"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Teller's Dilemma: Hating Practice, Loving Showtime

Practicing—whether stories, piano, sports or anything else—usually prompts someone to say, “It is for your good”. Perhaps this is because they are grateful they are not the one practicing. The word is often associated with torture and boredom, yet it is through this act that a stellar performance comes about.

Practicing can be exciting with these five ideas:
1. Set some goals
2. Dream the final performance
3. Add fun and spontaneity
4. Share with friends and groups
5. Reward yourself

Set some goals
Usually people practice so that the mental “to do” list can be checked off. The deed is done for the day and we move to something fun. . .and so builds the self-fulfilling prophecy that practicing is monotonous and dull.

If goals are determined before rehearsal, then we notice our improvement. With improvement comes reason for celebration and momentum to continue and see how close we can get to perfection.

Once my storyboard or outline is completed, my goal could be to share the story without looking at the “maps”. When details are missed, I plow through the story and I can celebrate only if I did not take a peek. Whether I had smooth transitions or consistency in character voices would not matter in this trial run as my ultimate goal would be accomplished. I could address those other choppy areas in future practices.

Dream the final performance
Sometimes we forget why we practice in the first place—some reasons being that we can perform and receive applause for the effort. Rather than waiting for the performance day to enjoy these sensations, you can imagine them now.

I love to visualize my perfect performance. Each storyteller would have different thoughts and images for this part. Even if the future performance would not have a stage and atmosphere remotely like the one you imagine, you can still benefit from your dreams. Sometimes I have transposed my perfect performance with the one at hand to boost my response to the audience.

Perhaps fear of failure captures your imagination quicker, especially when you perform a new piece for an audience rather than for your mirror. If moments of stuttering and booing permeate your thoughts, then the act of practicing could only amplify your fear to reach such an end.

Ask your storytelling friends to share favorite memories of performing. Soon your fears will be relieved and you can concentrate on positive images for your perfect performance.

Carol Esterreicher, professional storyteller and practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) often teaches the concept of the “Circle of Excellence” in which you step in and out of an imaginary circle that represents the perfect performance. Each entrance into the circles means a different sense to trigger happy memories whether through calming visuals, encouraging sounds, or even stimulating smells.

Add fun and spontaneity
Going in a corner to practice telling a story to a wall seems close to what naughty kids endure when told to sit in a chair until they are told time-out is over. Sometimes all it takes is for different scenery to add some fun.

Every so often I find myself in an airport and practicing a story with people waiting for your flight could work. Perhaps you would like to experiment by placing a blindfold around your eyes so that you can more easily focus on the images within the stories.

If ever I am in a down mood, then I find wearing Hawaiian leis perk me up. By laughing at myself, I am more willing to practice telling stories.

So avoid going to the same place to tell the same story at the same time. Switch at least one of those elements and you will enjoy practicing more.

Share with friends and groups
There is only a certain length of time when telling to the mirror, the wall, stuffed animals or pets when you want real human connection. You can adopt a class—or another venue that is common for your gigs. These places would be your official practice group, and you will most likely earn some fans, too.

Call a friend to stop by to hear the latest story. Or go to the library and randomly gather people (ask the librarians first) and suddenly you have people to give you feedback and improve other aspects of your story besides knowing the sequence of events.

If meeting with other people is out of the question, then get out the mp3 recorder or the videocamera. When I was a kid, I would tape record my piano playing so I could send a copy to my grandma. Even as an adult, this trick still works for you have an extra reason to practice. If you are the grandparent, then send the recordings to your grandkids.

While I was with the Lemoore High School storytelling class (California), the students were given the following situation--You need to find someone to share your story. Mom and Dad are still at work. You don't have any brothers and sisters. You have plenty of friends, but they are at sport practices or other extra-curriculars after school. What could you do?

Try one or more of what they brainstormed:

  • Use a webcam to tell your story to strangers (or friends)
  • Be a door-to-door storyteller or at least tell to those on the streets
  • Walk to the library and ask permission to share with patrons
  • Call one of your grandparents and give story over the phone
  • Go to the store/mall and randomly tell story to others
  • Share at church, retirement center, homeless shelter, etc.
  • Go to a funeral home and cheer others with your story
  • Post your story on MySpace or YouTube
  • Pretend to tell story to a famous book character
  • Set up story booth outside a store (like when selling Girl Scout cookies)
  • Grab the phonebook, call a random number, and share your story
  • Chat with the mailman
  • Sing your story on a Karaoke machine
  • Tell story with those who are sick in the hospital
  • Jump on city bus and share with everyone (sometimes driver will give intercom)
  • Ask teacher/mentor/coach to listen

Reward yourself
Hearing the applause at a performance is a grand reward for practicing, but do not let the celebration start or end there. Think about what you love—besides storytelling. Is it chocolate? Books? Ice cream? Going horseback riding? Whatever you love, reward with that item or activity after you practice so many days in a row.

With all these ideas, perhaps we will be better at practicing our practicing. Who knows? Maybe we’ll enjoy our rehearsals as much as when it is showtime.

Until we tell again,

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

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