"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Within Grasp: 3 Effects and 11 Trends of Art Audiences for Storytellers to Reach

Oftentimes the audience sets the trends more so than the artists. Applause and attendance inspire what is shared with the rest of the world, especially when funding is concerned.

Artists either adapt these trends into the way they present or the art itself may fade.

Storytellers usually are the last to embrace newfangled ideas such as technology or philosophies. Yet, storytellers could lead the way for other artists this time through the three forces and eleven trends reflective of art audiences. Kelly J. Barsdate, from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, presented these forces and trends at the Mountain West Conference on the Arts on May 7, 2009. I have applied them to storytelling with permission from Barsdate.

Three Forces:
  1. Effects of a Digital Age
  2. Explosion of Choice
  3. K-12 Education Gaps

Barsdate said, "These three forces equal profound changes in cultural participation norms." Though positive changes have occurred, Barsdate worried over the headline in newspapers that said people spend more time with their computer than with their spouse. She also discovered that driving while distracted was on the rise. At least there was a rise in visual IQ for people.

"Customization is now common place," stated Barsdate. She mentioned that people are looking to buy an experience rather than a product. Besides the performance or the exhibit, people notice the physical and emotional experiences. Even the ease or difficulty of parking or the structure of intermission could make the difference.

When it comes to schools, sometimes it seems like there is a never-ending "intermission" of art within its walls. Children who see arts are more willing to become artists or audience members. As youth graduate from high school, employers cannot find employees who are creative enough in the workplace. From a national survey, 97% of employers said that creativity was important while 85% of employers could not find these people from those they interview.

Eleven Trends:
  1. Aging Arts Audiences
  2. Digital Natives as Creators
  3. "The Curatorial Me"
  4. Time-Shifting
  5. Virtual Experiences
  6. Audience as Actor
  7. Participation at Home
  8. Crowd-Sourcing
  9. Distinguishing Design
  10. Blending of Science & Marketing
  11. Mega-Impact of Micro-Trends

Aging Arts Audiences
Across the nation, the media age of adults is 44. The median age is at least 3-10 years higher when compared to the typical audience for opera, classical music, theatre, musicals, ballet, and other events.

Many storytellers are concerned by the generation gap. Out of 300 storytellers at a conference, perhaps 10 to 15 are from the 18-35-year-old range. Yet, it is from the audience from which many storytellers are born. After hearing stories, someone often thinks or says aloud, "I could be a storyteller, too."

The National Storytelling Festival has had the Youthful Voices tent since 1997 with two years as the exception. These youth range from elementary to high school ages. Over twenty national tellers headline this festival, but again there is a gap of featured tellers involving 18-35-year-olds.

To combat this harmful trend, the Weber State University Storytelling Festival will create marketing materials geared specifically for college students to audition for the event. Existing venues as well as new venues could make room so that all generations experience storytelling and promote its growth for decades to come.

Digital Natives as Creators
With free and relatively inexpensive ways to record CDs and DVDs, there is no excuse for storytellers to lack in CDs and DVDs to share with their fans. Products made from home may not be as high-quality than if it was done through a film and duplication company, but that result could be pursued for future projects.

Storyteller Karl Behling uses Dexster, editing software for audio. He only had to pay a one-time fee of $40.00. He now can have back-of-the-room sales. Another storyteller, Carol Esterreicher, burns a single story on a CD as a giveaway at each of her performances.

"The Curatorial Me"
Libraries and museums will always be grand places to gather and collect boundless information. Lately, we as individuals have taken on this curatorial role as we buy individual songs and stories rather than whole albums or our iPods and mp3 players. Websites like iTunes.com and iTales.com are places to build collections.

Most of the time, the storyteller chooses what stories will be experienced on the CD or DVD. The latest trend is to give customers the power on the outlook of the final product.

Some day soon it will be common practice for storytellers to work alongside third-party companies so that the fans could create on-demand CDs or DVDs. For example, the CD or DVD titles could be something like "My Favorites of Bill Harley" or "My Favorites of Elizabeth Ellis", etc. The storyteller would have already-submitted artwork so that when the third-party company burns and mails the professional copy to the fan, then it still looks as slick as if it was bought from a store.

The idea of on-demand burning of CDs and DVDs relates to being able o hear or watch the stories when it suits you. Obviously, storytelling is best experienced by the audience live. Yet, with our busy lives, we need to make it easier for storytelling fans to enjoy stories.

The trend of time-shifting will only make the idea of audio or video recording as necessities rather than luxuries.

Besides performances, some storytellers have grasped onto the power of podcasting. These shows can be downloaded whether it be 2:00pm or at 2:00am. Some of the most note-worthy podcasts: The Art of Storytelling with Children hosted by Brother Wolf; Timeless Tale Podcast hosted by Djeliba Baba the Storyteller; and The Amphitheater Series hosted by Sean Buvala.

Virtual Experiences
We love to enjoy storytelling in a live setting, but sometimes it is not possible if you want to gather many listeners together from different countries. As the Internet is not a place of boundaries, then people can "gather" at their computer screens and enjoy virtual experiences.

