(If you want to retell any of the stories listed below, be sure
to obtain permission from the copyright holder if the material
is not in the public domain)
1) Sometimes I take along a "treasure chest" with a prop
in it that has something to do with the theme of the stories on
my program. Then I tell the story at the end of Grimms' Fairy
Tales about the boy who went out into the snow to chop wood for
the fireplace, found a key in the snow that he cleared, then a
chest with a lock. The hinges were so rusty that he's still opening
the lid, and only when he succeeds will we know what's inside...
This gives the audience a chance to guess what's inside, and then
I show them (if it's a small group, I might be able to pass around
several objects)-- jewelry or seashells or whatever--and then
the stories begin.
2) My reference regarding props is to traditional storytelling
- one voice alone on a stage or a stump to entertain an audience
with a story, be that audience one or a thousand. As with anything
there are always exceptions, props being handy and appropriate
with certain historical stories, or with a puppet show which may
be entertaining but is not storytelling in the traditional sense.
Props are great if the story needs them. Not great if the storyteller
needs them. Puppets can handle props if they are small. Everyone
has a problem if they are big. One exception is if the puppets
are larger than life, then the props can be as large as the puppets.
They can even be part of the plot, as the Bread and Puppet Theater
has shown, when they carried Nixon's effigy head in a parade.
One prop we use is an ancient, yet quite portable, military pump
organ. We only use it for historical stories. It has its own,
quite interesting, story. So, used with discretion, props are
4) I have found that props are very effective when I want to bring
kids up to participate in a story. A good example is Blue Sea
by Robert Kalan. It is the very simplest of picture books, with
text like, "Little fish, blue sea." "Little fish,
big fish, Swim little fish." The big fish chases the little
fish, with of course the desire to eat him or her. Then "bigger
fish" is added, then "biggest fish" So the four
fish are all swimming around chasing each other, 3 of them after
a meal, then they come to an obstacle, the first 3 swim through,
but the biggest fish gets stuck "Ouch!" I have the audience
repeat the text after me, it's follow the leader with me as the
lead fish, (little fish) I use 3 kids with fish props ( made out
of foam), big fish, bigger fish and biggest fish, they swim them
along in the story, and I use 3 kids holding the obstacles also
made out of foam. The obstacles look more like the letter P. This
is a story text dependent upon the book illustrations. Narrative
would have to be added, so instead I added the props and made
it into a participation story, I generally do it 3 times, using
3 different groups. I had one library program where the kids kept
wanting to be in it, we did it 5 times. By the second or third
time I usually can trust someone to be the lead fish so I can
stand outside of the story and direct it if needed. I like the
simplicity of the text that the whole audience can repeat after
me, and the props and volunteers really help to illustrate the
story. I like the story, it's filled with chase scenes and nobody
gets eaten Back in 99 at an arts showcase, I tried a bigger stage
version, with self standing obstacles and inflatable fish that
ranged from a 20 inch fish that I carried to a 7 foot shark that
2 students carried. I've used it very few times since, my smaller
version is much more practical under most circumstances. The fun
parts of the story are the chase, moving the fish through the
obstacles and the Ouch! When the biggest of the fish gets stuck,
and is left behind, then the next one gets stuck, then the next,
so in the end it's just "Little fish, blue sea." This
is a fairly common children's library book -- Blue Sea by Robert
Kalan. To me, without the illustrations being acted out by the
audience volunteers, a lot of narrative would have to be added
to give the dialogue proper meaning. The props really help to
bring the story to life.
5) I use props and puppets with all age groups. Some of my grown
up stories work with the puppet in tandem telling with me. Sometimes
I have a hat or magic trick or prop. If you work with them confortably
I say anything goes .The important thing here is be sure the story
is age appropriate. 10 year olds love puppets, like to be part
of the story too.
6) We've had this conversation several times in the past, and
as always people come down on all the various sides of the issue.
It still comes to the same thing--some will use props, some won't,
some will sometimes, some will occasionally, some swear they will
never because they are "pure" storytellers, some say
props enhance/detract from the story. As long as there are many
storytellers there will be many ways to tell a story. Not one
right way to tell a story, but many stories told the right way
by the right teller. Bad teller, bad story, props or no.
7) 11) I very rarely use props with stories preferring to allow
the audience to visualize the "props" in their mind.
That way the story is unique to each listener in their mind and
they have "ownership" of their version of the story.
This has worked well for me.
Response: I love to watch the kindergartners
shake their heads YES when you ask them if they can see the frog!
8) Props won't "prop" up a weak story. A good story
requires no props or any of the trappings of theater, but is made
a really good story when the storyteller, with words alone, paints
just enough of the picture to enable the audience to color in
the rest, thus forcing their involvement with the story. This
skill with words and this process is what makes storytelling interactive.
8) That's rather the way Jack's Mama uses props. Something in
my basket or on my person may remind me of a story. For example,
around my neck is the key--all rusted and BENT--that JM used to
unlock that ol' trunk for Ashpet, the one that held her mama's
weddin' dress an' shoes. It's bent because the lock and the key
both were rusted, and the key just barely worked. Inside my magic
bean bag is a clay turtle that Jack made for me. Hit puts Mama
in the mind o' th' time Turtle flew South. Etc. 'Course, I use
my cow horn spoons as I sing the old songs and song-ballets. Or
my mountain dulcimer, though rarely that. And 'course, Mama's
straw hat (the perty one with the turkey and pheasant feathers
and the wildflowers, gives service when Mama tells 'bout Jack
and His First Job, because I take it off to carry the butter home....er...uh....almost.
Mama carries her sewin' with her most o' th' time. With her pieced
quilt top. And the extra tow sack (poke) shorely does come in
handy to bundle up young'nes when tellin' a number of tales on
Jack. Reckon I use more props than I first thought. Oh, and there's
the lavender soap Ashpet used. And the beans. And the Riddl'n'
Book. An' the golden scissors. An' Mama's sewin' rocker. An' the
leather thong. An' the walkin' stick. I swan!
9) I personally only use props on one story, Hats for Sale. I
like to get into the meat of the story with as good a beginning
as I can and get the kids to seeing visual pictures in their mind
instead of seeing something I have as the image. That is why I
do not costume. I want to disappear from view of my audience because
they are each seeing their own images of the characters, places
10) I use props WITH my storytelling at all grade levels. Some
objects or stuffed animals that relate to the stories add to the
atmosphere as the student assemble for storytelling. (So I have
a collection of stuffed animals, a leather camel, a wooden snake,
Zulu Warriors, etc. that continues to grow so I will have the
right prop for the right story when I decide to tell it.) I pick
up my prop and hold it as I introduce a story, the country it
comes from, etc. Then I set it back down and tell the story. I
use a prop within the story only if it enhances the story in some
11) I have learned to eliminate props and costumes almost entirely,
mostly because I am so dang lazy--I hate carrying stuff. I discovered
many years ago that if a story requires a crystal ball, then pulling
one (invisible to many eyes, but perfectly easy to see if one
is in story trance!) out of my pocket is simple enough. There
is almost always a frog in the other pocket--one just never knows
when a frog will be necessary, after all. Of course I do not need
to mention that it is important to remem ber which pocket contains
the frog and which contains the crystal ball--to pull out the
wrong invisible object can only lead to embarrassment. <G> In fact, recently I've improved the process, and have begun wearing
outfits that only have invisible pockets. This is much handier
than relying on the two or three pockets supplied by the manufacturer
of my clothing! I've also got invisible flowerpots that accompany
me everywhere I go, and that lovely invisible-flowered tablecloth
that Jack took home to his mama, and all manners of invisible
saddles, bridles, horseshoes and helmets that are absolutely de
rigueur in personal stories about my life with horses. To carry
all this stuff in real time/space would require a much larger
truck than I am prepared to park, and would make airport security
into a permanent nightmare. Simple is best, simple is best. I
once worked with a woman who believed that there were two types
of storytellers: those who use props, and those who are woefully
unprepared. I guess i t's pretty obvious in which camp she figured
I lived! It took several demonstration sessions to convince her
that an invisible frog was just as effective as a cute stuffed
animal frog. But I am nothing if not persistent! That said, I
am deeply appreciative of tellers who are able to incorporate
costumes and props into their telling. Doesn't work for me, but
I love to see it done well! laughing all the way,
12) I don't think it's a matter of props vs. imagination. I also
think that depending on what you call a prop and how and when
it's used, there's absolutely no age limit where props are or
aren't appropriate (oops... I do have some reservations about
using masks with kids under 4... another topic). But what is a
prop? puupets, masks, costumes, hats? Can you use a prop before
or after a story? Here's a recent example and with 10 year olds.
Native American kids at a Pueblo school. Came back from a trip
to California with a couple of seeds from redwood trees and a
postcard showing the size of them. Only thing out here are some
scrawny pinons and junipers. Later during that same session told
a version of Joe Bruchac's Four Wishes, where a man who wishes
to be taller than anyone else is turned into a tree. We're the
seeds shown earlier a prop? Did they interfere with imagine? Did
they spark it ... being able to touch something concrete from
far away and then try and imagine what it felt like to be there?
I think this has bearing too on the previous discussion about
keeping the core of who you are as a person/teacher/entertainer.
Use props if you're comfortable and can see and feel your listeners
responding. No rules other than prescence and authenticity!
13) I use my finger cymbals when I tell Sheherazade,
just a little, but it really focuses the story and creates the
mood a bit. I don't think I'd want to have a prop for every story,
though. I already carry too much stuff. I remember Johnny Moses
telling to a large group in the main St. Louis County library
and passing around absolute treasures, including a bag his mother
or grandmother beaded. He was pointing out that there always had
to be an imperfection so the work couldn't steal your soul (my
work never will, no fear there). As large as that group was, his
treasures came back to him safe and sound. He also accepted my "greats" crayon drawings as if they were treasures!
14) Actually, the novel doesn't specify how he animates the creature.
