"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Auditions: Judging Beyond the Story

Listening to the stories at auditions energize me . . .until it comes to judging them. Certain elements are obvious to note such as the story launch, voice, body language, word choice, and story closure.

The story performance, though important, is only part of the storytelling audition process.

The teller on and off the stage inspire other elements to consider such as:
  1. Audience Connection
  2. Stage Presence
  3. Respect the Committee

Audience Connection
While I am often on the judging side of storytelling, at times I am the one being judged. Several contests and auditions abound in my state.

During one particular contest, the judging committee announced my scores for the different categories. I had scored high, though my Audience Connection number was average. I was not surprised. It happened to be a story that I wrote, which then could lead me to sound frozen.

The story probably would have sounded the same with that audience than if there was no one else in the area.

From that experience, the following questions come to mind about Audience Connection:
  • Rather than a staged performance, does the teller give the feeling of talking with the audience? This does not mean direct audience participation, though this technique may be used.
  • Even if the piece is memorized, does the teller still seem to have a rapport with the audience?
  • Is the teller willing to be flexible depending on the audience feedback?
At some contests or auditions, as much as 20 points out of 100 may be for Audience Connection. All other elements, by comparison, have 5-10 points.

Every ballot differs. Some ballots ignore Audience Connection as a category.

Stage Presence
Every time I perform, butterflies abound in my stomach. The trick with Stage Presence is to look as if no insects are having a party with the nerves.

When I first competed in storytelling as a sophomore in high school, sometimes the butterflies wanted to fly out. . .along with my lunch.

During one of the breaks at the Wisconsin finals with about 100 tellers, I slipped away to find an unused classroom with a wastebasket with my name on it. Thankfully, my composure has improved.

A storyteller could improve stage presence simply by breathing deep before getting out of the car or entering the building of the auditions.

Perhaps a pre-recorded motivational CD with your mix of favorite songs or quotes will boost the confidence.

If I need to be energized, I listen to “Dancing Queen”. For a more serene composure, I play “Daydream Believer”. As for a moving quote, I learned this from Don Doyle: “Behind you infinite power. Before you limitless possibilities. Why should you fear?”

Carol Esterreicher taught me the “Circle of Excellence”, a neuro-linguistic technique of picturing an imaginary circle wherein you perform the perfect performance in the perfect setting with the perfect audience. Then you transfer these images upon the actual performance.

Keep in mind that the audition starts as soon as the storyteller enters the room. The audition continues as the judging committee calls the storyteller to the stage. Each footstep, arm swing, and shoulder erectness communicates either fear or confidence.

When judging, I watch to see if the storyteller accepts the applause. Too many rush off or fail to soak in the appreciation from the audience. A professional is poised from beginning to end.

Respect the Committee
This may seem like a strange category. Unfortunately, I added this category for the rare individuals who. . .come off the wrong way.

Before Audition: There are times when storytellers have felt entitled to be part of an event. Performing is a privilege. Sometimes a polished teller is not invited to give a chance to less experienced tellers who need a stage to grow. Consider your words in speech, telephone, or email. Are you too confident in being chosen?

During Audition: Did you arrive on time if a time slot was reserved? Are you pleasant when you turn in your application? Does your tone sound flustered, impatient, or annoyed? If you are a walk-in, do you understand that you might need to wait a while based on the number who came to audition?

After Audition: If chosen to be part of the event, do you continue to have good manners towards any and all people involved with the event? If not chosen, do you keep your anger in check? I like to write a personal letter to each person not chosen to tell. I share the positive as well as what could be improved to possibly be chosen the next year. Much time and thought go into these letters.

The good news is that most people receive full points for the Respect the Committee category.

So be outstanding at the next audition. You could be a star.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Family Famine Series Site: http://www.familyfamine.com/

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Narrative Intelligence: 3 Ways to Stroll Memory Lane

Inspired by East Tennessee State University

Storytelling Masters Program

Much credit to Roger C. Schank

—Author of "Tell Me A Story: Narrative Intelligence"

as well as David Novak

—National Storyteller/ETSU Professor

Question: To what extent do you already know stories?

