tell?)", though he is not alone in creating those kinds of programs. Catholics, Methodists, Jews, and many other religions already have storytelling programs that express their lifestyles; people of all faiths enjoy these stories.

Though we did not become finalists with the "Growing up Mormon" program, it did open thoughts as to how my LDS background may become a more prevalent part to which I am known for in the storytelling world.

Many storytellers tell stories based on the Bible. As LDS storytellers also believe in the Bible, then these stories are possible to add to the repertoire. However, I am unaware of any stories based on the Book of Mormon that is out on the public storytelling circuit. Perhaps part of the reason is that whether or not someone is Christian, most people are aware of certain Bible stories about Noah, Moses, David and Goliath, and others. Yet, if someone is not LDS, then most likely the Book of Mormon stories with Nephi, Lehi, Ammon, and Alma the Younger are completely new. This may affect comedic, tragic, or dramatic moments if the audience receives the stories out of context.

A good storyteller could develop the stories so there would be understanding for the audience regardless of how much they know about the LDS faith.

At the annual 2006 Utah Storytelling Guild StoryFest, there was a discussion on why more LDS-related stories were not shared. It was not because there was a lack of time to develop the pieces nor in finding the venues. The most common answer: fear. More specifically: fear of sounding preachy; fear of how to delicately approach the stories in a respectful manner; fear of being blacklisted as a teller. No one voiced the following fear though I expect it was at the back of many minds: fear of being persecuted.

Other tellers who tell stories from other religious backgrounds may have these same fears, though they are strong enough to pursue the stage and letting the stories be heard.

Everyone at that StoryFest meeting agreed that more stories, that reflected our way of living, needed to be shared. Since that discussion I have not seen any results. There are many LDS storytellers inside and outside of Utah. In addition, the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, one of the most successful and largest storytelling events in the United States, is predominately organized and attended by LDS people. We are not as scarce as some people think in the storytelling community. We only tend remain quiet when there is the chance to accidentally offend others or cause people to be uncomfortable. . .except when a driving force moves us forward.

Determines Goals for Future Public Performances
So what motivates us enough to step onto the stage and share our stories? What motivates you?

In times of fear or uncertainty, I turn to others for support. My husband is my greatest support while I also have my mother, father, brother and sister to cheer me on. I even conducted a one-question survey with fellow East Tennessee State University classmates if they would like to hear stories that connect with the Book of Mormon or everyday living of a Latter-day Saint. The people I approached seemed eager to hear some of these types of stories though I did not feel ready to share any at that time. There was curiosity and the possibility of having more diversity on the stage.

Storyteller David Novak advised me that rather than have programs that focus purely on LDS stories, that it may be smoother to find stories from other cultures that incorporate our values mixed with one or two that are LDS.

This may have guided me in the structure of a narrative production that I will premiere on February 9, 2009 called "Family Famine: Hunger for Love". Though I expect portions of LDS songs may be included in the program as that is part of my style, the focus will be on multicultural tales outside of my tradition. Healthy family relationships can be found in all cultures. A country in chaos sometimes is thought to not have the same levels of love amongst family members. Usually the corruption lies mainly with leadership of the land rather than what is found in the home.

Throughout story development, I will contemplate upon "The Family: A Proclamation to the World", a document presented by the LDS Church in 1995. It is my source of inspiration for "Family Famine: Hunger for Love" and not something I plan to quote or distribute to those who attend the premiere or any future performances. That would be overbearing, inappropriate and harmful to me as a teller and would abuse storytelling as an art form.

Storyteller Elizabeth Ellis warns of the difference between being religious and being spiritual. Any storytelling experience could be a spiritual experience no matter what faith is mentioned, if at all. Sometimes values expressed in everyday tales provide communion.

I hope to create a safe environment for my audience so they can trust that I will not push my views from the stage and that I allow them to take what they will from the performance. In fact, I expect the "Family Famine: Hunger for Love" to be such a program that even public schools would see no issues in having it presented to their students.