We know he's studied chemistry, physics and Medieval magical texts
(Paracelsus, etc.), but none of the electrical fireworks of the
movies are actually in the novel. Nor does it give any description,
not much more than "watery eyes." We get our impression
from Victor's own response to him, which is pretty biased, after
all, and the response of the family in the woods - though any
big guy who's been living in the woods that long probably looks
pretty foul. Nor is the "criminal's" brain" stuff
of the movies. In our own stage adaptation, the Creature was a
quite beautiful guy whose brain was that of a two-year-old. His
first word, on waking, was, naturally, "Mama..." For
me, the theme had nothing to do with the "dangers of science"
but rather with Victor's attempt to circumvent death (spurred
by the death of his mother) by usurping birth (cf. Ernst Becker's
DENIAL OF DEATH), then his flight from responsibility for his
offspring. I think there are very few good stories that can't
be told, in some version, to people of any age. Whether the parents
& teachers want them told to kids is another issue. As Sunday
School kids we had no problems with the bloody genocides chronicled
& celebrated in the Old Testament. Every time we slaughtered
some more Philistines, leveled some more cities, we had that wonderful
sense of rightness. Ah, childhood, when we grooved on the simple
things of life.
15) I had problems with the bloody genocides of the Old Testament.
In grade school our readers (parochial school) had adequate stories
of the saints and martyrs to chill the blood. Stonings, burnings,
etc. I still do and always will have problems with those, in the
old testament, in the current news, or even any one murder. Intentional
hurting of other people is something beyond the pale of my understanding,
and I hope it always will be. I do recognize mental illness and
emotional imbalances, and admit that people who suffer from these
can and do act in ways which damage others. That "healthy"
"mature" persons do it is not something I can digest.
Query: Have you ever come across an article, where the author is very anti any storytelling that involves any sort of props.
Richard M. Germany 5/29/05
Response: This is not about the article you are looking for (sorry, I haven't read it) but about the idea of whether to use props or not.
As a storyteller that also performs in costume and as a character, I have many times questioned my need to use these "props" in my storytelling. I also tell without anything extra, and really enjoy drawing in my audience with words alone. However, when I arrive as Mother Goose, and I see the shining eyes of the children, curious about this character, and eager to listen to what she has to say, I feel the use of this character prop is not a bad thing. It helps to immediately focus the audience's attention, and then I can easily lead them into "Mother Goose Land" through the stories.
A couple of years ago I added puppets to my program, and find that the puppets are VERY popular with the children (and adults, too.) Because my puppets are integrated into the stories, I feel they enhance, not detract from the stories. When I first started using them, I really didn't know what to do with them--they felt superfluous and unnecessary. But after working with them more, they took on personalities of their own, and really joined me in my telling. The only problem I have with the puppets now is how to gracefully put them away so I can use both hands for some of the stories. It always feels wrong somehow to put them back in the basket after bringing them to life.
I have seen storytellers overuse props, I think. The props become the focus of the program instead of the stories. Also, props can clutter up a program if they are too abundant. We are already bombarded with too many material things in our lives--and especially our children are victims of too many toys (and especially too many clever toys that leave nothing to the imagination!). The use of props in storytelling can actually impoverish a story by keeping it in the material realm rather than encouraging the audience to rely totally on their imaginative powers to co-create the story with the storyteller. I love being able to create a story out of "thin air," like weaving a spell in which a material object is totally out of place. Also, I don't have to drag along a bag or basket of props--I just show up! It is very freeing not to rely on props.
Maybe the key idea is not to "rely on props." A storyteller should first be able to hold the audience's attention by story alone. Then, if a prop seems like it might enhance the experience, it can be added, but not made the focus of the story.
Judith W. 5/29/05
Response: I love telling stories and frankly I prefer no props and I have used them at times (as in a recent residency). My one rule: There are NO rules in storytelling.
Mary K. C 5/29/05
Response: As many people know, I don't buy the 'There are no rules' argument. It is not only storytelling where you hear this position being proposed. My other major interest is photography and there are even people there who want to claim that 'There are NO rules' to photography...no need to develop skills...no possibility of improvement (because there is no objective baseline to measure from)...no principles of picture composition (that have been proven to work over the years by painters)...
Storytelling, as a traditional craft, has its share of 'customs and traditions' that have been established over the centuries. Even the modern 'storytelling revival' has 'customs and traditions' that we respect even if they aren't called 'rules'. For example, at our weekly storytelling group in Toronto, we expect that people will 'tell' and not 'read'. Don't we ALL expect that tellers won't 'read' their material? Isn't that a 'rule' or is it something that we feel we can let go in our 'anything goes' attitude? Our modern storytelling revival has two separate origins and the 'customs and traditions' that we follow depend on where we trace our ancestral origins.
The Toronto school of storytelling has its origins in the library system. As such, our traditions are different from those storytelling groups that trace their origins to theatre. I can see that groups with a theatrical heritage might have fewer issues with the use of props than those with a library heritage.
As far as props ( or excessive movement, or taking on roles, or using funny voices or wearing costumes) it is 'not our way'.
Meryl A. 5/29/05
Response: It seems to me that Marie Shedlock (Art of the Storyteller) rails against using props in storytelling, but I can't seem to find my copy to check it out! If I've actually lost it, I will be greatly distressed! I love both Ruth Sawyer and Shedlock and recommend them always. Shedlock in particular states Do's and Don't's very clearly, giving one concrete ideas about ways of doing things to test and try for oneself. Seems like props was one of her strong Don't's!
Mary Grace K. 5/29/05
Response: I do not have the article either, but I do have an experience to share relating to the topic of props in storytelling. First, I have to say that I really like Richard's two rules. At the same time, I admit that I have a personal guideline that I have been following for twenty-three years.
My decision to not use props in my storytelling came in the form of a lesson taught to me my a seven-year-old girl back in 1982. I had just finished telling seven or eight stories to a gathering of fifteen or so children. The stories included a Japanese tale called "The Magic Nose Fan." At a central point in the story a Tengu monster gives the main character a large, round, red fan with magic powers. I described it simply as being large, round and red. I had hidden a large, round, red fan from Japan on a table behind me until I came to that part of the story, when I cleverly (or so I thought) reached behind, bringing it out from its hiding place and using it as a very "authentic" prop for the rest of the story. At the end of the concert, I asked the kids which stories they liked best. One little girl said "I liked them all, but there was a problem with the nose fan story. That fan you have is not the fan in the story. The fan in the story looks different." To this day, I honor her wisdom and thank her for the gift.
John C. 5/29/05
Response: My rule is - Enjoy yourself.
The only props I have used have been for participation telling. For example - The House that Jack Built. I have a big card with a simple picture. The helper holds the card and lifts in at the appropriate time. The kids love it. I have a stuffed golden goose for - The Golden Goose! The kids hang on to it and follow it around. Yes, it can get out of control!
The other prop situation that I have faced is the puppets and magic supplies. THose are expected, and we developed tactics to keep the little ones out of them.
Mags S. 5/29/05
Response: That fan you have is not the fan in the story. The fan in the story looks different."
Yes, that just about says it all!
Looking back on my own early years as a teller, I'm sure it was very much an ego trip in which I was at the forefront of my awareness - "Look at me!"
Part of the personal development as a storyteller could be seen in terms of a growning appreciation of the listener. An increasing sense of responsibility for the listener certainly helps me to take a step back in that ego trip. (Still an ongoing process, as many who know me can attest.)
All of which does not mean there is never a place for props, costume, etc.
Richard M. Germany 5/29/05
Response: This is an interesting thread. I just purchased the book, The Art of the Storyteller by Marie Shedlock,
last weekend at the Bay Area Storytelling Festival. I think the reference to the use or not use of props in her book is in the first chapter titled "The Difficulties of the Story", page 13, part 6, The danger of overillustration. Since I just got the book I haven't read it yet. I just remembered I had it and scanned for the topic on this list. I hope it's what you all were looking for.
As for myself, the only prop or props I use is my bib overalls, red plaid shirt, cartoon charactered tie, straw hat and cane. I really don't need them, but I feel better when telling by being in the character of an old storyteller from down on the farm. Okay, so the cartoon tie doesn't fit the charactization, but it is an eye-catcher. Everyone seems to like it (and I really like it).
I agree with Richard that I risk putting the teller before the story when wearing that get-up, I believe I've managed to avoid it by emphasizing the stories in my telling. If the costume gets the listeners' attention at first and the stories and the way I tell them hold their attention, then I feel I've accomplished my goal of entertaining them.
Tim M. 5/29/05
Response: In my storytelling I rarely use any props, and only IF they enhance the story experience. I do have one story I tell, using a puppet. I am not a puppeteer by any stretch of the imagination, and at first it did feel very awkward. However, I paid a lot of attention when I took Granny Sue's terrific puppetry workshop at STF in 2004, so at least have a little bit of grace when using the puppet.
I do find that the younger children are thrilled to have a puppet as part of the story. Just this past week I did two shows using this puppet. I try to make sure the children don't see it prior to my bringing it out for the story. However, last week there was a bit of a snafu in the performance space and we had to quickly find another, which meant moving tables and chairs. I was busy helping and put my things down. There was a young girl there with her mother, not a student at the school, and I gave her the puppet to play with while we were figuring out the space, so when the audience came in, there was the puppet, laying on the table in plain view. One of the children asked "Why is the raccoon there?" I told him that he would help me tell a story later. The child replied, "But it's a puppet." I put my finger up to my lips and said, "Shhhhhh, he doesn't know he's a puppet." An audible "ahhhh" went through the audience of wee ones and they all nodded their heads, playing right along with me. It was such a sweet moment.
So, I guess this is my long winded way of saying thank you to storytellers like yourself, who integrate props into their storytelling so gracefully. You make it easier for those of us who are a bit less adept.
Karen C. 5/29/05
Response: This thread has me a buzzing with excitement because I only have 2 rules for myself as a storyteller: (1) Tell the stories--don't read them!!!! (Yes, for those of you new to the profession, ther is a difference between storytelling and reading). (2) Read and read and read......... (Whta else can I say about this)?
