"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Storytelling is Dead!": 3 False Readings to the Art's Vital Signs

Once upon a time the art of storytelling was born. The world celebrated the birth as the human family became more unified and edified upon each tale told.

People seem unable to pinpoint storytelling's exact time of birth or that first story.

We have relished narratives without knowing all the details.

Some details have been important. . .particularly to storytelling's death.

Is the art living or shriveling?

Vital Signs Of Storytelling In Relation To:
  • Technology Ticker
  • Generational Gauge
  • Political Pulse

Technology Ticker
False Reading: Technology will doom Storytelling.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

To some people, the progression in technology sounds like a metronome alongside a piano to provide the steady inspiration to create something extraordinary like concertos or full-orchestra pieces. People build relationships or collaborate who--due to distances--could not otherwise meet.

Others account the ticking to a time bomb. The explosion of social networking on Facebook, Twitter, and blogging could cause casualties, but will storytelling be one of them?

In the article "Native Canadians and the End of Storytelling" written by Jerry Mander, a woman believed this was the case.

She watched as television came to her village. Less and less children had any desire to sit around the elders at night to learn of their culture. Instead, the culture came from the television. She lamented, "The generations are sitting all together now, silently watching television. And on TV it seems like being young is all that matters and that the old have nothing to say."

No matter your view, we must remember that for every trend there is also a counter-trend.

Anyone who vocalizes their opinions strengthens these trends and counter-trends.

Society will seek for ways to interact the more that people latch onto laptops, cell phones, blackberries, or whatever else is the next vessel for technology.

Storytelling is often the counter-trend to technology despite existence of digital storytelling or virtual teller sessions through programs like Second Life. In fact, storytelling is more rooted in society than ever before because of the existence of technology. As long as the human race progresses with ideas and inventions, then there will always be the ones to uphold the narrative art in its purity.

Yet, we still come upon titles of lectures as given by Douglas Rushkoff like "The End of the Story: How the net killed narrative, and what - if anything - comes next". This was presented by The Brooklyn Experimental Media Center and the Dibner Family Chair in the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology.

Rushkoff questioned, "Is the traditional story itself a relic, incapable of providing meaning over time?" He continued, "Is it our job to create stories capable of competing with the ones currently programming our society, or to abandon this arms race altogether in favor of new artistic and cognitive mechanisms. And, if so, what are they?"

Lately we have witnessed storytelling combine with other art forms so Rushkoff may be right that some of us are "in favor of new artistic and cognitive mechanisms." Though does adding different styles to storytelling constitute a death of some kind?

The essence of the art must exist in order for other styles to be added to it.

Generational Gauge
False Reading: Storytellers are dying out with no one to replace them.
Needle up. Needle down. Needle still down.

Or are we reading the gauge upside down.

While interviewed by the Reading Eagle, professional storyteller Charles "Chill" Kuhn from Coatesville, Pennsylvania said, "Yes, I do believe storytelling is a dying art." He added, "But I would like to add that we are all storytellers whether we realize it or not."

This comment was enough for the article's author, Rebecca Strauss, to dubb the headline as , "Pro says love your stories: Professional tale weaver Charles 'Chill' Kuhn laments his dying art".

Not everyone agrees with this verdict, as was apparent when Betty Smith, who has worked with the National Storytelling Network staff as well as with the International Storytelling Center, responded to this article and declared on Facebook, "Hey storytellers. . .someone needs to let this guy know that storytelling is alive and well."

Reading the regular column of "Remembered Voices" compiled by Wendy Gourley in the Storytelling Magazine may seem that we lose at least one well-loved storyteller a month. However, for every storyteller who passes on, we gain at least two more new tellers.

Whether or not these new tellers align themselves with storytelling guilds or organizations does not change the fact that they do exist.

The Weber State University Storytelling Festival, which celebrates over 70 youth tellers as part of its program, has considered expanding from a three-day event to a four-day event in order to give at least 20 more youth opportunities to tell. Such a change may happen within three years. This does not count the hundreds of youth who participate before tellers are selected.

Whole schools or school districts declare storytelling units or festivals to fulfill the demand for this art.

The generational gauge certainly has the needle up.

Political Pulse
False Reading: Storytelling Organizations have lost their influence.
Thump. Thump. Tha-thump.

Can you hear the life of storytelling organizations? We did not always have them.

In an excerpt from The Way of the Storyteller, Ruth Sawyer, the author, wished, "there might be a guild for storytellers today where masters and apprentices might work together for the upholding of their art." She died five years before the National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling (NAPPS) was formed in the United States in 1975.

Sawyer was not the only one who desired organization, as Kathryn Tucker Windham, key person of the American Storytelling Movement, wanted to be the first paid member of the NAPPS. Nowadays, NAPPS is known as the National Storytelling Network (NSN).

In NSN's golden time, there were over 4,000 members. This membership has dwindled to about 2,000 members.

During a personal interview in 2000, Windham reflected, "Organizations come. Organizations go. Storytelling remains. . .I'm at a place where I'm not scared anymore about what happens if this stops or that stops or whatever."

Though every organization, whether connected to storytelling or any other industry, have their periods of growth and then times that plateau. We are in such times.

Organizations do not equal storytelling. Windham was right that the art would continue whether people promoted the name of the National Storytelling Network or any other organization. These entities exist to give structure and possibility to what we cannot accomplish as individuals.

As if to respond to the current economical instability, there are still people who wish to join in the efforts. Tim Ereneta pointed out that Europeans tend to be more adept at these unions. He shared the promise for the International Storytelling Network, also known as Red Internacional de Ceuntacuentos. You can read Ereneta's blog post on this discovery here.

So membership numbers may rise or fall, though it appears we will have many organizations and guilds for decades--if not centuries--to come.

You must ask the question: Do you believe storytelling is "alive and well"?

You know my answer.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Performance Blog: http://familyfamine.blogspot.com/
Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/rachelfans
Other places to find me: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Professional Storyteller

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