My LDS background will always influence, create, and develop repertoire that will reach the stage. The goal is that I will become fearless in presenting the stories that few have heard while creating a safe environment so that people realize that I love and respect all cultures and traditions.

Perhaps one day a LDS program will be as common as the other religion-based storytelling programs out there.

May we build the bridges from one group to another and be willing to step across the rushing river of misunderstanding and fear so to see from both sides.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Former Co-Chair and Current Member of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Performance Blog: http://familyfamine.blogspot.com
Other places to find me: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Professional Storyteller

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

National Storytelling Network as Matchmaker

"Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make me a match, Find me a find, Catch me a catch."

When Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava sang about Yente the Matchmaker on Fiddler on the Roof, perhaps we have sung such tunes on business and social levels as storytellers or storytelling organizations. The National Storytelling Network could be the Yente of our time.

Two different Brain Trust Sessions at the 2008 National Storytelling Conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee alleged to the idea of the National Storytelling Network in this connecting role, though not much time was spent to look at the possibilities.

National Storytelling Network as Matchmaker could:
1. Introduce Storytellers to Storytellers/Performing Artists
2. Seek Suitable Sponsors for Storytellers
3. Connect Storytellers to Organizations
4. Encourage Organizations to Partner with Organizations
5. Uphold Storytelling as Desired Art to General Public

Sometimes fate needs an extra push for like-minded storytellers, sponsors, organizations and people to come together and edify each other's goals and visions for the art form.

Before discussing the ideas, meet my own matchmaker:
I met my husband, Casey, through Mandy. . .and because of the airport (see picture).

While sharing a Communications Law class at Brigham Young University, Mandy and I talked about our projects. . .as well as our plans on going home for Christmas. As my family lived in Wisconsin and her home was in Pennsylvania, we were surprised that the first part of our flights to fly home was the same!

"Great!" we shouted. "Let's ride to the airport together!"

We both said that hoping that the other person had a car. No such luck. So we made ourselves a deal--whoever found a ride to the airport first would let the other person know so we could travel to the Salt Lake City airport.

After about a week, I received a call from Mandy. "I found us a ride," she said.

The driver lived in the same apartment complex as Mandy on the opposite side of campus as me. I went to the place to meet for the ride.

One other guy needed to go to the airport. He sat in the back seat. Mandy had the "hots" for him and strategically placed herself in the back. The front passenger seat was open so that is where I sat. Of course, front people talk to front people and back people talk to back people.

I had a wonderful conversation with the driver.

I arrived at the airport, flew to Wisconsin, had a wonderful Christmas, and then returned to BYU. About a week into the new semester I received a phone call from Mandy. She asked if I remembered the driver.

"He called me," Mandy said. "And he wanted your phone number. So I was wondering if it was okay to give it out."

Apparently Mandy had played Matchmaker before and things didn't turn out so well.

I replied, "Sure!" and hung up the phone laughing and laughing. Well, I did get that call from the driver--Casey--and now we've been married since May 19, 2001.

By the way, when Casey and I became engaged and went to the Salt Lake City airport to fly to Lake Havasu in Arizona to celebrate with Casey's family, who should be at the airport waiting for her own plane but Mandy! The picture above is of that moment. That is how she learned her matchmaking was a success.

Now on to the ideas--

Introduce Storytellers to Storytellers/Performing Artists
There have been attempts to have a mentorship program. Sometimes names are gathered though the lists seem to disappear or at least are not as visible as expected. With all the technology tools available, we could transform these written lists and ideas into audio and video files that people could play to understand the hopes of potential mentors and those who wish to be mentored.

The written word only captures so much about an individual. Hearing or seeing how someone is like has greater chance for success. All of the audio/video files could be found on one website. When the mentorship is decided, then the matches could also be displayed online.

Even if someone is not looking for a mentor, there is always searching for a friend. When like-minded individuals find each other, then grand endeavors come to pass.

In the meantime, Eric Wolf's The Art of Storytelling with Children podcast introduces us to storytellers almost on a weekly basis.