Now, as far as props go, I don't usually use them unless I wish to make a point. In one of my programs: East Meets West: Asian Folktales and Ghost Stories I use a couple of items set up on a table. When I tell Lafcadio Hearn's The Boy Who Drew Cats, I have a hard stone ink set which I sho the audience what the boy did to get his fabulous ink to draw. In The Legend of Amaterasu-Omi-Kami I have a Buddhist prayer drum which I use to yell and carry on as the Gods and Goddesses dance to bring Amaterasu out of her cave and bring Her light back to the world. Yes, I even do Tanuki and the Magic Fan where I use a beautiful fan to make
Tanuki-san's nose grow larger and smaller. I love using these props, but the only ones I use while telling are the fan and the prayer drum. I have also been toying with the idea of wearing a kimono for my Asian stories program and a Greek toga a la the kinds that the Senators wore--not...I repeat NOT...the ones the yonger, more handsome Greek Youths wore (I don't have the body for those).
Anyway, I have been thinking of doing some different things to make my stories more of a performance piece venue and have been talking with a friend of mine who is a performance artist in Detroit to work with me on doing a show.
Well, that's all for now. Have a great weekend (still 2 days to go).
Rob McC. 5/29/05
Response: The book is online. You might find what you are looking for here.
The Art of the Storyteller by Marie Shedlock
Karen C. 5/29/05
Response: Karen wrote: "There was a young girl there with her mother, not a student at the school, and I gave her the puppet to play with while we were figuring out the space, so when the audience came in, there was the puppet, laying on the table in plain view. One of the children asked "Why is the raccoon there?""
I agree, Karen, it is important not to bring out the puppet or prop until time for it. If you do, the audience will be wondering all through the story "what is she going to do with THAT?" I also made the mistake of bringing out my goose at the very beginning of a program I was doing for Parents as Teachers. I got in the room early, and there was one little boy there already, so I got out Gus (my gander puppet) and informally talked to the boy while waiting for the others to arrive. Then Gus was already out when the others came in, so I couldn't very well put him away--they all wanted to talk to him. We had a long wait because some parents were late, and the facilitator wanted to wait until they were all there--so my nice surprise of Gus that usually happens a little way into my program was spoiled.
By the way, on my evaluation forms, everyone always mentions Gus as one of their most favorite parts of the program, and many teachers have said they would like to see MORE of him (I only use him for about a third of the program). This is frustrating for me because he just doesn't fit into my other stories easily, and I don't want to make the program about Gus.
Judith W. 5/29/05
Response: While I swore I wasn't going to get into any other discussions till I got caught up on my mail I couldn't pass this one by.
There are only two times that I use "props" for storytelling. One is at the local Celtic festivals when I wear an Irish Tudor gown, which actually grew out of the fact I needed clothing that would look good, but would fully protect me from the sun. But it actually is an outfit that I am perfectly comfortable in, and so is "a part of me" - as opposed to trying to display it.
The other prop I use is a Folkmanis fox puppet at the October festival at the local nature preserve. Kit makes a wonderful "attention getter" as I wander the paths, letting the people know of my shows, but the fascinating thing is the responses from both children and adults. The adults actually think Kit's alive, and their children go, "Mommmmm, its a puppet." Yet have no qualms petting Kit and scritching her behind her ears.
Kit's with me up to show time, and at that point she is gently consigned to a cat carrier by my chair.
Cathy M. 5/29/05
Response: This discussion is particularily interesting because I recently took on the
task of separating an arts organizations email list into a Public Relations
List and an Active Members List.
The question came up, for me, what is an "active member"? While many might think "dues" might qualify a person as an active member - that isn't the case in this organization.
Oddly, it was as difficult to answer that question as it is to decide what a storyteller is or is not.
I went through a long and very futile process of trying to separate the one list into two lists. In the end it is as it was in the beginning - one list - I still have no definition of an Active Member. And, I have to say it doesn't matter, the email list functions as it needs to and all the folks on it feel connected to the organization. Who knew?
Mary K.C. 5/29/05
Response: In my opinion, props should be used as a tool not a crutch.
Grandpa Tomm 5/29/05
I find one place where props make sense: when the audience would not envision the situation because the elements in the story are strange to them. When I tell pre-schoolers the story of Shackleton's sailing ship getting stuck in the Antarctic ice, I bring in cakes of ice and a papier-mache model of the ship to float in their water play table before the tale begins, and I let them run their hands over the ice cakes. The ship is set on a table where they can see it as I tell. I also show a map of the ship's journey and a picture of Hurley skinning a penguin in front of a tent. It seems to work for the four year-olds.
Joan K. 5/29/05
Response: Just my own feeling about storytelling . . . The job of the storyteller is to disappear from the view of the audience. Your words allow each and every single member of the audience to visualize the people, places and things in the story. When that is accomplished the story is personalized and instant recollection of personalized accomplishment is archived. Props and costumes require the audience to see the character , things and places that are given to them by the teller. The real impact of the story is when it comes from the imagination of young and old.
I use props in only one story. Caps for Sale! I have teachers become the monkeys and each of them takes a cap from my head as the salesman.
Steve O. 5/29/05
Response: It all depends on your audience, and what your audience needs. And I mean- what your audience needs.
Once a week I work as a storyteller at a rehabiltiation hospital come long stay home for children with brain damage or profound and mulitple learning and physical disabilities. When i first started there I only used my voice and myself to tell the stories, but for many of the children they have poor vision, poor hearing, and limited cognitive functioning.
Whilst my voice ( and the variations in tone, volume, pace, rhythm, patterns, emotion etc) provides them with an aural stimulus, I find that working with a puppet gives them both a visual and tactile focus, so the puppet interacts with each individual child and it becomes a multi sensory expereince for the child. That engages them by the puppet mirroring their behaviours, and repeating their noises as part of the story. I normally wear black so that I become the background for the puppet. I use puppets with hands that I can wear as gloves and interact directly.
The puppets have to be pretty big for some of the children to even see them, and I have found that I need to have different puppets for different stories to avoid "confusion" as part of the brief is to tell stories to develop recognition of and anticipation in stories. As a consequence I now have quite a few puppets, and get very positive feedback on the intensive nteractive work, and the ways it has enhanced the childrens expereince and development.
They are now renewing my contract for a third year- so something must be working and its because I am both telling and using the puppets. The storytelling and puppet combination is more powerful in this setting- more powerful than just reading from a book, more powerful than just playing with a puppet.
Using the puppets I also work at other special needs units and a children's hospice.
However , I do not use puppets in my mainstream work, as I feel it does distract from the storytelling, the focus becomes centred on the puppet rather than the story ( I , as ever, am still the background!)
But when I wander around the hospital carrying the puppet, who in turn is carrying my bag for me ( I have a bad back), I get plenty of people who chat to the puppet and not me ( Speak to the hand!!)
Janet D. U.K. 5/29/05
Response: Traditions are not rules. They are --- traditions. Which means that local aesthetics apply and that those aesthetics will change over time. Someone is going to come along from a different tradition and do it differently, and another person is going to say to hell with that old tradition and find a new way to go about it.
I would say that 'no reading' is not a 'rule' as much as a -definition- of storytelling; if we read we are 'reading' rather than 'storytelling', right. It gets trickier with props and puppets -- the story might still be improvised in response to audience needs, and there's the puppet or the prop as well -- so what is it now?
That said, I certainly agree with the observation made by many people that props can help young children visualize aspects of a story outside of their realm of experience; likewise puppets can help children hear a story because they identify with little fuzzy creatures.
On the other hand, I personally hate dealing with props and puppets -- they make me nervous! And what if I forget them for the gig?
Lee-Ellen M. 5/29/05
Response: There's the crux of it for me -- If I'm too dependent on certain props, then I have to carry them, and I already carry too much stuff. I do like to use finger cymbals for "Sheherazade" and though I can tell the story without them, I feel the lack of them, so I try to bring them, but if I had to have props for every story, I think it would be too complicated.
Mary G. 5/29/05
Response: "I use props in only one story. Caps for sale! I have teachers become the monkeys and each of them takes a cap from my head as the salesman."
I've done this one as a participation story with a classroomful of kids -- half are monkeys, half are townspeople who do buy caps on a good day, but then come up with excuses to not buy on the day of the story. No prop hats, we just pretend. Thus no cooties.
Fran S. 5/29/05
Response: In terms of using props, as a Waldorf teacher I have employed lighting candles, or putting on a storytelling cape, playing a musical instrument such as flute, kinder harp, or drum to separate the story time from the rest of the day, and finishing with the same procedure. In this way the story is framed and sets the mood that of all the day hearing the tale is most precious. Outside of the school setting I may use an instrument, but that's it.
Janaka S. 5/29/05
Response: I like these rules. My stories are random -- chosen by audience members from the socks in my box. Therefore there are little objects in the sock to indicate which story I'm telling.
Jewellery = Ali Baba; Beads = Ali and the camels; Eyeballs = How Nanabush Created the Sun and the Moon
Those are the only props I use.
Dale P. 5/29/05
Response: I have enjoyed the messages my post generated, but my original email was a response to Julie in Australia who was looking for a book or article she remembered in which someone had railed against using props. I thought she might have been thinking of Marie Shedlock. Anyone know? (I no longer have Julie's address; I just replied, so if someone DOES know, we'll have to figure out a way to get her the information.)
Mary Grace K. 5/29/05
Response: I skimmed the Shedlock text online at the address you gave (Thanks!) and did not see anything at all about props. She does advise caution in using pictures, though--in fact, only before the story so as not to interfere with imagination and then, not of the story itself but of something that a young child might as yet have no experience with to imaging, such as the Arctic. Show a picture of the Arctic, take it away, then tell the story and let the child's imagination meld the story into the setting. I suspect she might suggest the same for props, but, Julie, that does not help you on your quest.
Mary Grace K. 5/30/05
Response: My wife was a 1st grade teacher and I used to use the kids as the monkeys in the story. She asked me nicely one day if I REALLY wanted to spread lice around the district. I quit using the hats! Then one day I had a new set of hats and when I went to the classroom, I had the teachers be the monkeys. The kids really loved the concept of seeing their teachers acting silly and the teachers loved it too. SOOO I started using only the teachers and it has been a great ice breaker of a story for the Pre school, k-1 groups.
