"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Look it up!": New Words in Storytelling & the Arts

The global storytelling movement for the past 40 years has brought new words to the art.

Sometimes, these words are shared for hopes of protologism, in which the creator of a new word or phrase is desirous for it to be accepted within the art community or beyond.

For the storytelling community, the word seems to be "accepted" when included or in relation with events such as the National Storytelling Conference or the National Storytelling Festival. There are moments when words, not meant to be used more than the one time, take flight and land in other areas across the world.

Here are some neologisms for our art--
  • Urban Storytelling/Word Artists/Spoken Word--The term "urban storytelling" has become popular mostly due to The Moth, a New York City-based nonprofit at The Players Club. At this place, people from the community are guided by an artistic director to find the essence of a dramatic personal experience and make it presentable for the public. The themes of urban storytelling tend to be edgy and on the rebellious nature for whatever may be on the social agenda at the time. Sometimes the words and images chosen seem raw or violent. The word "spoken word" could be applied, though this term has different meanings depending on the region or intended audience. In the 1980s, the term "spoken word" was adopted by academia in an effort to categorize word-based performance as opposed to established areas of art like music, theatre, and dance.
  • Poetry Slam/Story Slam--Storytelling and poetry have existed for centuries and now these art forms have evolved into something more intense and lively. Story slams and poetry slams outreach mainly to high school students and college-aged adults, though all ages, cultures and races participate. The key components of a slam--poetry or storytelling: anyone could share poem/story; no props or costumes; about five judges from the audience and/or pre-determined panel; time limit (3 min. for poetry, 5 min. for story); and the importance of audience reactions. The event usually has three rounds of about 7-10 artists, with a different artist to be "sacrificial". The audience is taught to boo and hiss as well as to applaud. Heckling is encouraged. This world is highly competitive. The National Storytelling Conference had its first Story Slam in 2008. You can learn more about slams at my blog.
  • Anti-Slam/Art Stars--With all the booing and hissing from slams, then this movement of "anti-slam" came along. Usually that is how it works. For every trend there is a counter-trend. Reverand Jen Miller developed a poetry slam and created the venue called "Collective: Unconscious" and premiered on October 17, 2007. Every week the performers are called "art stars". Though the performers are given boards that show 1-10 numbers, the purpose is for the panel of "judges" to all give "10"s, thus calling each participant a winner. Performing arts could range from stand-up comedy to fiction to commentary to poetry and even rants. Author John S. Hall said of this movement, ". . .where everybody gets a ten. In a sense, that's kind of like the opposite problem [to slams], which is that you're saying there are no winners or losers at all. And even at an open reading, there are winners and losers, but it seems less stratified and controlled and gamed."
  • Tridem--This term was coined by Elizabeth Rose, director of the National Youth Storytelling Showcase, in 2007. Although the showcase asked for auditions for solo and tandem storytellers, she would also receive entries with three storytellers telling one story. Though the word "tandem" is still used as the category title, the word "tridem" was needed to be more specific in the kind of storytelling taking place. This term has spread to other youth-oriented storytelling events such as the Weber State University Storytelling Festival where over 70 youth tell stories alongside national and regional storytellers. The new audition page on the website has been clarified to say that the event looks for solo, tandem, or tridem performances.
  • House Concerts/Backyard Concerts--Although musicians, singers, and comedians have used houses as venues for their work, this have been a new term amongst the storytelling community in the past couple years. One of the 2009 Storytelling Magazine issues spotlighted this type of event featuring Dan Keding and Rivka Willick. Other storytellers who have benefited from these events are Priscilla Howe and Tim Ereneta. A host, sometimes the same person as the storyteller, invites friends and family to their house. Depending on the weather, the event could be inside or outside. Some of these concerts are ticketed while some are offered free. The artist could be testing material or may give polished performances of the same level as any paid venue. The Utah Storytelling Guild will launch and sponsor House Concerts as part of their membership's professional development series in Fall 2009. The participating storytellers must have completed at least five practices with specific audiences. The storytellers will tell for free, but will be allowed to sell merchandise.
  • [Here]Say/[Murmur]--Yes, the brackets are important if you want to refer to the community-based storytelling occurring in some downtown areas. The use of [here]say is the play on the word "hearsay", which means "scuttlebutt or gossip". In the storytelling sense, [murmur] is a pioneering mobile-based oral history documentary project which started in Toronto, Canada. Out from [murmur] came [here]say, which are community-based oral history documentary projects. Often these two programs are thought as story maps. For example, a person may see a sign in the downtown area to call a certain number to hear a story about that part of town. More signs would scatter along the street to have an experience like an art walk. What started in Canada has now become popular in the United States. You can read more about them here. Or should I say hear?
