Professional Storyteller

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Whether we want to admit it or not, I believe that every storyteller has been truly frightened during a performance. You know, when you get one of those crowds that clearly wants to be anywhere else and blames you for wasting their valuable time.

The most frightened I've ever been was in 7th grade when I was asked to perform a 10-minute story in front of the 200 8th graders at my school, kids who normally wouldn't have noticed me if I had burst into flames walking down the hall. I told what I thought was a funny story...and never got a sound out of any of them. It was like having 400 laser beams burning holes in you for ten minutes.

I am just interested to know if any of you would like to share your most "frightening" performance...or audience.

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Wow, I think I know how you felt... I got frightened like that once, so frightened I didn't even go on stage! It was a high school reunion (two years after graduation, hah) for all the classes that have ever graduated from my school (means about 500 people - yeah, small and new school). Most of them met for the first time in years, and kept talking and talking and talking. The principal asked me in advance to tell a story during the opening "ceremony" of the reunion - but when I saw that people kept talking loudly even during the opening speech of the principal, not caring about him at all... well, I went to him and told him I'm not going on stage, and he agreed (yeah, he was quite pissed at everyone...). There is no way I went on stage in front of a school where I had the "biggest nerd on Eath" label for years...
And I admire your bravery, I was the run-and-hide type in 7th grade! :D
Thanks for the topic.

The following I have had on several ocassions. The first frightening time I remember was right before I went on stage the first time I told at a festival, Corn Island in Louisville. With less than three minutes to go before I was to tell I could not remember any story I had planned- or for that matter any story - period. I went on and the first line came to me and it was OK after that - but right before I tell whether it be at a storytelling festival or a library I have this panic wave over my gray matter that blocks the words from entering my consciousness. I've read about big time performers getting so anixious they become sick. Red Skelton was known for that type of thing. I've also experieneced what you talked about. I can relate to that as well.
I have a vague supressed memory of going out in front of an audience and finding they were not what I had anticipated and would not have chosen to tell in front of if I had known. I don't recall what I did, but it probably will recur to me in a night sweat some time.
Rixon: It's been about a year since you asked this question and I just joined the site so I'll consider my answer to be timely. Other than the little four year old who came up to me and started kicking me in the legs while I was telling stories at a County Fair, I guess the most frightened I'd ever been was my first performance as a storyteller. Thank goodness it was a scary story, so all of my fear went back into the story. I was raised on two and a half minute church talks since I was a child and found that the older I got the harder it was to stand before an audience and give a speach. It got so bad that instead of telling the speach, I would usually end up crying and wanting to be off the stage immediately. I stumbled onto storytelling because I had a story to tell and these sweet wonderful women at the library wanted me to tell it at a "Ghost Story - Halloween Storytelling event in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. Just weeks before, I had asked myself a question as I was walking into a dark moist mine tunnel with a perfect stranger, a deer hunter I had met. Both of us in need of a cool drink of water and me knowing that it was the only place on the mountain where one could be had. All I had was a book of matches and almost burned up all of them getting to the water source. On the way into that darkness I thought of a scary reason why there was a big boulder in the tunnel up ahead. I made up a story on the spot and told the stranger my story. It scared him so bad he ran out of the tunnel (about a half mile) in the dark. When I got outside, he was trying to dry his pants off by fanning them in the wind. One week later I had the opportunity to tell that story to the kind librarians who needed an audience during their lunchtime storytelling practice. Since no stories were prepared, I told about the scary mine story. That launched me onto my storywriting and telling career. I was so frightened when I performed at the theatre. I had practiced and practiced trying to memorize a story that was at least 20 minutes long. I was so scared facing an audience of that size for the first time I almost ran off the stage. Instead I focused all my fear back into the story which made it the most frightful and terrifying story of the evening. At the end of the evening I was told to write more stories because I was going to be a professional storyteller. After that experience, I've rarely been afraid of performing again.

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