Steve O. 5/29/05
Responsse: .....except today, while striking the set from Oliver, I was told the true story of a teacher who regularly checked her primary students for lice. None of them ever had them -- but the teacher got a case.
Dale P. 5/29/05
Response: Lice are common visitors to elementary schools. My wife learned to check heads and then send kids to the school nurse for treatment. One of the EXTRA joys that teachers get to experience.
Steve O. 5/29/05
Response: Meryl A. wrote: The Toronto school of storytelling has its origins in the library system. As such, our traditions are different from those storytelling groups that trace their origins to theatre... As far as props ( or excessive movement, or taking on roles, or using funny voices or wearing costumes) it is 'not our way'.
Never any funny voices? Never any costumes? Well that is just plain sad! And yet, I could have sworn I heard some of these voices and I know I saw some lovely cultural costumes and some great dancing, etc. when I was at the 20th Annual Storytelling Fesitval in Toronto. And I believe some of these folks were also librarians - perhaps rebels in the ranks!
Allison C. 5/29/05
Response: Janet D. wrote: "It all depends on your audience, and what your audience needs. And i mean- what your audience needs.
That's the only rule that binds me. I believe the audience comes first; then respect for the story; and my personal preferences come in a distant third.
I very much prefer to tell with empty hands. I most love the kind of telling in which I disappear because the listeners are busy providing their own visuals. But... sometimes the audience needs something different, at least for part of the program.
Props, pictures, maps, etc which get everybody onto the same informational page don't count, I think, as telling "with" stuff; nor do story candles, special chair, etc.; nor does an outfit which differentiates the teller from the listeners. I think they are the FRAME for the storytelling proper. Despite my lifelong puppet allergy, I have learned to carry a mouse fingerpuppet for Japanese preschoolers to meet and pet despite their fear of the tall wacky foreign lady. Then I can put Mouse away and tell stories.
But sometimes the audience really needs objects & puppets DURING a story, for instance to overcome a language barrier (as in Hiroko Fujita's tales told in Japanese to Anglophone listeners) or in Janet's dramatic examples of reaching severely damaged children. I have collected a whole bookletful of rhymes and shortshort stories for my Mouse, but I don't use them unless the situation demands -- most recently, during a long wait in a hospital emergency room!
Fujita-san taught me that toys and props can also be very useful in encouraging youngsters to retell stories: they want to get their hands on the "stuff" and try it themselves (vis my recent posts about the autistic boy who retold some of her stories, using a normal voice and eye contact for the first time). And, like the Magic Feather which convinced Dumbo he really could fly, props can give "dutch courage" to older beginning tellers too. See her book Stories to Play With for a couple dozen examples of gizmo stories.
But I think we need to be on alert when "the audience loves them!" flashes across our screen. They love juggling and trick dogs, too. We're nowhere if our storytelling does not entertain, and sometimes entertainment is all an audience needs or wants: you can't tell a long entrancing "Ahhh" story to a wandering crowd at a noisy festival. I think, however, we owe them a deeper experience whenever the situation allows. And sometimes visuals (this includes excess gestures, mime, facial acting) keep their experience at a superficial level rather than taking them on the inner journey which is the special gift of storytelling.
Fran S. 5/30/05
Response: John Callahan said: "One little girl said "I liked them all, but there was a problem with the nose fan story. That fan you have is not the fan in the story. The fan in the story looks different." To this day, I honor her wisdom and thank her for the gift."
John, your story reminded me of my own experience once hearing a fabulous telling in which a giant appeared. Of course, I visualized my giant doing stuff throughout the story, then, near the end, the teller said something like "The giant's flaming red hair...." and I jolted. The giant didn't have red hair!!!
Your post and others have helped me to articulate my view of props and divide prop stories into two catagories.
1. Stories which are like "breaks" from imaginative stories, and are more like play. I good program for children includes lots of variation, and part of that is to include some activity and interactivity. Stories with props or puppets is a great way to go. After a little physical activity or animation, kids are ready to sit back and use their imaginations again. It's like clearing the palate so that you can better appreciate the next wine.
2. Stories with something unfamiliar which can be shown better than told--like the ice ship story. I often tell an Asian story known variously as "The Comb," "Clod's Comb," or other titles in different translations/sources. It begins: farmer's wife asks him to bring her a comb from the market; knowing he is not too bright, she points up to the crescent moon and says "and if you can't remember, just look up at the moon, and that will remind you." He goes to market, and, two weeks later when he is ready to return, can't remember what his wife asked him to bring her; he looks up at the moon, which is now full, so he buys her a mirror.
This story won't make sense if people visualize a comb as we know it, but I happen to have a crescent shaped carved and painted Japanese comb. Before I tell the story, I show the comb and explain that the comb in the story is a bit different from our combs and it looks like this, kind of like a crescent moon, isn't it. Then I can tell the story and no one will be confused.
As a PS, I'd like to confess that my view of costumes has changed over the years. I have never worn them and still don't, but I no longer think they are catagorically bad and indeed have some benefits in storytelling sessions with children. I have observed that when a very good storyteller is a minute or two into a program, their appearance entirely disappears and it does not matter whether they are wearing a costume or not--unless it physically gets in the way and therefore reasserts itself. At the beginning and end of a program, and between stories, there may well be some benefits to young listeners. My reason for not wearing different clothing is that I want so badly to believe that storytelling is not an antique or fantasyland phenomenon, that it is alive and well and living in America. By wearing the same clothes that I wear to work or to the grocery store or wherever else I go, I think I am saying that the oral narrative tradition and storytelling are a natural part of life.
Mary Grace K. 5/30/05
Response: Mary Grace, I agree with you, sometimes props are necessary to explain certain specifics in a story. One story, which I am sure we are all familiar with, is Something From Nothing, also called The Thrifty Tailor, and probably a few other titles. The story is about the tailor makes a coat, jacket, vest, hat, button and then a story.
The first time I told that story I was surprised at how many children didn't know what a vest was when I mentioned it. Whenever I plan a program that includes this story, I make sure to wear a vest so the children will automatically know when I point to it. Now, is this a prop? Is this costuming? Probably a bit of both, but I don't think it detracts from the story. Just as pausing at the beginning of the tale to ask the children if they know what a tailor does for a living doesn't detract from the story, as many children have no idea is this age of ready-made clothes.
I do agree that props and participatory stories add to a program, especially for the little ones who need to wiggle and stretch about halfway through. I did two shows at a school last week, for K and first graders. In our area we are winding our school year down, and after weeks of rain and dreary weather the children were particularly antsy. I made sure the shows were full of participation and energy but I only used one prop, the raccoon puppet I mentioned in a previous post. I also made sure to settle the children down with a more restful story at the end and the teachers and children were very happy with the program.
There are many ways to approach an audience and enhance the storytelling experience. I think the most important thing is that we know how to read our audiences and share stories that meet their needs at the time.
As for your giant who didn't have red hair...I always start my programs out with a very brief discussion about the difference between storytelling and story reading. I want the children to offer that all important word, "imagination" and they never fail me. I always follow that up by stating that one of the most wonderful things about using our imaginations is that they can imagine the prince, princess, etc., or giant in your case, exactly as they want to, and no one is wrong.
Karen C. 5/30/05
Response: I often start elementary school assemblies by explaining that I didn't bring any pictures because I know they brought their eyes, ears, minds, and hearts: they will make their own pictures!
They can even record these pictures in their mental VCR, for playback later. I show them how to turn it On ("click" an ear). To Rewind, press nose. When you reach the beginning of the desired story, press Stop (hit forehead with heel of hand). Then press Play (push chin down, mouth opens) -- and while you watch the pictures in your head, you can tell your family what you see: a very easy way to retell the story.
At the end of the program I briefly list the stories they've heard. Any pictures? (Kids usually respond vigorously) I remind them how to opearate their mental VCR and suggest retelling the stories to family and friends this evening.
Teachers perk up and seem to like this notion as much as the kids do.
Fran S. 5/30/05
Response: With early elementary audiences, I start them off with "Do YOU know that YOU have a MOVIE SCREEN in your HEAD? That's right. It's a movie screen bigger than the IMAX and it's called your imagination! And YOU are better at creating things in that imagination than ALL of those guys down at Disney or Pixar, because it belongs JUST TO YOU!"
It is amazing how many kids come back later with "I saw the pictures and they were great . . ."
Steve O. 5/30/05
Response: Brother Blue is definitively from another 'tribe'! ;-) His traditions come from the street...from a place where you HAVE to compete for attention with all the more serious distractions of the modern world. In that way...Blue plays on the biggest stage of all..."All the world's a stage" as the bard observes...but we unrepentant traditionalist tellers stand in a much smaller space.
As Marie Shedlock (one of the sources of my tradition) says: "...because the [storytelling] stage is a miniature one, gestures and movements must all be so adjusted as not to destroy the sense of proportion. I have often noticed that actors, accustomed to the more roomy public stage, are apt to be too broad in their gestures and movements when they tell a story. The special training for the storyteller should consist not only in training of the voice and in choice of language, but above all in power of delicate suggestion, which cannot always be used on the stage because this is hampered by the presence of 'actual things'." (This appears to be the source of this thread where Shedlock objects to the use of 'props') She goes on..."So deeply convinced am I of the miniature character of the storytelling art that I believe one never gets a perfectly artistic presentation of this kind in a very large hall or before a large audience." --The Art of the Storyteller, Chap 3.
Someone who believes (as Shedlock) that "Emphasis is the bane of all storytelling, for it destroys the delicacy, and the whole performance suggest a struggle in conveying the message. The indecision of the victory leaves the audience restless and unsatisfied." will have some difficulties using props and costumes?
Coming from a heritage like this, one can perhaps understand why I am not always in agreement with tellers who come from the tradition of the 'larger stage'. We are from different sides of the tracks...both looking suspiciously at the 'other'. I can respect people who come from other traditions...I can respect 'their' way but I still know that it is not 'my' way.