Seek Suitable Sponsors for Storytellers
A professional storyteller wears many hats. Storyteller Elizabeth Ellis views the three main areas as artist, craftsman, and businessman. It is the business and marketing sides that many people avoid, though it is this same area that builds relationships with past, present, and future sponsors for performances.

Most of the marketing effort would still need to rest on the storyteller, though NSN could nurture opportunities.

When Finn Bille at one of the Brain Trust Sessions mentioned this idea, the facilitator David Novak asked if a type of switchboard operator would be needed to take the calls and direct them to where needed. Bille responded that he imagined a system with "excellent data easily available on the Internet and backed up by personal contact that could guide aspiring professionals or those semi-starting out."

The switchboard image may not be feasible at the moment due to NSN having two full-time staff members while such a venture would need many more people. Yet, Bille encouraged us to look at the practices of writers' guilds as queries are accepted and then passed on to appropriate publishers. In many ways, the publisher is equivalent to the sponsor/producer for the storyteller.

At one time it was proposed for event producers to come to the National Storytelling Conference as a way to observe tellers. Even the 2008 National Storytelling Conference had the Southeast State Showcases (eight states/concerts) scheduled throughout the event as well as the Regional Concert (one person from each of seven regions across the United States). Though there will not be a conference in 2009, there will be one in 2010 and every year after that time.

Perhaps, when these showcases are organized again, the slots could be given by lottery with entries being charged a certain amount to participate as is done for other performing artist showcases. Finally, there would need to be some kind of verbal, preferably written, agreements from various event producers to attend one or more of these showcases. An incentive for the producers could be for the first 25 to sign-up for registration to receive 50% off registration. Part of the application would need a place to list any event(s) or organization(s) they are representing in the name of scouting out tellers.

Usually the reason a storyteller makes it on the festival circuit is when seen with an audience with a sponsor being among that audience. These showcases could make it possible to have a Booking Conference aspect within the National Storytelling Conference.

Connect Storytellers to Organizations
Whether or not a storytelling guild or organization is affiliated with the National Storytelling Network, a database of these pro-storytelling groups would prove beneficial for NSN to share with others. Such a database may inspire more of these groups to be connected with NSN, particularly those ones that may not see storytelling as their main objective.

Every organization has a history to share with others. Turnover of board members and leaders--as terms begin and end--are not the only ones who would like to know past accomplishments, present feats, and future endeavors.

As I considered how to create the Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance ethnography, I called Eric Wolf on the possibility and the usefulness of recording interviews between former and current co-chairs on a conference call system similar to what Wolf uses for The Art of Storytelling with Children podcast. Wolf noted the increased quality of sound if the people could gather at a physical location. However, people have an easier time locating a telephone than in locating the funds to fly across the nation to an event.

Despite this difficulty, three events would be most likely for YES! co-chairs: National Storytelling Festival, National Storytelling Conference, and the National Youth Storytelling Showcase.

Once the best methods is determined, then the audio and/or video versions of the interviews could be made available online for any leaders, members, or general public who wish to know more about an organization.

Encourage Organizations to Partner with Organizations
Storytelling guilds and organizations at similar phases in growth or with overlapping goals need to know about each other and combine efforts. Individuals need individuals and organizations need organizations.

The National Storytelling Network could be the liaison between the organizations.

Rather than assuming we know what training, guidance, or help each organization would like, NSN volunteers could survey guilds and other storytelling organizations on their needs. The storyteller often needs to know the audience in order to tell the "right story at the right time" and so it stands for organizations.

With the surveys completed, the database could reveal to NSN what guilds and groups need to build relationships. A 20-person-sized guild in Montana could be introduced to a 20-person-sized guild in New Hampshire and so on. On an international scale, many cities have sister cities. Could not the same concept be applied? Perhaps the guilds would link each other's websites and let their members become aware of the "sister" friendship. Thus, the "Network" in the National Storytelling Network name would be fulfilled.