  • Second Life/Storytelling Guild of Second Life--This refers to a virtual world developed by Linden Lab on June 23, 2003 and not a second chance at life. Or is it? Second Life (SL) can be accessed through the Internet where people could create an avatar/character to look like them or look however they want. These avatars are often called "residents" and socialize with other "residents". This is for ages 18 and older, though there is now a Teen Second Life for 13-17-year-olds. People could own virtual property and places. For example, storyteller Dale Gilbert Jarvis created the virtual place for the Storytelling Guild of Second Life. There are regular storytelling events streamed lived where avatars gather. If you want to read about my experience with Second Life, then read it here.
  • UnFestival/UnConference/Open Conference--These are kinds of event where audiences "vote with their feet". Rather than the festival or conference where the audience is expected to arrive and leave sessions when scheduled, the audience is given permission to come and go as they feel the need. The presenters accept this fact. This eliminates the need for time limits on stories. Anyone could be the storyteller, presenter, or speaker. The term "open conference" is the more common term and derives from the adjective "opensource" that means "public access and community development". For the storytelling community, these terms were shared often due to the decision by the National Storytelling Network to not have an annual conference in 2009. Rather, this year became known as the "Year of the Regions" as NSN combined efforts with regional storytelling conferences in sponsorship. Some storytellers resisted the break in tradition and proposed having unconferences. Read more about these terms at Tim Ereneta's blog here.
  • Open Space Technologies/Brain Trust Sessions--A facilitator guides a group of people to briefly share the theme of the gathering. People announce what topics are of most interest to them. These ideas are listed on a piece of paper or board for the improvised agenda. The person suggesting the topic would be expected to lead the discussion when people can decide what room to go for the discussion. When all ideas are listed, then discussions ensue and people attend whichever ones they wish. The attendees organize the action. At the end of each session, someone reports what was expressed within the group. The report is then recorded and and becomes available to anyone. OSTs actually came into being 1985 by Harrison Owen. For the storytelling communities, Brain Trust Sessions occurred for the first time at the 2008 National Storytelling Conference. One room was used, though a couple sessions took different corners of the room so many topics could be discussed in small groups at the same time.
  • Storytelling Elitism--Storyteller Marilyn Hudson coined this phrase in 2008 after what she saw happening with the Oklahoma Tellers. In this case, the elitist could be the person who hires the storyteller or could be the storyteller himself. The elitist is the person who "sees only one type of storytelling as 'true storytelling' (theatrics vs. traditional, for example)." The organizer or the teller may see one style and may want to imitate only that style at the event. This causes difficulty for new tellers or lesser-known tellers to grace the stage. For more of Hudson's views, you can go here.
  • Festival-Worthy/Festival-Ready--When storytellers submit promo materials or audition items for storytelling festivals, then they are hoping to be "festival-worthy". This term is used most often for the National Storytelling Festival as well as for the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival due to the prestige associated with these events. I have heard the term "festival-ready" by Kathy Palermo, one of the directors of the Arne Nixon Student Storytelling Festival. Since Palermo teaches a storytelling class at Hanford High School in California, she has her students perform for this event. The students divide into several classrooms with a professional storyteller in each room to act as mentor/judge. The professional storyteller choses which students could tell later that afternoon and are then deemed "festival-ready". This phrase is even written on the ballot sheets. The afternoon is open for the public and not all youth are expected to be chosen to share their stories. However, all youth do receive certificates.
  • New Voices--These storytellers are in the 18-30-year-old range. Due to the small numbers of this generation in the storytelling community, some people consider age 35 to be part of this discussion group within the National Storytelling Network. This group formed at the 2005 National Storytelling Conference in Bellingham, WA. The "new" part of the name refers to the ages and not necessarily to their amount of experience with the storytelling art.
  • YES! (also known as Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance)--The name for this organization was voted into place by people within the Youth Storytelling special interest group merged with the up-and-coming Educator special interest group of the National Storytelling Network at the 2005 National Storytelling Conference. The NSN Board encouraged the groups to merge due to some overlapping goals. The exclamation point was a key part of the name and represents "alliance". The name was also chosen to answer the question, "Storytelling in Education? YES!".
  • Edu-tainment--This word combines the words "education" and "entertainment". Storytellers wanting to promote both elements in their program told sponsors that they had "edu-tainment" value. Some storytellers are offended if their stories are only considered entertainment or "full of fluff".
  • Sense Presence--This term was coined by storyteller Bill Harley. The word is a combination of "stage presence" and "senses". The storytelling community often talks about "The Triangle" in that the three important relationships in the storytelling: teller to story to audience. Harley said that "sense presence" was when a storyteller did a perfect melding of these relationships in which the right story was told to the right audience by the right teller. A teller may not feel "sense presence" after every performance or even from a story that received that feeling before. It was something to strive for each time a storyteller went on stage. Harley predicted that these sense presence moments were rare despite someone's experience with the art.