Meryl A. 6/6/05
Response: I assumed, that 'don't read' meant don't gather stories through reading. It never dawned on me that a 'storyteller' would 'read'.
Yes, that is how I meant it - don't read out a text. Of course, as your anecdote makes clear, it is possible to do that and hold an audience, too. (In fact, I modestly assert, I am quite good at this myself, often needing to do it with texts as a teacher.) However, my rule was formulated to use in my teacher-training workshops. The participants, being teachers, see reading a text as the natural thing to do: they do it every day and it will ensure they "know what happens next". My point is that to read aloud successfully you must be an extremely good reader to overcome the barrier of the sheet of paper and still connect with the listeners. A look at what happens in most classrooms will convince you that few teachers are that good (this is where my afore-mentioned modesty shines through again). So if those teachers insist on clinging to the page, they will rarely capture their listeners. Whereas, as we know, if they recognise they do not need that text but just tell, they can let the magic begin! Hence the deliberate over-simplification of the rule to point out an important truth to my participants. I also agree with you: this thread has produced some good food for thought.
Richard M. Germany 5/31/05
Response: I'm not sure I ever would have started telling if it weren't for the costume. I needed it at first to "disappear", to stop being Cathy-who-has-stage-fright and become Caitlin-na-Si-the-storyteller. While I no longer need to have a costume, I still find it useful to wear something that fits with the tradition I'm telling from.
Although it was fun to get up at the OOPS conference in my lovely Celtic knot dress and say "Y'all are expecting me to tell an Irish story, right? Nope. This one is set in the hills..." and follow with a Jack tale in my southern Ohio drawl!
CathyJo S. 5/31/05
Response: I've been following this big issue on using (or not using) props in storytelling. I strongly agree with what Richard says: " Telling in English to foreign students of English -- often at the elementary level -- might fall into the category of special needs. I act out many of the more obscure verbs -- dig, bury, for example. Also, something I learned as a teaching trick, I move around a bit. This helps keep the audience from falling asleep."
... and this is much true. I am a teacher of English as a second and foreign language, basically most of my storytelling is in English, directed to a young audience with basic knowledge of the language. I use props, not a lot of them, but I would say this stuff that is crucial for the understanding of the story. The same with acting, I know that if you overact, language is lost, so I do some acting of those important words/phrases/passages. I usu lecture on methodology and when it comes to storytelling, I am usually asked this question, and my piece of advice is "use it, but not too much, only the essential".
But... I have a question for you... Richard says: "I wear clothes that are colourful, special but not out of place on the street. I feel that the audience would like to see the teller dressed in a way that is eye-pleasing but not distracting. Since the teller is obviously a part of the presentation, while giving the story precedence, I don't think he should fade completely into the background."
And I completely agree with this! (though when I "learned" the art of storytelling I was strongly encouraged to wear black clothes) I don't think it is so much distracting.... what do you think?
María Eugenia Argentina 5/30/05
Response: I have found I like it when a teller wears clothing that is appropriate to the theme or mood of a program. I saw Melanie Ray tell her Tristan and Isolde in the spring. She wore a lovely long gown that fit the style of the story but was not a costume. Also, like Richard says, she wore it to and from and out for dinner after.
Other examples I can think of are wearing a flannel shirt and jeans for stories of farm life - not overalls, straw hat and grass sprig in mouth. A long quilted skirt and white blouse for stories about pioneer days.
Others may not agree, but I look to the teller's "whole package" to give me an indication of what he or she has in store for the event. That includes dressing in an appropriate manner for the program. I would get very mixed signals from someone whose attire was wildly different from the feel of what they are telling. Say bright, colorful, busy clothes for tragic love stories. Or all severe black to an animated preschool show.
If my application is accepted to our local festival, I intend to tell the story of the Lady of Shallot wearing something romantic and probably long.
Ruthanne E. 5/30/05
Response: Another way to give kids an activity or get them into the spirit of a story includes participation with movement but no prop. This works for preschoolers, and K-1 as long as they are thoroughly "with" you: when I wanted them to think about the cycle of an apple tree -- prior to an apple harvest story -- I had them all stand and pretend they had a shovel. We dug holes with our "shovels," planted the apple seed, watered it, watched it grow, etc., all mimed, til it was time to eat the apple. "Eat." Sit down. Tell story.
The only problem I had once was when a dominant twin pretended to plant his brother, which eventually had to be dealt with. Improv is unpredictable!
Joan K. 5/30/05
Response: Telling in English to foreign students of English -- often at the elementary level -- might fall into the category of special needs. I act out many of the more obscure verbs -- dig, bury, for example. Also, something I learned as a teaching trick, I move around a bit. This helps keep the audience from falling asleep.
After I tell the story of Oisín and Niamh in Tír na nÓg to adults, I show a Telecom Éireann phone card that depicts Oisín returning from Tír na nÓg on the great white horse. "We know this story is true, because big companies never lie, and Telecom Éireann wouldn't have this picture on their card if it didn't happen." The cynicism would go over the heads of kids, but adults get a chuckle. It also subtly demonstrates the living status of that story in modern Irish culture.
I also write some proper names on a board, such as Fionn mac Cumhaill, the Gadaí Dubh. I show a photograph of the unfinished round tower at Clonmacnoise when I tell that story, because many have never seen a round tower. For the ending of my outwitting of Death story, I light a short candle when the doctor gets Death to agree not to take him until the candle had burned to the end, "then he blew it out" -- and I blow it out -- "and he keeps the candle locked in a safe place, and that is why this story has no ending." Apart from the black ribbon that Lady Beresford wore around her wrist to hide the mark made by the ghost of her friend John, and the big travelling hat that Raftery's ghost left his money in, those are all the props I use.
I wear clothes that are colourful, special but not out of place on the street. I feel that the audience would like to see the teller dressed in a way that is eye-pleasing but not distracting. Since the teller is obviously a part of the presentation, while giving the story precedence, I don't think he should fade completely into the background.
Richard M. Germany 5/30/05
Response: When I initially read your rules. I didn't interpret 'Don't read' the way you might have intended. I assumed, that 'don't read' meant don't gather stories through reading. It never dawned on me that a 'storyteller' would 'read'. Sounds a bit silly in reflection - but that's how I took it.
However, last week, I heard a professional storyteller read a story she wrote to a gathering of folks. She was 'reading' and she was 'telling' too. Though her words were the written words on the page her gestures and voice 'told' the story. Had someone else 'read' the written story with different tone and words it would have been a different story.
So revisiting the rules above, with a bit broader perspective, I still believe that "There are no rules in storytelling."
All this talk of props vs. no props has given me food for thought. No matter how one chooses to tell a story - I hope we tell stories the way we feel the story should be told and in a way we desire to tell it - for to do anything else would be disingenuous to self or other.
Mary K.C. 5/30/05
Response: Janet Dowling says "It all depends on your audience, and what your audience needs."
Since I have been working as a children's librarian, I have been learning to work with more props rather than fewer, although this does not necessarily contradict what Meryl has to say about the librarian tradition. During the time of Anne Carroll Moore and Marie Shedlock (early 20th century), library services to children were a new innovation, and services to preschoolers were unheard of. Since then, libraries have expanded their services to an increasingly younger population, and made changes in presentation accordingly.
Today, the rule of thumb in libraries seems to be that preschoolers need a greater degree of visual stimulation that older listeners can dispense with. Therefore, when we do preschool storytime, we either read aloud with pictures, do finger play rhymes with gestures the children can repeat, or use flannel board figures if we want to "tell" without the book. (I know, reading aloud isn't _storytelling_, but it is an essential component of library story times - and one I enjoy tremendously.) I have been adding telling with puppets or other props for one story during the storytime.
We have our preschool storytimes on Saturdays, so we get a wide age range, from under 2 to early elementary. My tendency is to play to the older end of the range, figuring that I am not going to keep the attention of the 2 and unders anyway, but my supervisor, with 15 years experience in children's services, tends to want to keep the _preschool_ focus and concentrate on the younger ones, even if there are older children present. We are trying to find a reasonable balance. She encourages me to do _telling_ when we do storytimes for older classroom visits, first grade and up, but is cautious about letting me do too much telling at the preschool storytime.
I wanted to tell rather than read Caps for Sale, and I thought that if I used props, I could hold the attention even of the preschoolers. I used two stuffed animal monkeys and three caps. My supervisor thought that we still needed the pictures. We have this in a "giant book" format - about 2 feet by 3 feet. Her suggestion was that she and our intern hold up the giant book and show the pictures while I told. This led to the rather bizarre situation where I was doing full body telling with movements and gestures, and the eyes of the audience were on the book next to me rather than on me. But as I got further into the story, with the monkeys and the hats, their eyes came to concentrate on me rather than on the pictures. I think I could have carried it off without the pictures, as one of the three or four stories that story time. I did do it quite successfully with props but no pictures for kindergarten and first grade classes. The kids participated with words and gestures - "You monkeys! Give me back my caps!" but only the stuffed monkeys and I got to wear the caps.
This summer, I will be doing a "Color Your World with Stories" program at a dozen libraries. I envisioned this as straight telling of complex fairy tales, no props, relatively little participation, strictly pictures in the mind, and I billed it as appropriate for ages 8 and up. However, some of the branches have warned me that, even with the "8 and up" designation, most of their audience is likely to be their faithful preschoolers, that even during summer reading program, the older children are less likely to show up. I agreed when they booked me that even though I would prep the sort of stories I had originally planned - The Blue Rose, The Black Horse, The White Cat, etc., I would also bring stories on theme that were suitable for a younger audience. So I am bringing flannel board figures for Little Red Hen and the Golden Goose, and I have added the highly participatory "Princess and the Ogre" from _Joining In_, with its essential visual riddle props (for older kids, not preschoolers, but to break up the rhythm). (This doesn't have a color in the title, but pink is important in the telling). I have also added The Magic Golden Fish (the Fisherman and his Wife), which I intend to tell without props, but which I think will work well with a younger audience.
