"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mythical Storytelling Network: Dreams of Reality

Thanks to David Novak who guided the Brain Trust Session at the 2008 National Storytelling Conference and gave his blessing for the ideas to be shared as well as the picture posted. More appreciations go to Teresa Clark and Mary Hamilton for permission to share comments as well as to all who attended the session on August 9, 2008 (see names and contact info at bottom).

Our dream ideas as storytellers to further the art in the minds of the general public are often hindered by our working within the boundaries--whether drawn by us or others. We look at current situations and censor ideas purely from what we think is true or unchangeable. Sometimes people dare to see something more.

Then came newfangled Brain Trust Sessions at the 2008 National Storytelling Conference.

One session in particular broadened my mind to think of possibilities I may never have discovered otherwise. With Brain Trust facilitator/National Storyteller David Novak as well as some conference attendees, the premise was given:
1. The answer "No" did not exist
2. The answer "Yes" was always followed by "If"

To better train our minds to say "yes" more often than to say "no", Novak had us pretend that the National Storytelling Network did not exist. How would we function as individual storytellers without it? What might be an obstacle to our imaginations, especially for our vision for the art itself?

Perhaps the creation of the National Storytelling Network (known as NAPPS--National Association for the Perpetuation and Preservation of Storytelling in its infant years) was so rushed to meet the needs of the growing number of members while overlooking the needs of professional storytellers that the full impact--or rather the potential impact--was not thought out in detail.

The whole American Storytelling Movement could be seen with an "accidental" 1973 grassroots kick-starting with the National Storytelling Festival. The phenomenal growth through the decades was partly to more people identifying themselves as storytellers, with some going so far as to picture careers as performing artist entrepreneurs and organizations such as the National Storytelling Network (NSN). Traditional storytelling, such as found on the front porch or around the kitchen table, made way for more of the platform/organized storytelling that is most visible upon the stage at a storytelling event in the creation of guilds and associations.

One by one Novak asked questions of the people around the table at the Brain Trust session to find out individual aspirations. We discovered certain collective dreams that, despite the "nonexistence" of NSN for this exercise, we still needed to create what we lovingly deemed as the Mythical Storytelling Network. Our ideas did not need to fit within any prescribed budget nor be doable with a certain number of staff or volunteers. If ever we came upon roadblocks, we would think around them.

For example, Novak asked what would we do if we wanted to tell stories on the moon. I responded that we would need a sponsorship/commission from NASA. Money or manpower was not the issue. The impossible suddenly became possible.

With our minds open, we were ready to pursue any dream we had for the art of storytelling.

Though much was shared in our group, this idea most excited me: Artist roster of professional storytellers so to approach the National Endowment of the Arts that our art is to be respected and honored.

Some Background--
Storytelling is a category yet to be created for the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA). When applying for a grant, most tellers either have to decide to apply as a folk artist or as a theatre artist.

During the late 1980s, Mary Hamilton applied as a theatre artist for the Ohio Arts Education Roster in connection with NEA as out-of-state requests were honored. Hamilton commented, "The folks at the state arts council assured me that they took storytellers and would assign my work to the appropriate category - theatre or folk arts." Her lack in theatrical training meant the council connected her with the folk artist category instead.

Upon following this advice, she found herself interviewed by a clogger, a chair maker, a basket weaver and other similar arts. They asked, "Where have you learned your craft?" The folk artists expected an answer like "from my mother" or "from my grandfather". Instead, Hamilton replied that she learned storytelling from workshops led by storytellers. She was denied funds.

Hamilton reflected to the time when the National Storytelling Conference was held in Philadelphia and a man from the National Endowment of the Arts addressed the attendees. In this man's eyes, storytellers were folk artists and encouraged storytellers to apply for grants in that category. He did not realize that some storytellers could not fit in that category depending on individual art council interpretations. Hamilton expressed, "Part is educating--not all storytellers are folk artists. . .or theatre artists."

Luckily Hamilton lives in Kentucky where being a good storyteller is enough to be on the roster of the art council. This allows her more chances to receive support from the NEA.

Other state art councils have education and/or touring rosters for performing artists. Many storytellers are already listed with these and sharing a list of such tellers makes it possible to approach the NEA on establishing a storytelling category.

Transforming Dreams into Reality--
This is the time when feet do the thinking so there is action behind the words.

The Brain Trust Sesssion guided by David Novak had the NEA project surface and everything could have stopped at this point. Mary Hamilton and Teresa Clark both admited that several committees and conversations had been dedicated to the topic. When NSN created a strategic plan around the beginning of 2006, approaching the NEA on having a storytelling category was on the "wish list".

The overwhelming idea of collecting a roster that the storytelling community could agree on may have been one of many obstacles. Suddenly, by going to this Brain Trust Session, Clark understood that we did not have to re-invent the wheel and create our own roster indepedent of any other. We could connect with the rosters already juried and maintained by art councils across the nation.

With such a project underway, it would benefit storytellers to be a member of the National Storytelling Network as the organization's name would build recognition eventually among NEA associates. You could see it as a storytelling Chamber of Commerce in the way we support each other to make great things possible.

