"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

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