What this means is, that even though I will do the same program at each of a dozen libraries, I am unlikely to do the same stories each time. My intention is to have enough stories to fill more than twice the time I will have available, so that I can pick and choose based on whatever audience is present. I may only use the flannel board figures at one or two of the programs, but I will have them available each time. For the branch that has said they intend to invite upper elementary and middle school students from a nearby summer enrichment program, I hope to do the program I originally envisioned, with straight telling of 4-5 complex stories. For the evening programs, where I am likely to get from stroller-age to adult, with anything in-between, I will have to be prepared to mix them up. I won't get the experience I had hoped for, of telling the same stories a dozen times in the course of a few weeks, which is something I have never had the chance to do, except for perhaps one or two stories which may get used every time. It's more work this way, but I think it will result in a better outcome for the individual audiences.
My National Library Week program in April, "Tales of Wit, Wonder, and Wisdom," was an evening program, also billed as 8 and up. When I started the first story, I had six adults and one five year old. I thought I would be able to do mostly older stories. But as the evening progressed, I got about four kids in strollers, and a few more younger elementary, as well as one mother and teenager. I had brought along a flannel board story, just in case, not intending to use it, but I did. I did one improve story I hadn't planned on (and hadn't told in performance before, only to a niece and nephew), and that worked well. And then, so the older part of the audience wouldn't feel deprived, I announced that after doing one last story for the younger kids, I would like to tell a story intended for an older audience, "The White Trout," (from Yeats' Irish Tales) if anyone wanted to stay on and hear it. So the younger kids got some stories that worked for them (about 40 minutes), and five adults and the teenager stayed on for a more mature 15 minute story - and I learned that even though I wanted to do "The White Trout" as part of my program this summer, I probably won't be able to use it more than once or twice, since it really needs an older audience - but if I do get a good turnout of middle-schoolers at that one library, it should be a winner.
Vicky D. 5/30/05
Response: Couldn't help commenting on this aspect, as it's how I got into storytelling. A friend asked me to come read a few of my short stories at a poetry reading at a local bar, years ago. The poets all read their work, and had no trouble connecting with the audience. So I read my short stories. And I discovered that it was so much fun to actually watch the response as I read. I, too, am a good reader aloud. I look up a lot. The eye contact from my perspective on stage was amazing, and more and more I came to know my stories enough to look up most of the time while reading. After a while, I knew them well enough to not even look at the page. Soon enough I stopped bringing the paper.
We each come to storytelling in a different way. I'd highly recommend teaching folks to READ stories out loud as a transitional way to learn to tell stories. It's an easy way to practice our art of expression and communication.
Most of all, when someone says "you Shouldn't do something," it's a sure indicator that they've overlooked the value in it, and it's worth a closer look.
One exercise I like to do is to READ aloud a few pages of a chapter, and then ad lib the ending. This exercise forces one to pay attention, get to know the character in a short amount of time, and hone the skills of your imagination.
Gregory L. 5/31/05
Response: Reading can be just as entertaining as storytelling but it really depends on the circumstances. As a children's librarian in the school system, I did both. I've lost count of the number of times admins and teachers were found outside the library, listening while I was reading. One of my favourites to read was Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang. Whenever I got to the courtroom scene and the Dynamic Duo would swing from the chandeliers landing right in front of Mr. Justice Rough, I would have the tables arranged so that I could jump onto a chair, run over the tables and leap off the other side.
Reading to the kids was always reminiscent of days when my teachers would read to us -- often from books that we wouldn't choose ourselves from the library shelves. It was like going to the movies on a Saturday afternoon -- EACH WEEK -- so you could follow the story.
Dale P. 5/31/05
Response: We each come to storytelling in a different way.
True - and thanks for your perspective on this.
I'd highly recommend teaching folks to READ stories out loud as a transitional way to learn to tell stories. It's an easy way to practice our art of expression and communication. Ultimately, there will of course be many roads which can all lead to Rome. Reading may be the best route for some.
In workshops, where I usually have something like two hours to two days to work with newcomers, and this particular part of the workshop can only take up around 25% of the time at most, my experience is that the most effective way is to show teachers they really do not need a piece of paper.
I work with skeletons. The large group is split into two smaller groups, the participants of one receiving the bare bones of one tale, those of the second receiving the bones of another. (Short folk tales.) They work with partners for about 20 or 30 minutes - understanding the tale and trying out how to tell it. Then all come together and are partnered off with someone from the other group. They then disappear to tell their new partner their tale - without taking the paper with the bare bones with them. When they come back, they are invariably delighted and surprised at how it went.
Which is why, in that workshop situation, I like to stress my Rule no. 2.
Richard M. Germany 5/31/05
Response: One of my favorite ways to demonstrate this is to get a volunteer to help me tandom-tell "No News." Clueless volunteer plays the part of the returning traveler while I'm the knowledgable homebody. All he/she needs by way of preparation is the forewarning that I will NOT be forthcoming with answers but must be asked firmly why/how things happened; and one characterization point, ie, he/she never allows candles in the house.
We've all been delighted at the way my partners ad lib their dialog and help me move the story along. Some of their asides have been hilarious! After we finish and I point out how no script was needed, we review the story steps; then the group breaks up into dyads to retell the story themselves twice (so that each gets a chance to play both roles). This story works very well with adults and teens. Sometimes for teens the traveler becomes a millionaire rock star returning to his estate.
Another tandem story for scriptless retelling is "Wide Mouth Frog" but in that case I tell the whole thing solo first, then demonstrate with a partner how to divide the roles (a= young frog, b= all other characters). This works with adults (useful for zoo docents, ecotellers) down to kindergarten age.
Wise ones, can you suggest additional formulaic tandem stories for this exercise? I'm getting tired of these two!
Fran S. 5/31/05
Response: But in providing concrete visualizations, don't we take away the child's need to form images in their minds? We provide them with ready-made stimuli...isn't that what television does too?
The great thing about storytelling is that the images that each listener forms are, at the same time, unique and 'perfect'. When I say, "Once upon a time there was King and Queen in a beautiful castle..."...each person creates the perfect king and the perfect queen in the perfect castle...and each one is different and each one...perfect.
When WE (as the storytellers) provide all of the imagery...there is only one castle...only one kind of king...only one queen...the one we impose on our listeners.
Yes, some people (not just children) have a hard time visualizing...television has seen to that...but we do them no favours by taking the task away from them.
Whatever the storyteller does to attract attention the their own 'person'...detracts from the listeners ability to enter into the story. The more 'visible' the teller...the farther away is the story world..so it is best if the teller strives to become 'invisible'. We have a saying here in Toronto...'The STORY is the star!"...the teller has the responsibility of presenting it...but the teller isn't the center of attention.
In Toronto, we are respectful of other people's traditions so you may well have seen some of our guests tell in different styles. But, that doesn't mean that we don't tell funny stories...just that we consider using funny voices to be distracting.
A cultural costume is certainly different from a theatrical costume which enables the person to assume a specific role. We feel that there is only ONE role...that of storyteller and we don't 'become' any of the 'characters' in the story.
Meryl A. 5/31/05
Response: Having had the good fortune some years back of enjoying both the Toronto festival and one of the community's long-running storytelling evenings, I know just how much delight is there for the offering. The city is richer for the storytellers who call Toronto home.
Of course, the guidelines Meryl writes about don't fit everyone. Storytelling is gloriously messy, escaping every box we try to stuff it into. May it ever be so.
Cathryn W. 5/31/05
Response: Maria wrote: And I completely agree with this! (though when I "learned" the art of storytelling I was strongly encouraged to wear black clothes) I don't think it is so much distracting.... what do you think?
I always enjoy watching the storyteller as much as listening to him/her. An attractive presentation helps make the storyteller pleasant to look at, but I've seen storytellers dressed in very plain, even shabby looking clothing who completely captured my attention by their words. Spectacle is part of ANY theatrical event, and the attire of the storyteller is part of the spectacle. The storyteller should consider his/her appearance as part of the performance. I don't think one can make any rules about whether one should be flashy or plain, or dressed in black to recede into the background. We are all different, and we all have different manners of dressing.
Judith W. 6/1/05
Response: I don't think one can make any rules about whether one should be flashy or plain, or dressed in black to recede into the background.
So we're back talking about rules again.
The statement above makes me think about all the diverse types of 'learners' there are. Some folks attend better when listening; some when doodling; other listeners are kinesthetic, etc. It reminds me that there are as many different types of listeners out there as storytellers.
So, a question, where is oral storytelling not as effective? with what types of listeners? And if oral storytelling isn't effective is there another type of storytelling that would be.
And, storytelling, of any type, I believe, is often helped when the 'tellers' of the tales don't flesh out more than is necessary - leaving us to fill in the rest with our imaginations.
Mary K.C. 6/1/05
Response: I'm having a delightful time reading some of the responses to this debate, especially considering my recent additions to my "accoutrement wardrobe."
Over the weekend, I told a rendezvous celebrating George Rogers Clark's defeat of the British at Ft. Vincennes (called Ft. Sackville by the Brits). My purchases included 10 turkey and pheasant feathers for Jack's Mama's hat, a raccoon tail (also for the hat), and two, diminuative death glass bottles, the very ones, mind you, that Jack squinted through to see the old Death Skel'ton standin' at the head of the King's Girl's bed).
At festivals, Jack's Mama clangs in a crowd with her iron triangle, she drinks from a jug (warter...nothin' but pure creek warter, mind you), and she sings mountain "song ballets" to the accompaniment of cow's horn spoons, none of which dilute the stories, according to the responses I get from my audience.
I've got to tell you this, because, well, I think it's a bit funny. I was telling in a wee trader's tent (audience outside on straw bales) located right next to the battlefield. Redcoats and American forces marched by in turn with their fife-and-drum corps. Next to my tent was a troupe of jugglers who decided to ignore the schedule and begin their act when I was scheduled to tell. Okay. Rude, but okay. I was willing to wait until they were finished to begin my set, so I was just sitting on my bale watching their show, when along came four adults. They sat down on the bales facing me. In came two more adults. Then some kids. "Isn't it time for a story?" they asked.