It would not be enough for NSN to make introductions and then leave the picture. NSN could follow-up on the friendships and see how often these guilds are communicating with each other.

Uphold Storytelling as Desired Art to General Public
The Oral Tradition Journal made their publications available online for free, which Tim Ereneta announced on his "Breaking the Eggs: Performance Storytelling in the 21st Century" blog. He challenged the Storytelling, Self, and Society Journal to do the same thing. He talked with the National Storytelling Network on the possibility to attempt such a feat with the Storytelling Magazine.

I support Ereneta's ideas though I would recommend that all issues except for the current year be made available, as these publications are membership benefits for the Storytelling in Higher Education and the National Storytelling Network. Most people renew membership once a year. Then we have a balance between availability and exclusivity.

Though why stop at the written way? As there are books on tape, the same concept could be used for any storytelling books and publications. These could be read and recorded by the authors, one specific person, or someone who has experience with voice-overs.

Matchmakers use the tools available to promote coupling. As from the ideas shared above, technology is the grandest and, interestingly, the least costly of any other choices.

However, time is needed for the technology to produce desired results. As with any enduring relationship, time is something the matchmaker cannot control.

Rather than simply sharing ideas, now is the call for those who want to see them transform into reality.

Who is willing to give the time to make these relationships work?

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Performance Blog: http://familyfamine.blogspot.com
Other places to find me: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Professional Storyteller

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Attention Youth Tellers: PTA wants You!

Thanks to Julie Barnson, Patsy Chandler, and Jean Tokuda Irwin for granting permission to share their comments from interviews conducted September 30th and October 1st of 2008 as well as pictures shared of Brenna and Julie Barnson.

The cell phone buzzed and a breathless storytelling friend, Julie Barnson, exclaimed, "I had to call someone and I asked myself, 'Who would be most excited to hear the news? Rachel!'"

Storytelling was part of the announcement, though I wondered to what degree?

Barnson had received a packet from her daughter Brenna's school on PTA Reflections, an art recognition program for students. A couple days later, one of the 5th grade teachers, Ms. Coupe, pointed out the Theatre category so Barnson scanned the guidelines. "We saw that there was storytelling in Reflections this year and my jaw dropped," said Barnson.

She clarified that this Theatre category was only available in Utah and shared, "Other states may have a theatre category and I have no idea of what made them pick up storytelling, but it makes me happy! It's so nice that storytelling is recognized as an art. That's a big deal."

Ms. Coupe knew her student was a finalist of the 2008 Youth Tall Tale Contest. Brenna had created and shared a story on how the Great Salt Lake was formed involving a girl, a tiger, and a riddle contest.

Even before realizing storytelling was a possibility for the PTA Reflections, Barnson and Brenna went to the library weekly to find possible stories to audition for the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival and other youth-friendly events. Barnson laughed, "She usually chooses the first story she sees."

Barnson had to remind her daughter, "Choose a story that moves your heart, makes you laugh, or gets some kind of emotion from you." Barnson felt her daughter "doesn't quite get that yet."

At least the PTA Reflections program is a learning adventure for kids. Barnson boasted, "We participate every year." Now with storytelling offered, that tradition will continue.

Barnson and Brenna are not the only ones who wish to thank the PTA. In fact, over 10 million students need to thank Mary Lou Anderson, former National PTA board member, for inspiring the Reflections program in 1969 through art contests in Literature, Music, Visual Arts, and Photography. Several PTA websites have declared, "The excitement and enthusiasm that the Reflections arts recognition program generates for children, parents, schools, and communities is unmatched."

Jean Tokuda Irwin, Arts Education Program Manager for the Utah Arts Council, molded the Utah PTA Reflections program by adding Dance, Theatre and Film/Video while she served as Utah PTA's Individual Development Commissioner. The next Utah PTA Individual Development Commissioner, Margaret Wahlstrom, added yet another category of 3D in the Visual Arts.