  • Storetry--This word combines "story" with "poetry". My first encounter with the word was when Mitch Capel (a.k.a. Gran'daddy Junebug) labeled his style as "storetry" at the 2007 Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. All his stories/narratives were recited with rhythm and rhyme. I have since seen a book named Storetry by Allan Williams and published by RoseDog Books.
  • Citizen Journalist/Public Journalist/Street Journalist--Anyone can post news online and be their own journalist through tools like blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. This movement started around 1988 and has exploded due to people being able to go on the Internet from home or on their cell phones. These terms are not to be confused with "community journalist" or "civic journalist", who are considered professionals. Several storytellers write regular blogs so to join the citizen journalist force. From the seminal 2003 report We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information came the statement that these journalists are "playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information."
  • Ezine--This is the back-formation of Ezine Articles. Writers are able to write about their expertise and become featured at EzineArticles.com. This site has a searchable database that make it possible for people to ask permission of the writers to add these articles to their own newsletters. In a content-driven world, this service is invaluable. Anyone could submit articles, but there are guidelines and all articles are proofread before posting online. Some storytellers have received offers for performances or presentations due to the articles posted at this site.
  • iTales.com--Like iTunes.com is geared mostly for music, the iTales.com site is where people can find stories available for download at similar fees. The "i" refers to "Internet". These audio stories could be placed on your computer, mp3 player, iPod, or on a CD. Storytellers receive a commission on any of their stories sold at this site.
  • Digital Storytelling/Web-based Storytelling/Hypertexts/Narrative Computer Games--These terms are still being figured out, though, at this time, they refer to using the Internet or computer software to create visual and/or audio ways to share true stories of one's life. The main focus is to share it in an engaging way that involves the emotions. Most of these stories are less than eight minutes long. One of the most popular places that uses these forms of storytelling is the Center for Digital Storytelling in San Francisco.
  • YouTube Storyteller--This phrase was likely coined by storyteller Tim Ereneta. On YouTube, he created a "channel" or group within YouTube called "The Ancient Art of Storytelling". People could submit their videos to this channel if they were performance storytelling pieces. Some people submit stories only online rather than going about the world as professional storytellers. Thus, they could be called "YouTube Storytellers". There are also storytellers who have over 20 videos of stories on YouTube and could also qualify for this term although no number has been set for who would be a YouTube teller. Perhaps if you at least have one, you can join this family!
  • Fringe Teller--This phrase, like "YouTube Storyteller", was most likely created by storyteller Tim Ereneta. This may have been the shorter way of saying "a storyteller who performs often at fringes". A fringe is a festival-like atmosphere that allows people to apply for a slot. The person could use the average of 55 minutes in whatever way he wishes. There are adult content warnings listed, if applicable, so the audience member could decide on their attendance. Most fringes gear for adults though there are specific family-friendly ones. Common artists found on the fringe circuit are musicians, comedians, and actors. As more and more storytellers are looking for alternate venues, the fringe has been a welcoming place. Any performing artists must pay for their own advertising, but they are still linked to a specific fringe.
  • Masterminding--This is a verb created from the noun of "Mastermind Group". Sean Buvala has popularized this term in the storytelling community. A Mastermind Group is a bunch of people all committed to improve as individuals in their industry. The group often meets in-person, by telephone, or through online methods to "check-in" with each other and keep everyone accountable for their individual goals often involving the marketing and/or development sides. The group may all be storytellers or the group may be a mix of business men from all backgrounds.
  • Shout Out--Several storytellers have labeled blog posts with "Shout Out" when they want to promote an individual, company, or idea. This term is a sign of respect and is synonymous to the phrase "giving props". The phrase emerged in 1990 with rap artists and has finally caught on in the last year with storytellers. Sometimes game show hosts have used the term when contestants have family in the audience so there could be a "Shout Out" to them.
  • Storytelling Tourism/Storytelling Tourists--This is the act of gathering a bunch of people to travel to another place--most likely a foreign country--to delve into that place's take on storytelling. The "tourists" are usually storytellers who combine their skills with the storytellers of the area visited. There is then a cultural exchange of ideas and techniques. The most famous of these tours are organized by Eth-Noh-Tec, a storytelling husband and wife team. Each year tends to rotate between India and China with the tourists coming from the United States.
Please share any words that you have heard within the storytelling community. . .or ones about to emerge.