"I...uh....well...WHY IT SHORELY IS! YOU'NES MAKE YERSEFS TO HOME!" Hey, I had my audience, and I was the one on schedule. So I rang my triangle. In came several more! And they listened intently, even at the jugglers juggled burning torches in their easy peripheral vision! WhooHOO! One of the jugglers came over later to apologize. Certainly, I accepted, telling him that I was willing to have waited, but the people sat down ready for a tale. He seemed to understand my dilemma and was most kind.
Sorry about the rabbit chasing, but one thing led to another and that's my story.
Sharon K.C. 6/1/05
Response: Over the weekend, I told a rendezvous celebrating George Rogers Clark's defeat of the British at Ft. Vincennes (called Ft. Sackville by the Brits).
As so often in discussions, it turns out that different views relate to very different storytelling situations.
I can fully understand why props can be a useful focal point for young listeners, especially when used as a starting point. Also to explain an object in the tale which may be completely new to them.
Or Sharon's situation of telling in a historical context. I did that once, myself, at a medieval fair in Berlin. There costume was essential: not to have worn it would have made me the one person to stand out!
Other tellers perform in role - like Jack's Mama or someone telling mountain stories. Again, it makes sense to have a costume which reflects that - especially if, as someone said, it does not go over the top.
So perhaps I should have put my remarks into the context of my telling: mainly to adults and using a wide variety of tales from all over the world. And in a performance of 90 - 120 minutes where the tales range from comic to deep. In that situation, I feel happier with a costume which looks good but is not role-specific - particularly as there is no one role. And not TOO eye-catching.
In fact, it is the same with performance style. For the comic tales, the body langauge is more dominant and I reckon that I am still the focal point for the listeners. But with the deeper tales it becomes far more subdued and I rely on the voice to carry the listeners through me to where the story is. (At least, that is the intention!)
Yes, this has been a good thread.
Richard M. Germany 6/1/05
Response: I thought I would add this to the discussion
<<Patuagan is the ancient art of telling a story from a painted scroll. From as far back as the 2nd century BC, scrolls were painted on cloth and designed in panels, each depicting an episode from the story or a particular character. The storyteller would hang the scroll in the performing area and begin, pointing to the various panels as the tale progressed. Across the centuries scrolls have been used to depict episodes from the great Vedic, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim epics but now however the art has all but died out. >>
The full text is from
which is a promotion for a storytelling event in London- which unfortunately I will miss. I do know several UK storytellers who use backdrops if they are doing a specific "show", so I suppose that counts as a prop.
Janet D. U.K. 6/1/05
Response: Thanks, Janet, for the information. I have some more on this on my Traditional Storytelling web page. I'm always on the lookout for details on the methods and practices of storytelling traditions across the world, so that I can build up this resource for all - so please everyone remember to share if you come across any.
The use of painted scrolls for storytelling is spread across various places - here are some details about India:
"According to Dhriti Bagchi, modern culture has already greatly impacted indigenous artists like those that create pata, traditional scroll paintings that are the basis for storytelling and song. 'The scroll is a script for a folk story,' she explained. 'The scroll painter, or patua, creates a song for the story. It's a form of oral history. They used to sit and paint and sing under a banyan tree in their village and people would come and watch,' she said. 'It still happens, but now there's a VCR hanging in the tree. Technology has replaced the patua.'"
Bengali art finds a home in Monmouth County
"Garodas : In Gujarat the art of narrating stories with the help of painted pictures is practised by the members of the Garoda community. It is performed with a paper scroll with pictures painted in water colour one below the other and separated with a thick black line."
And we did see a performance of such a tradition at Beyond the Border some years ago, with two storytellers narrating a little of a great epic about Manas, if I remember correctly. They stood with a tapestry between them, designed almost like an ornate cartoon strip, though not as easy to follow! It was not unlike the depiction in gothic and renaissance churches of the Stations of the Cross, or the events in the life of Christ. People would need someone to tell them the stories but thereafter they would see the pictures and be able to remember and contemplate the stories.
I haven't had a chance to contribute to the props thread, but I'll add two comments:
If you look through the Traditional Storytelling page
on my website (which has expanded to a larger size even than the Storytelling FAQ and has much more waiting to go online as soon as I've tidied it up) you'll find a great many storytelling traditions have used props of various kinds, or musical instruments which sometimes have a similar function. And some storytelling traditions are hard to divide apart from other art forms such as dance, and especially music - all the greatest stories, the epics, for instance being sung, chanted or integrated in with music.
Secondly, the use of props is a real skill - it demands a conscious understanding of stage skills and the language of drama and gesture. The first thing stage performers learn is how to not let the prop dominate but to serve the performance. Those storytellers in all these venerable traditions of prop-use know a great deal about this, and it is a subtle art. If a person simply picks up a prop and uses it without any training, of course it will get in the way! It won't 'disappear' or serve the storytelling in an integrated way that doesn't jerk the attention out of the imagination. But with the right skills the prop can certainly draw the audience into the inner world rather than keep the attention on an outer display.
If you venture into theatrical territory, you won't create a masterful effect unless you have trained in doing so. Use of costume, props, movement - all of these come into that territory. But so does gesture, facial expression and body language - and these are things which one can't avoid using to some extent, if one is physically present. Since that includes all live storytelling, such stage awareness training is pretty essential to all storytellers who appear in front of an audience. Storytelling generally uses such skills in a far more subtle way, and with a different method and purpose to dramatic theatre, but if one doesn't master the skills the effects will still happen but in an uncontrolled unaware way.
When I see someone like Ritu Verna of the Pandvanis, an ancient Indian tradition of epic storytelling, I see a masterful use of very limited gesture with a single musical prop and very little movement, little more than the natural impulses of expression of the words. Yet in those actions the story comes alive and the power is enough to overwhelm and stun an audience from an alien culture without even any understanding of the language.
Tim S. U.K. 6/2/05
Response: At a recent Kiwanis Club meeting the speaker was a Civil War re-enactor. He came in his rebel master sergeant's uniform. He told about the realism the re-enactment people go to, except all the bullets are blanks.
In the question period I asked him about the contents of the brocade cloth bag he carried. In the process of showing us all the old stuff that made up a soldier's kit, we got more information about their living. They ate when they had food, but didn't/couldn't carry any and sometimes went days without! The props really helped him tell his story.
I don't think he is a storyteller other than in this context. It would have been more difficult to convey his passion for history without the props and costume.
Props and costumes work if can use them all.
My tandem partner and I often improvise or tell stories from various cultures, so we just dress like Californians who have visited Hawaii. The only prop we sometimes use is a story staff which becomes whatever long thin thing is needed. We can tell without it. In our situation, costumes and props would slow things down, get it the way.
Sandy F. 6/3/05
Response: "We each come to storytelling in a different way. I'd highly recommend teaching folks to READ stories out loud as a transitional way to learn to tell stories. It's an easy way to practice our art of expression and communication."
I hadn't thought about it before, but I guess I got started in storytelling through reading aloud, too. I've always enjoyed reading aloud to my family--my first family with my older two children read aloud the entire Tolkien ring trilogy plus The Hobbit in the evenings. We took turns reading to each other. Then I read the entire trilogy to my third child when he was 8 and 9. Now it is time to share this literature with my youngest--she is 8. I want to be sure she hears the book (or reads it herself) before seeing the movie.
I took a class in "oral interpretation" many years ago, which is the art of reading aloud. I love to read as well as tell. However, I don't read when I perform--I only tell.
Judith W. 6/5/05
Response: "Whatever the storyteller does to attract attention the their own 'person'...detracts from the listeners ability to enter into the story. The more 'visible' the teller...the farther away is the story world..so it is best if the teller strives to become 'invisible'."
I'm responding to your post, Meryl, as someone who uses a costume, character, and puppets, so of course I'm biased. I feel that my costume and puppets are like a beautifully illustrated book cover that entices the children into opening the book. Once they are drawn in, their imaginations are engaged, and they are fully "in the story." I can tell because they are attentive, responsive, and appreciative. We go on a journey together to an imaginary land which is created in their own imaginations. After my performances, I many times receive drawings the children have made, and usually they are depicting scenes from the stories I have told--NOT me as a character.
I have been to performances in which the character IS the show, and I find such performances shallow and cheap. Nothing is offered to spark the imagination. Many times the children are asked to come up on stage and become props in some kind of story, which puts the focus on the children instead of the story. I see children trying to "act," and while they may be having fun, there is NO real engagement in the story. (This is perhaps the beginning of another thread--asking children to physically participate in the story "on stage.") I find such tactics break the spell that can be woven by a good storyteller.
I think the key here is a "good storyteller." A good storyteller weaves a kind of story web that holds the listener, using his/her imagination to co-create the story with the teller. Once in the story, it doesn't matter if the teller is dressed as a character or not.
Judith W. 6/5/05
Response: . . . and yet, letting them participate CAN work quite well, giving them a role, just as they take on roles in the little play kitchen I still remember from kindergarten. Even my big high school students can become so involved that at the end of "The Smell of the Bread" (in my "drama class from hell") the boy playing the greedy baker was visibly upset that he didn't get to have the money, but only the sound of it, and his friends said "Man, she got you." (or something like that). Playing out the parts is a first step for those not ready to tell all alone -- but like anything else, it's probably dependent on how it's carried out.
Mary G. 6/5/05
Response: When you hear about a Storytelling event, do you ask "what stories will be told" or "who is telling"? If you answered the first then you truly put the story first, but if you answered the later then it is the teller. We know tellers that weave the story and pull us in. These are true Storytellers and are NOT invisible. If the teller should be invisible then we can let computers read the stories to us.
Bob S. 6/5/05
Response: I'm sure it can work (as anything can work), but I've seen so many performances in which the children merely become props for the storyteller. I saw one just this weekend--the children really didn't know what the hell was being asked of them, the story became "let's get kids on stage so they can be part of the story" and the storyline itself was lost--at least for me.
Judith W. 6/5/05
Response: But when you come away from that storytelling event and you realize that you remember the guy dressed as Robin Hood but you can't remember anything he told! In those cases, it's the story that is invisible...which is the worst example of storytelling.
