"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

Sunday, November 01, 2009

3 Reasons Why Improvisation is Crucial to Youth Today

Think of the perfect words to say in a few seconds.

Then say them.

Such are skills that storytellers cherish and that youth could benefit from if trained from the beginning.

Reasons to Build Improvisation Skills in Youth:

  • Balance Recitation in Life
  • Increase Independent Thinking
  • Develop Quick Solutions
Balance Recitation in Life
Youth have been told what to say since babies. "Mommy" and "Daddy" are common requests from parents for the baby's first words.

Siblings may join in this contest of words.

When my parents gave me a tape recorder for Christmas, I pretended to be a reporter. I had certain phrases I wanted my younger brother and sister to say.

In schools, kids are expected to memorize, recite, or repeat what the teacher says or what the textbook proclaims. Sometimes this encouragement is needed to build vocabulary. However, at a certain point, we need youth to explore their world and play with sound and images.

Some teachers boost creativity in their classrooms by encouraging students to write historical fictions. Other teachers merge storytelling games with curriculum. Usually the games work best as a review of material so that the students could adapt their improvisations to the knowledge learned.

Increase Independent Thinking
Kids cannot vote in elections until the age of 18. That is a while to wait before their voices are officially counted.

In the meantime, they rely on the decisions of adults to shape most of their political, economical, and social lives. . .unless they build confidence through improvisational skills.

Improvisation is another way to give youth permission to think outside the norm. Risks and mistakes are part of the practice. Adrenalin rises and the heart pounds, but these natural reactions seem to also fire the synapses in the brain. The more we test our wits, then the easier and faster our brains work.

Story repertoire could be as much as a source for building improvisational skills than storytelling games.

The youth could make a list of stories they could tell with ease. Then they could make a list of stories that could be told after one or two run-throughs. While reflecting on the keywords, moods, and moments within the stories, the youth may be inspired to tell one story over another given the situation.

Perhaps they may create stories simply by looking into the eyes of their listeners.

Now that is independent thought.

That would be a gift that youth could take with them and use while giving presentations in college, answering interview questions of potential employers, or addressing needs of their own families as they have children of their own.

Develop Quick Solutions
Youth seem to fly through their baby, toddler, adolescent, and teenage years until suddenly they are going to college.

Every second that youth save in making right choices--whether saying no to drugs, cheering a friend to do their best, or handling bullies--improvisation skills provide resolution to their lives such as through role-playing techniques.

The lack of role-play or exploration of possibilities leads to resistance.

While attending an excellent workshop taught by national teller Angela Lloyd for teachers and parents who coach youth tellers, two youth tellers were asked to be coached in front of everybody.

As Lloyd promoted the tellers to share the prepared stories in words other than what was memorized, one youth repeated the same words. Lloyd was patient and asked the question in different ways so that the youth learned other ways to approach the story.

Sometimes, if shy, youth may be more willing to play with the story when done with a partner. Then the youth would have support in the process and could bounce off pretend dialogue with the other person for the story.

Who said that quick thinkers needed to be alone to produce the solutions?

When other youth are not available, then at least the youth could count on you.

Go out there. Cheer on the youth. Enjoy storytelling games. Build stories in the moment. Role-play.

You know you want to play. So do the youth.

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