Kids have jumped into this world through programs like Disney's Club Penguin where you are told to "waddle around and meet new friends. Over 30 million 11-12-year-olds have joined this crazy adventure complete with a penguin avatar/character to interact with other penguins through filtered chats and live moderators.

For adults, the most popular program is Second Life (SL), a 3-D virtual world found on the Internet for social and business purposes. At least 20 million people registered are over the age of 30. Once there, you could join the Storytelling Guild of Second Life headed by storyteller Dale Gilbert Jarvis. Several storytellers have told in this setting complete with earphones hooked to the computer. You can read about my own experience here.

Audience as Actor
If us storytellers love to be on stage, then imagine all of the audience members who secretly--or not so secretly--wish to be on the stage, too.

Some of my most precious memories are when I ask for volunteers from the audience to play different parts in a folktale I am about to tell. Instead of the original "Three Aunties" Norwegian story, it became "Two Uncles and an Auntie" due to the people who volunteered. We all had a laugh and the story became more meaningful. I still had the audience learn a part so that they did not feel left out of the fun.

Storytelling in and of itself is an interactive art form. Whether or not audience participation is used, storytellers look into the eyes of the audience and are willing to adapt their stories to match the feedback they sense from them. Of all the art audience trends, storytelling excels in this category.

Yet, there are ways to increase this strength.

Take, for example, the video game Guitar Hero. Although a controller shaped like a guitar is used, the sales of "real" guitars soared. Perhaps such a boost would happen if there was a "Storyteller Hero"-type game geared specifically for kids and youth. Since storytelling games are popular, perhaps it could be translated into a computer game where kids could play with other friends on the screen or even play with kids halfway around the world. If we can do it for Wii, then we could do it for us.

Participation at Home
Musicians and comedians have held House Concerts, and suddenly this venue-in-the-backyard has reached the hearts of storytellers. Rivka Willick, Dan Keding, and Priscilla Howe are all experienced storytellers in this arena.

The Utah Storytelling Guild became intrigued with the idea and will launch House Concerts as a guild-sponsored "professional development series" in Fall 2009. This program was designed to provide a place for storyteller to share material for older audiences.

With such terms as "staycation" creeping into our vocabulary, then perhaps "house concerts" will become as well known and revered.

American Idol is certainly one of the most popular forms of crowdsourcing where feedback from the audience determines the results. These types of shows and entertainments believe in "the wisdom of the crowds". However, as popularity tends to trump quality, sometimes new or unknown artists are overlooked.

Every so often, creating the event is full of chaos. Parameters, therefore, need to be set so expectations can be met by both the creators and the participants of the events. For example, Voromator.com had a design contest where anyone could create original art from eight shapes posted online.

A similar activity could involve eight items that need to be in a story that was submitted by audio or video means online. People could vote on their favorite stories.

In the storytelling community, the tall tale or liars contests are prevalent. Professional storytellers and/or community tellers could sign-up to share a story within a certain time frame and allow the live audience to decide on who was best.

Story Slams would qualify as having one of the highest levels of crowdsourcing while the National Youth Storytelling Showcase would be at a more moderate level.

Distinguishing Design
People could be attracted sophisticated marketing through the use of visual art. Most people make judgments about people, places, and things within 90 seconds. Though many factors are involved, the artist's attire, body language, and demeanor are key elements.

Some storytellers have unique garb to have them stand out from others. Donald Davis is known for wearing bow-ties while I am known from wearing my Dutch cap. Some storytellers, like Dianne de Las Casas, have logos that people could recognize hundreds of feet away.

If color is involved in the branding, then brand recognition jumps to 80%.

Art audiences notice these details; us storytellers would benefit to keep this in mind as we design posters, fliers, websites, and even in what we wear on stage.

Blending of Science and Marketing
We know that storytelling has great power, but unless we have some of the "facts" to back it up, some people are not interested in hiring artists. Some people may consider what we do "fluff". However, if you can prove that there are socio-developmental needs or that enzymes in the brain respond in positive manners, then you will be heard and respected that much faster.

Kendall Haven has published many books with quantifiable statistics such as STORY PROOF: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story. You may also find these kinds of academic articles in Storytelling, Self, Society: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Storytelling Studies published by Taylor and Francis, Inc.

Proof is not the only needs. Scientists have discussed the power of "sensory branding" in that what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch add to our experiences. With our events, what are the emotions and associations that are appealed to in a positive manner? Could there be some changes to enhance these sensations?

Mega-Impact of Micro-Trends
The world permeates with specialized groups or micro-trends. Yes, we can say that we are all human beings, but there we have the people who are the:
  • Working Retired
  • Native American Language Speakers
  • Young Knitters (over 6 million as teens and in 20s)
  • Video Game Grown-ups (Average age of 33 to the 50+)
  • New Luddites (also known as "America's great unrushed" or the "Tech-NOs"
  • And many more

For every trend, there is always a counter-trend.

Any artist could explore the places they tend to share their craft and discover what groups are living amongst them.

Storytellers could gear programs for these niche groups.

As you consider the current art audience trends, remember that anyone could be a trend-setter. It may be one of those timeless roles that the storyteller has always had.

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