But, there are more fundamental disagreements at the root of the matter.
It is NOT that I don't understand that modern revival tellers who trace their roots back to theatrical/performance traditions have different sensibilities than those of us who trace our roots back to the library system. For one thing, I find storytelling 'events' themselves to be artificial since I feel that storytelling should take place anywhere, anytime as an integral part of life and NOT an 'staged event' separate from the lives of the listeners. That kind of basic difference in how storytelling is viewed must, in all honesty, create some irreconcilable arguments. (As we are aware.)
So, it is essential for us to recognise that we are on different branches of the storytelling family tree and that it accomplishes little for us to sit on our respective branches and lob coconuts at each other. One branch of the family traces their lineage back to the travelling bards and troubadours entertaining the aristocracy while the other traces their line back to the traditional village teller spinning tales to friends and family by the fireside.
The traditional teller did not want to be thought of as 'making a show of himself'...that would have shamed him in the traditional community. But the story was important...more important than the teller! This is why we see OUR best storytellers as having the power to become invisible...to fulfil their duty to bear the story...to preserve culture and heritage...which is something that transcends the individual and, as such, is anathema to the style that puts the performer before tradition; before the culture; and before the story.
Response: Your comment left me with a question . . . if I can't remember anything the teller told . . . is it a case of bad storytelling or 'bad' listening or something else?
Mary K.C. 6/6/05
Response: "For one thing, I find storytelling 'events' themselves to be artificial since I feel that storytelling should take place anywhere, anytime as an integral part of life and NOT an 'staged event' separate from the lives of the listeners. That kind of basic difference in how storytelling is viewed must, in all honesty, create some irreconcilable arguments. (As we are aware.)"
Storytelling does take place everywhere and that it is an integral part of life - and the understanding of that process is of great interest to me. Also, storytelling can be a staged event with connected and responsive listeners. In addition, storytelling takes place within the mind, body, spirit of the Self and stories are often told repeatedly not because folks desire validation from Others (though this may often be true) but because they haven't fully allowed themselves to hear their own story.
"So, it is essential for us to recognise that we are on different branches of the storytelling family tree and that it accomplishes little for us to sit on our respective branches and lob coconuts at each other. One branch of the family traces their lineage back to the travelling bards and troubadours entertaining the aristocracy while the other traces their line back to the traditional village teller spinning tales to friends and family by the fireside."
I appreciate this conversation - it has given me pause for thought - lobbed coconuts and all.
While I recognize some of my family tree in your description (above), I don't recognize it all . . . I think I could come up with a few more branches.
"The traditional teller did not want to be thought of as 'making a show of himself'...that would have shamed him in the traditional community. But the story was important...more important than the teller! This is why we see OUR best storytellers as having the power to become invisible...to fulfil their duty to bear the story...to preserve culture and heritage..."
Can we ever separate the teller from the story? Any teller who tells a story, as invisibly as he can, has had an effect on the story told and thus culture flows and changes.
Mary K.C. 6/6/05
Response: This thread wont die.
IMHO.... The guy dressed as Robin Hood presented a distraction and the listener was "caught up" in the costuming and not so much the story.
Early in my career I dressed in loud and colorful clothing when I told to children. I felt it caught their attention and besides, it was fun and in some strange sense, made me feel more secure like I was "hiding" behind an image. I learned quickly that they were more interested in "how I dressed and looked" than what I was telling.
Was I a bad teller? Were they bad listeners? Or was I just voted "Worst Dressed Teller."
As I began to dress in more normal attire, things changed.
I think I helped them to listen by allowing nothing to get "in the way" of the story.
There, I said it.... I'm a purist. The main thing is keeping the main thing, the main thing.
For me, Brother Blue is incredible..... but, when I listen to him in person I find myself looking at this clothing, jewelry and temp tattoos... letting my mind be distracted by the visual and not by the auditory. When I listen to him on CD or tape.... I can appreciate his word far more than I did when I listened in person.... His form of dress distracted me. Am I a bad listener?
With that said.... I say this. What works for some does not work for others and certainly does not work for all.
If it works for you then work it. Only your audience can tell you for sure. Are you telling where you want to tell? Do you "have" an audience? Are you invited back to venues? Hmmmm. What works?
David J. 6/6/05
Response: Speaking of Brother Blue, I once heard him give this advice to a small group of us at a storytellers workshop. "If you have to ask 'Is it right?' , it's already wrong." In other words, if you are "connected" in every sense when you are telling, you know it without asking.
By the way, when Brother Blue tells on a street corner in Harvard Square, you have to admit his costume certainly helps draw a crowd. I think it helps bypassing strollers to step away from whatever mission they happen to be pursuing. Then again, once you start listening, it's all about the story. The costume adds nothing, so for me it is unimportant to the telling. That became very obvious to me when I first heard him tell off the street in a room. His passion is magical.
John C. 6/6/05
Response: Then that is probably a Teller you don't want to see again regardless of what he told. Again it is the Teller, NOT the stories.
Bob S. 6/6/05
Response: "The traditional teller did not want to be thought of as 'making a show of himself'...that would have shamed him in the traditional community. But the story was important...more important than the teller! This is why we see OUR best storytellers as having the power to become invisible...to fulfil their duty to bear the story...to preserve culture and heritage..."
OOPS! Let's be very careful about speaking/writing of THE Traditional Storyteller. Which culture? Which caste, gender, class, social role?
In Africa and new world cultures influenced by African cultures, there is often a great deal of emphasis on performance and skill -- storytellers both professional and every-day take pride in their ability to be entertaining and unforgettable storytellers, and use singing and dancing and pure bravado to stand out.
This approach IS tradition in those cultures. (Check out Diane Wolkstein's Magic Orange Tree, or Dan Crowley's I Could Talk Old Story Good).
In anglo-saxon middle-class men's joke telling traditions of the 20th Century -- two men might dominate a party's conversation by swapping jokes in a manner that is clearly competitive -- standing out as much as possible!
And it is just a fact of business that in today's storytelling market place, there had better be something memorable about the storyteller or 'e won't be hired enough to support 'emself.
Lee-Ellen M. 6/6/05
Response: Its not that we want to "see" the teller, that's the point... its that we want to "hear" the teller tell the story. We know that certain tellers do "tell" and some tellers "show and tell." I agree that we don't normally ask what stories are being told.... but we know, as listeners, what tellers actually "tell" the story and what tellers have built a reputation of being more visual. There cannot be, simply cannot be a right and wrong way.... each is different, each is unique and each has his/her own audience and that is the diversity that we must celebrate.
David J. 6/6/05
Response: Each Teller has their own style. This enhances the stories they tell. True, it is the "package" we look for. For example, we all know Donald Davis. We know what he tells, his style, his stage presence. If we like it, and I do, we go see/hear him. HE IS NOT INVISIBLE!!!!
My whole point is that Tellers should NOT be invisible. They and their style are a part of the storytelling art. Otherwise just have people read the stories. Sharon Kirk Clifton Jack's Mama is heavily in costume. That and her talent in telling makes the stories come alive as anyone who has seen/heard her can well attest. Yes there are bad tellers who overpower the stories, and there are bad stories too. Not all stories are great. Just because there are those bad tellers does not mean that is a universal truth to apply to all Tellers.
Bob S. 6/6/05
Response: If the storyteller is the 'culture bearer' of the people, that is an important role. I may work to preserve MY traditions and culture just as you work to preserve YOUR traditions and culture. The two cultures do not have to melt together so that you are less then you are and I am less than I am and both are less than we were. I have learned from our native tellers that traditions must be preserved and, that means, preserved in all their uniqueness. As David Weale, a storyteller from my home Province of Prince Edward Island in Canada writes: "As surely as eggs were preserved in salt, herring in pickle, pork in its own fat, and berries in sugar, the heart and soul of the community were preserved and faithfully passed on in story...It was a sad and inauspicious moment that first evening the local storyteller went across the field to the neighbour's house for a visit only to discover that he had been displaced by the radio, for the beginning of the end of storytelling was the beginning of the end of the Island. There were stories on the radio all right, but they weren't our stories, and a community or nation without its own storytellers is a society created and defined by outsiders; a community without integrity; one alienated from its own genius."
Meryl A. 6/6/05
Response: There were stories on the radio all right, but they weren't our stories, and a community or nation without its own storytellers is a society created and defined by outsiders; a community without integrity; one alienated from its own genius."
This is especially true for those communities and cultures that have lost many of their traditions through repression and now are trying to find them.......we are all richer through their efforts.
When I was in South Africa we were told that during Apartheid storytelling was forbidden. Now there are groups of storytellers sharing their tales both traditional and new and teaching them to the newer generation. The storytelling groups that we met were diversified representing many different tribes.
Nelson Mandela says in his book of Favorite African Folktells: "Because a story is a story; and you may tell it as your imagination and your being and your environment dictate; and if your story grows wings and becomes the property of others, you may not hold it back. One day it will return to you, enriched by new details and with a new voice."
Marcia G. 6/7/05
Response: Wow, what a quote. That says it all, doesn't it? He obviously doesn't believe in copyrighting stories (boy, I had to open that can of worms, didn't I?) Thank you for sharing this, Marcia. It's already become one of my favorite storytelling quotes.
Granny Sue 6/7/05
15) PUPPETS! Make the puppets do funny actions (that go along with the story), and the audience will enjoy the story, even if they don't understand the words. It is also fun to have the puppet speak a different language which you have to translate (assuming you are bi-lingual). I'm working on a Spanish bi-lingual program right now, and am thinking of having my main puppet Gus speak Spanish and I (as Mother Goose) will speak English. That way I can tell the tale mostly in English, but Gus can break in and add Spanish at crucial times.
MIME. The best "visual aid" is your own body and gestures. To practice, try doing the whole story without any words at all! Ask someone to watch you, and see if he/she can get the gist of the story. Then add words, and repeat those words as often as possible in the context of the story, and most non-English speaking audiences should be able to understand.
Judith W. 2/7/06
(This web page
updated 6/15/05; 2/13/06)