Each year a theme is chosen such as "Suddenly I turn around", "My greatest wish for life is. . .", or the 2009 theme of "Wow. . .". The kids then transform a concept into creativity.

Utah had almost 70,000 submissions in 2008. With such a response, the National PTA sometimes turns to this state to pilot new categories such as what happened with Dance and Film/Video, which were categories officially added to the national list in 2006. Patsy Chandler, Utah PTA Individual Development Commissioner, shared, "Utah started with these categories and national liked the results."

In the meantime, Utah has two state-specific categories: Theatre (which includes Storytelling and Mime) and 3D Artistic Creations. Depending on the number of entrants, these two categories may share the same destiny as Dance and Film/Video though it would probably take five years, ten years, or more to happen.

When Jean Tokuda Irwin, who was then on the PTA Board, asked National PTA why there were no categories for dance, theatre, etc. They told her it was a question of money. She argued that money was not an issue in relation to having more art forms accessible for children. She asserted that if the situation involved kids with disabilities, they would not be allowed to use funding as an argument. She further stated that in the case of Reflections, some kids (dancers, actors, storytellers, videographers) were unable to participate because their art form was not one of the original PTA Reflections categories.

In fact, Irwin's own arts education assistant said, "I thought I never had any talent. If I could have entered in Dance, I would have participated in Reflections." National PTA encouraged Utah PTA to "pilot" the new categories and Utah has never looked back.

Though Theatre then became available, Irwin admitted that Theatre could be hard to understand and grasp for the non-trained individual. Most of the confusion was with Theatre and Film/Video as Irwin pointed out, "The kids could not tell the difference between Film/Video as an artistic tool versus just recording something." Chandler mentioned the same problem and said, "We try to clear those lines by saying 'This is Theatre' and 'This is Film and Video'."

In the storytelling community, often defining "storytelling" is difficult. It is almost comforting that long-standing arts like Theatre face the same issues.

When Irwin was on the PTA Board, she traveled throughout Utah with artists and videos demonstrating the differences between Monologue, Mime, Storytelling, One-Act Play and so on. When it came to storytelling Irwin noticed, "Kids don't tell stories anymore unless they are lucky to be in a storytelling family. They have television instead." The Barnson family seems to confirm this statement.

Irwin and Chandler may not personally know the Barnsons, though they have witnessed some fantastic storytelling performances in the past five years to the present time.

Chandler remembered one of the kids had dressed up like what her grandmother had wore when she crossed the plains into the Salt Lake Valley as a pioneer and received the Honorable Mention at state level for the performance. Chandler also saw a little girl tell "The Three Little Pigs" using puppets placed on Popsicle sticks.

Irwin attributed the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival and the Utah Storytelling Guild as influences to most amazing storytelling-related submissions. With access to this event and organization, there are qualified judges.

Sometimes parents unfamiliar with the art are unsure how to share stories with their kids. Irwin encouraged the parents to pick a character and make up a story. "A few would look at me with the most stunned looks on their faces adn ask, 'How do you do that?'"

Irwin sees her mission as teaching others how to create their own stories through dance, music, theatre, visual arts and creative writing. Since 1991, she has served as the Utah Arts Council (UAC) Arts Education Manager. The UAC's Arts Education mission is to promote active engagement and arts learning. Their mission is served by grants to schools and organizations, technical assistance and outreach programs.

In relation to Theatre, Irwin lamented, "A lot of kids have never seen live theatre before--at least that is how it is these days." Irwin continued, Most children today are growing up on a diet of television and videos so they don't have the opportunity to see live theatre in action or live storyteller in action. They just don't understand the medium."

From people like Barnson to Irwin to Chandler, there are many who support the arts. We can join in this advocacy through the annual PTA "Start the Art" Week, which is October 6-11, 2008 by contacting community leaders and government officials on how we feel. Or at least some friends and family.

So. . .is your cell phone ready to share the news with others?

Other Online Resources--

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Performance Blog: http://familyfamine.blogspot.com
Other places to find me: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Professional Storyteller