Clark approached her fellow NSN Board members after the 2008 National Storytelling Conference and the Arts Recognition Task Force (or ART Force) was approved. Currently Clark and Hamilton are members of this growing group.

With time, I would not be surprised to eventually see a NSN Board Member come from the National Endowment of the Arts to complete the acknowledgement that storytelling is an art to be honored.

You want to be part of the ART Force?--

Contact Teresa Clark at teresaclarktells@hotmail.com or at (208) 529-3276.

Say "yes" to your dreams and see where it takes you.

It seems that the Mythical Storytelling Network really does exist--deep within the heart of the current National Storytelling Network.

About the Brain Trust Group:
David Novak is is a remarkable speaker with a background in theatre arts including Shakespeare, clowning, creative dramatics, playwriting, and directing. Mr. Novak recently received the 2002 Circle of Excellence award from the National Storytelling Network, for excellence in the art of storytelling. He is a veteran of the National Storytelling Festival, cofounder of the innovative National Yakkers Theatre Ensemble, and creator of The Storyteller's Compass, a new method of "narrative wayfinding."

Key Contributers:
Teresa Clark has a unique blend of history, wit, personal glimpses, and fantasy create stories that are a delight to hear and impossible to forget. Best known for her original works and recollections of life's experiences blended with history, Teresa entertains and educates wherever she goes as she shares her passion for storytelling. She currently serves on the Board of National Storytelling Network (NSN) as the Western Region Director.

Mary Hamilton counts herself among the many dedicated members of the National Storytelling Network. She has helped found two storytelling swap groups of Tale Talk, when she lived in Louisville, and Frankfort Area Storytelling Gatherings since her 1994 move to Frankfort, Kentucky. Beginning in April 2004 she has served as one of the founding board members of the Kentucky Storytelling Association.

Other Mighty Minds:
Finn Bille

Katie Key (in connection with Free Arts NYC)

Tim Lowry

Sherry Norfolk

Graham Shelby

Kimberly Sheperd (in connection with Rhythm Soled)

***FYI on the Attendees of the Brain Trust Session: Three of us were from the 18-30-year-old age group with a couple members of the National Storytelling Network Board as well as former NSN Board Members and key players to the structure of the organization.

Until we tell again,

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

Friday, August 01, 2008

Storyteller's Shadow: Role of ASL Interpreter

Thanks to Libby Tipton for presenting this information during the East Tennessee State University Storytelling Masters program of the Advanced Storytelling class on July 24, 2008. She graciously gave permission for her comments to be posted, as most come from her presentation with only a few observations from me.

Off in the corner of a storytelling event you may see a group raising their arms and hands high and shaking them to share their satisfaction of a story well-told as an American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreter bridges the deaf and hearing communities under one roof. Though this sight seems uncommon for most storytelling events, little by little people understand the necessity of remembering everyone in the neighborhood.

Even looking at the future of the American Storytelling Movement, the choice to include the deaf community through having interpreters and arranging the set in ways that enhance the experience could exponentially boost involvement in the art.

Libby Tipton, professional sign language interpreter, mentioned the main roles of the interpreters:
1. Conduit for the Teller and Listener(s)
2. Ethically Bound
3. Convey Meaning
4. Liaison between Cultures

Events such as the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, the National Storytelling Festival or the National Storytelling Conference have limited use of interpreters though I can sense the excitement in the room when they are present. Regardless of the foreign language being Spanish, French, German, Russian, Chinese or American Sign Language, I enjoy the beauty of what is being relayed. Tipton exclaimed, "Interpreters are the bridges whereby mortal hearing man can enter into the joys of the world of deafness."

Few events experience the "joys" mentioned above. Tipton has often heard storytellers say, "I've never had a chance to work with a sign language interpreter before." She often thinks and sometimes states, "Create opportunities, at conferences, workshops, or any venue you're at to suggest a sign language interpreter be hired. Just as you are promoting storytelling as an art form, you should be paving the way to provide access for all individuals to participate in the audience, by including fm systems, creating mobility access--so why not for the deaf?"

Some event producers have considered having interpreters though the money issue comes up as having a qualified interpreter versus a signer. The qualified interpreter will most likely follow the RID Code of Professional Conduct, which has the following tenets:
1. Adhere to standards of confidential communication
2. Possess the professional skills and knowledge required for the specific interpreting situation
3. Conduct themselves in a manner appropriate to the specific interpreting situation
4. Demonstrate respect for consumers
5. Demonstrate respect for colleagues, interns, and students of the profession
6. Maintain ethical business practices

Part of this professional conduct includes the idea for the interpreter to not to take way or to add to however the storytellers express themselves. The interpreter is not supposed to upstage the storyteller no matter how tempting it is when the person is monotone. This only means that the signing would be done in a smaller area and with little, if any, facial expressions. If the storyteller is wild and crazy, the interpreter should reflect that energy.

