"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

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Tax Time: 10 Tips for Tellers on Tour

Staring at the calendar and then glancing at the calculator are not enough to complete taxes for the professional storyteller. Pulling out hair is less likely to help.

Hopefully you kept receipts for anything connected with your art, though this could mean you have a boxful of papers to shift through and determine if there are any amounts that could be deductible.

While making those decisions (and consulting with an accountant), here are some reminders--
1. Collect all 1099 forms and service agreements
2. Note the times you traveled beyond going to the venues
3. List all membership dues and directory listings
4. Gather receipts for props relating to your performances
5. Determine resources that inspired the creation of your art
6. Consider use of Internet, cellphone and other devices
7. Figure out office supplies used
8. Consider the times you were coached
9. Recall education (registration/tuition)
10. Remember "special" orders

Collect all 1099 forms and service agreements
Throughout the year, you may have signed W-9 form after W-9 form until you knew where to sign blindfolded. The venue has record of you being there, but do you?

I submit an invoice and a service agreement to every place performed. My service agreement is like the one in "The Story Biz Handbook" by Dianne de Las Casas. When you own this book, then she gives permission to use the form as you see fit. This book has been self-published for many years, yet now Libraries Unlimited will release it in Fall 2008. I recommend pre-ordering a copy if you do not already own it.

As the invoices and service agreements forms are already on my computer, they are easy to print and file into a binder. As payment is received, I can mark "PAID" on the invoice and staple either a check stub or a copy of the check onto the paper.

When January comes around, some of the venues may send a 1099 form to add to your records. Universities and library systems tend to be the most organized in this regard. Most places will not send a 1099 form so it is up to you to be as accurate as possible with your income.

Remember to add any grants you received during the course of year, too.

Note the times you traveled beyond going to the venues
Keeping track of your mileage to and from your gigs is obvious, though there will be other times that you traveled in the name of storytelling.

For most places in the same county, I prefer to meet the sponsor in-person and check out the intended stage area a few weeks or even a few months before the actual show. Anytime my car drives to take care of a storytelling errand means I need to make note of the number on the odometer.

A weekly--sometimes semi-weekly--tradition is my trip to the library. I often max out my library card when checking out books to research variants of folktales or to learn business practices to further my reach as an artist. (Luckily my husband is quick to lend me his library card in case of an emergency.)

If you attend guild meetings or storytelling events as an attendee to listen and learn, then the pencil should be moving to make record of these things.

Sometimes travel means parking expenses. Even if you paid $1.00 (or less), always ask for a receipt before leaving the parking lot and label it for the storytelling reason you were there.

When the stomach growls during a storytelling event, keep track of any meals or snacks needed.

List all membership dues and directory listings
Think about the professional organziations that have allowed you to network.

Some of the organizations where I am a paying member: National Storytelling Network; Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance; Storyteller.net; and Utah Storytelling Guild.

Being part of the Chamber of Commerce or the Arts Council may also have fees.

Gather receipts for props relating to your performances
My Dutch cap has transformed from a prop to a trademark. Almost every performance I have it on. Whenever I attend conferences or festivals, I wear it.

This cap has had such a presence that it may be tricky to know if it is considered "prop", "storytelling wardrobe" or "marketing". The best thing is to explain the role of the item and see what your accountant says.

One of my most intense performances is "Hephaestus: Fire Within", which explores child abuse and abandonment with the Greek gods Zeus, Hera and Hephaestus. When sharing this roughly 50-minute tale, the mood could be disrupted if I had my water bottle with me. Instead, I bought a nice earthy-toned goblet so I could drink water without throwing in an object outside the time period.

Determine resources that inspired the creation of your art
The bookstore is a dangerous place for me. . .until I remember that the books I buy could be tax deductible if they played key roles for inspiration, research or story development.

Especially when looking at folktale variants, I keep a bibliography. If my book purchase was ever questioned, I could quickly point out the reason for listing it for my taxes.

Consider use of Internet, cellphone and other devices
Most of my gig requests come by email, usually through my website or blog. This means that a certain percentage of my online time is dedicated to the business. My monthly Internet fees will reflect the percentage of time used for storytelling when reporting taxes.

My cellphone is the second most common way I am contacted for gigs. If I cannot meet with a sponsor in-person to find out more for expectations, then phone interviews are required. Again, a percentage of my time answering and calling for storytelling will be needed when reviewing the monthly cellphone bills.

Whenever I go over my allotted cellphone minutes, it is always for storytelling and at least I can have comfort that some tax relief will result despite the huge bill at the moment.

If other technological devices are used such as faxes or pagers, then make a note of these expenses.

Figure out office supplies used
Whether or not you have a wonderful deal with the local print shop, most likely you go through paper and ink like running water.

From printing invoices to service agreements to thank yous to surveys to whatever else, there is plenty of paper work to be had for the professional storyteller.

Every few months I replenish pens as I always have a basketful of them for audience members to take in order to fill out feedback forms.

Some performances or workshops need a flipchart with easel. Occassionally I have a booth to promote myself or any number of storytelling organizations. I have an inventory of booth items such as tablecloths, table-top easels, plastic brochure holders, metal rack to sell CDs and DVDs, moneybox, etc.

Even the planner to keep track of gigs is important to note for office supplies.

Consider the times you were coached
No matter what industry, there is always a chance to improve your craft. The storytelling community has well-known coaches such as Doug Lipman, Susan Klein, Nancy Donoval and Kevin Cordi. Then there are the ones who are more quiet though willing to share in whatever way they can like Don Doyle.

Some storytellers have coaches outside the community to guide business practices or to merge storytelling with other art forms such as music or dance.

Once a week for about a month I was coached on how to pronounce Hawaiian words so I could shares tales from those islands with more ease.

Anyone can be a coach and some give advise for free. Yet, when money is exchanged for the wisdom, then the government needs to know.

Recall education (registration/tuition)
Beyond one-on-one coaching, there are the conferences and workshops.

I have budgeted to go to the National Storytelling Conference ever since attending my first one in 2004. My registration fees are deductible, though I would attend regardless if I could count it on taxes.

I am in process of getting my Masters in Storytelling through East Tennessee State University. Normally tutition would be deductible, but not for me. My parents had the insight to create a 529 Education fund to cover tuition, housing, and textbook expenses. I paid my way through Brigham Young University for the Bachelors as I knew other expenses would face me in the "older" years like mortgage.

Remember "special" orders
It is not every year that I have a photo shoot or that I order 500+ pins. Nor is it every year that a CD is made or a DVD is filmed. What may be a category one year on taxes may not be there the next year.

These "special" orders tend to be ones we are quick to share with family and friends and perhaps forget to announce for the government to help with our deductions.

There are many more tips to know when filing taxes and that is why I always turn to my accountant.

The good news is that by doing our taxes, we know we made money with the art we love.

Until we tell again,

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