Answer: You know more stories than you think you do.


  • List any stories that you could tell right now
  • List any stories that you could tell after one or two run-throughs
  • List any other stories that you know that would need two+ run-throughs

Wise Storyteller = right story at the right time and with many stories in the repertoire

Index Stories

We create indices/labels for stories so to tell stories effortlessly and unconsciously. You may also apply indexing to when interviewing others.

Index Construction & Understanding:

1. Match indices for story retrieval

Example: Creating themed storytelling performances

2. Add aspects of a new story to empty slots in an old one

Example: Love a story except for the ending

3. Seek further evidence for stories that were only tentatively held as having been correctly understood

Example: Feminist tales


  • Take story from your repertoire and complete the right side of the table below--

Types of Indices




Plan to Reach Goal



Group Exercise:

  • Form circle or semi-circle as a group and pretend that there is a fire in the center.
  • One person says any word or phrase toward the imaginary fire. In no particular order, everyone can say what words come to mind. Some people may talk at the same time, which is fine because you are creating a bonfire of words. Whatever word was last heard is what a person connects to when tossing out a word. Try this activity with the eyes open and then with the eyes closed.

Shape Memories

The ability to remember an event/story increases with:

1. Immediacy of telling after event experienced/story learned

2. Frequency of telling

3. Uniqueness

4. Significance to you

The act of sharing a story with someone else creates its own memory. The more the story is shared, then the more memories connected to the story.

With every version of a story learned, your memory is changed. Every version blurs the details so it is easier to put your own spin to the story. You will have details that you cling to and you will have details that you drop. Finally, ask yourself “How is this story the story of my life?”

Example: Disney version of “The Little Mermaid” vs. H.C. Andersen version


  • Tell a familiar tale backwards.
  • How has your viewpoint of the story changed

Understand and Share Stories

We may have stories that reflect different cultures but it does not mean we understand the stories completely. According to Schank’s book, if someone learned French and traveled to Paris, that person would struggle with the language. That person did not learn the life and speech genres such as the slang and proverbs so as to avoid embarrassing situations.

Insider Story Examples: personal tales, stories of your culture

Outsider Story Examples: multicultural tales, stories of another place or time


  • Using your repertoire list, place an “I” next to your insider stories and an “O” next to your outsider stories.

Combinatorial--Questions to ask when feel like there is no story to tell:

1. What story do I know that relates to the incoming story?

2. Are there any events in my memory where I had a similar goal for a similar reason?

3. Do I have a story in memory where the main goal is the same as that being pursued in the story I am hearing?

Schank, R. (1995). Tell Me A Story: Narrative and Intelligence. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
ISBN: 0810113139

Yashinsky, D. (2006). Suddenly They Heard Footsteps: Storytelling for the Twenty-first Century. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.
ISBN-10: 1578069270

Suggested Reading:
Bavles, D. & Orland, T. (2001). Art & Fear. Santa Cruz, CA: Image Continuum Press.
ISBN: 0961454733

Coles, R. (1990). The Call Of Stories: Teaching and The Moral Imagination. Boston: Mariner Books.
ISBN: 039552815
Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (2003). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
ISBN: 0226468011

Rodenburg, P. (1993). The Need For Words: Voice and Text. New York City: Routledge.
ISBN: 0878300511

Rodenburg, P. (1993). The Right To Speak: Working With The Voice. New York City: Routledge.
ISBN: 0878300554

Sawyer, R. (1977). The Way of The Storyteller. London: Penguin.
ISBN: 0140044361

Simmons, A. (2002). The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence and Persuasion Through The Art of Storytelling. New York City: Perseus Books Group.
ISBN: 0738206717

Smith, A. D. (2006). Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts-For Actors, Performers, Writers, and Artists of Every Kind. New York City: Anchor.
ISBN-10: 1400032385

Zipes, J. (1995). Creative Storytelling; Building Community, Changing Lives. New York City: Routledge.
ISBN: 0415912725