What Event Producers Should Know—Hazards of Deafness:

1. Interpreter vs. Signer
2. Quality vs. Quantity
3. Visual Noise
4. Safety Issue
5. Cultural Differences

Interpreter vs. Signer
As budgets account for what will be available for marketing, presenters, and other needs, then also having an amount for interpreters could make the difference in how a performance may be perceived by the deaf community. Having an interpreter who has worked alongside well-known performing artists reflects in the grace and style to in the signing that would have contrast for interpreters whose main line of work is in corporate or education settings.

For the National Storytelling Festival, there used to be signers though most did not have artistic experience. National storyteller Jim May recommended some interpreters from Chicago so they were flown into Jonesborough, Tennessee. To this day, these interpreters are flown to the festival. Tipton shared the adage, “You get what you pay for”.

Quality vs. Quantity
When interpreting is actually available, sometimes it is only for the main events such as for the keynote speaker and opening/closing ceremonies or specific workshops/sessions so it forces the deaf community to attend certain events versus having the option to go to any area. Otherwise, the person would need a personal interpreter to follow them throughout the event.

Visual Noise
Those who can hear are often aware of when cell phones ring or when a train blows its horn as one often does at the National Storytelling Festival. These sounds usually do not affect the deaf community except for the reactions that the hearing audience may do. However, if the stage has flickering lights or an unusual amount of movement like streamers from a fan is there, then you will want to find ways to fix those distractions. The need for a solid backdrop with great lighting could also help both deaf and hearing audiences focus on the teller and the interpreter.

Safety Issue
When an event is planned, usually there is some emergency alarm in case of fire or tornado such as a siren. Rarely are there flashing lights for those who are deaf or clearly marked exits so to escape unharmed. Tipton said, “There is no guarantee that the interpreter will say, ‘There’s a fire. Let’s go!’”

Cultural Differences
As the deaf audience will receive the story with a slight delay, there could be laughter when the hearing audience already responded or vice versa. Sometimes, the laughter is because the interpreter did a slip on the signs much like a person could unknowingly say one thing but mean another.

What Storytellers Should Know—Rehearsal with Interpreters:

1. Blocking
2. Tandem
3. Provision of Scripts/Music/Lyrics
4. Lighting
5. Costume
6. Sound

The interpreter will be fairly close to the storyteller, usually a few feet away. The teller needs to be aware not to cross in front of the interpreter if it is the teller’s nature to do so in their storytelling style.

The area reserved for the deaf audiences should be close enough to the stage—usually to a particular side—that is free from pillars or other visual blocks.

Sometimes a storyteller goes on stage and ignores the interpreter who is only a few feet away. This can be unsettling to the audience and people may wonder why some sort of acknowledgment was attempted.

Beyond the beginning of the performance, a teller may enjoy the presence of the interpreter and include them—upon warning—by looking at the interpreter during parts of a story when they have characters who are thinking or any other creative way to share a story that would not be possible if the interpreter was not around.

Part of being a team is for the teller to pace the telling of the tale so that there does not have to be a long awkward pause for the interpreter to catch up. Make the dramatic pauses look natural and not that the teller is waiting for the interpreter.

Finally, the storyteller could move towards the interpreter after the show or story so the audience can applause them as a team.

Provision of Scripts/Music/Lyrics
Foreign language words and hard-to-spell names are only a few frustrations that an interpreter may have in connection with a storytelling program. Having a list of these words plus scripts or recordings could allow a smoother or more memorable experience for all in the audience.

The lights may be dimmed for some places, which is fine as long as there is some kind of spotlight on the interpreter. As the visual sense is the most powerful for the deaf, then anything to enhance the view is appreciated.

Since the storyteller is close to the interpreter on stage, then the storyteller’s wardrobe could distract the interpreter. Some tellers are drawn to outfits with frilly or flamboyant sleeves or patterns that cause a visual distraction for the deaf. Interpreters could also wear dark solid colors so that their facial expressions and hands are more visible to the audience.

I have gone to events where tellers do not feel they need to use the microphone. Rarely do these people remember the hard-of-hearing—even if it appears to be a young audience—or the interpreter.

Besides regular speakers, it helps to have fm speakers as the interpreter is often to the side of the teller. Headsets could be provided to the interpreter to enhance the flow of the story in the signing of it.

So the next time you attend an event, ask yourself how easily it was (or could have been) for anyone from the deaf community.

Tipton certainly has opened my eyes to the needs of everyone in the audience—deaf and hearing alike. Whenever I see the needs met, my arms and hands want to lift and shake to say, “Thank you”.

About Libby Tipton (mtnterp@gmail.com): She is a professional sign language interpreter from Flag Pond, Tennessee. Having deaf parents, she was always a natural communicating with other people's stories through her hands. Now she tells her own tales about life in a colorful deaf Appalachian family.

Other Online Resources Libby Recommends:

Deaf Community Blogs/Websites:

Book to Explore:

  • "Sign the Speech, an Introduction to Theatrical Interpreting", 2nd edition, by Julie Gebron, published by Butte Publications, Inc. Hillsboro, OR, 2000

Until we tell again,

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