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

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Generation Gap of Tellers: 3 Ways to Prove This Myth Wrong

By the way some storytellers sound, it seems that the 40+-year-American Storytelling Movement is coming to a close as more and more tellers are aging . . .and passing on.

At one time, I, too, had wondered about the generation gap.

Every time I attended a National Storytelling Conference, I was lucky to find 10 tellers within the 18-35-year-old range. Youth tellers, except for the Kids’ Koncert there, were practically nonexistent.

So we thought.

Then, after seeing the curious and excited looks of college students as I ran a booth on the art on their campus, I realized that the generation gap was only as looming as one made it to be.

Suddenly, I needed sunglasses to see the bright future.

Three Ways to Prove Generation Gap Myth Wrong:

  • Use Different Names for the Art and the Artist

  • Make Appearances on Campuses Beyond Performances

  • Promote Generational Participate at Events

Use Different Names for the Art and the Artist

We are attached to the name “storyteller”. The name has a long and cherished history with people of all ethnicities, tongues, and climes.

Then something changed.

People have their lists of what de-valued the status of storytellers: television, video games, Internet, falling family values, drugs, gangs, etc. Whatever the reason or reasons, the name “storyteller” does not have the power it once had with youth and college-aged students.

Although the term “storyteller” could still be used as a label or profession, we need to add other words to our daily vocabulary within and without the storytelling community.

Otherwise, we run the risk of having certain images evoked when saying “storyteller” such as the picture of an old lady reading stories to preschoolers. Yes, we do have storytellers that have talents in “story-reading” as well as connecting with preschoolers, but our art offers even more variety than this pre-conceived idea.

So how can we increase other storytelling images when youth or college-aged students think of our art?

We connect with other narrative-based art forms and use some of their words to invite others to our art form. Some terms to consider: humorist, slam artist, spoken word artist, sit-down comedian, solo performance artist, etc.

For new festivals or events, we can experiment of naming it a “story festival” rather than a “storytelling” festival. For example, out in Hawaii there is the Talk Story Festival. Director Jeff Gere said that the phrase “talk story” was slang used often on the islands and thus it was adopted as the event’s name.

Make Appearances on Campuses Beyond Performances

Imagine the chance to introduce storytelling as an art to pursue with 3,500 or more people. . .in one place. That is easy to do when you connect with a campus.

Weber State University has an annual tradition of booths, prizes, and food also known as the Wildcat Block Party each Fall Semester. I cheered when given approval to have a booth to promote the Weber State University Storytelling Festival there.

Since there would be over 100 booths, I knew our booth had to stand out. We had to have a drawing with many storytelling-related prizes and candy. We also had the basic email list, festival business cards, and fliers.

After about five hours, I earned some sunburns—red battle scars—that told me that the day was victorious.

The results: 98 people entered the drawing, 56 signed the email list, 70 cards were taken, and 30 applications to audition for the festival were taken.

Yes, I do understand how the numbers work. Though 30 applications to audition were taken, perhaps five actually make the effort.

Yet, if five new college tellers were gained per Fall Semester over the course of 20 years, then that would be 100 new artists to storytelling.

Consider now that this was done for Fall and Winter Semesters at 50 universities, with one per state, what would your number be?

That would be 500.

The current membership for the National Storytelling Network is about 2,000 people.

Though, this idea of booths is not limited to college campuses. Although the main place to find storytellers are in elementary, middle, and high schools, there could be booths dedicated to the art during events where these students could be found.

We could play with numbers all day—and this is all hypothetical—but you can imagine that the generation gap of tellers does not have to exist.

Promote Generational Participation at Events

Most storytelling events unintentionally ignore youth and college-aged students by the tellers they invite. Every event is entitled to figure out how they go about choosing their tellers, however, if concerned about the generation gap of tellers, the next step is to invite them to tell.

As mentioned earlier, the booth promoting the Weber State University Storytelling Festival had applications so that college students could audition with 8-minute-or-less stories.

When students approached the booth, we called out, “Are you a storyteller, a story appreciator, or both?” Regardless of their answer, we could either guide them more about storytelling events happening and/or share opportunities of how they could be storytellers . . .and get paid.

This way, we start each session with two 3-minute story slots for youth, one 8-minute story slot for college students and adults, and finally about a 25-minute slot for the featured teller.

Returning to the numbers game, what if every storytelling festival reserved 3-5 slots for college students and youth?

Perhaps you will no longer believe in the generation gap of tellers, too.

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