Professional Storyteller

Share a Story - Change the World

There are loads of people out there who call themselves storytellers but don't do what we do - slam poets, mimes, film directors, stand up comedians, dancers, etc. Should we expand our world of storytelling to include these art forms or is storytelling something distinct we need to maintain? What is the future of the "pure" form of storytelling (creating a story with an audience)? Do we need to change our definition to survive or will the simple magic of storytelling carry it into the next century?

Tags: comedian, dancer, definition, expand, film, future, mime, poet, pure, slam, More…story, storytelling, tell

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The gatekeepers for this issue are not performance storytellers, but event producers.
Some of the best young storytellers I've seen at Fringe Festivals can't be invited to storytelling festivals-- not because they aren't talented, or because they can't market themselves there-- but because of the narrow range of "storytelling" allowed at storytelling festivals.
Don't have ten minutes stories for the olios? Can't invite you.
Use powerpoint or multimedia? Can't invite you.
Use adult language in your storytelling? Can't invite you.
Don't have four hours of "A" material? You only have one hour? Can't invite you.

An open minded event producer... who is savvy enough to know that expanding audiences means expanding the very format of what is allowed to be onstage (not just more of the same and more flyers and more publicity)... will be the one to increase the cache of "storyteller" in the public consciousness.

Nancy Donoval has suggested that "storytelling festival" is too broad a net to cast, that more focused niche content (such as the Going Deep Festival) will be the future. (She reasons that people have specific tastes in music. They go to jazz festivals, hip hop shows, bluegrass concerts, classical recitals-- not to "music festivals")... and while she has a point... festivals like Bonnaroo still invite Metallica and The Coup and Orchestra Baobab and the Bluegrass Allstars and Willie Nelson to the same festival. And this "music" festival has stand up comics perform. And they show movies. And people still come, and I suspect, they are open to hearing music outside their favorite bands (since they are there anyway).

Granted, festivals like Bonnaroo don't force their invited artists to cram into olios. (I've never been to Bonnaroo, but I have a feeling that if artists from various genres wanted to cross-pollinate, it might happen for a song or two, and I don't think it would bother the producers or the audience)
And they maybe they do segregate their artists with a separate tent for comedy, and for film, or by genre of music... nothing wrong with that. But I appreciate their umbrella philosophy.

My point is: storytelling is bigger than "roots storytelling"* represented by the festival circuit, and its bigger than "personal storytelling" represented by the Moth. And you certainly can segment your audience and produce events that showcase one sliver of storytelling.... nothing wrong with that.
What doesn't make sense is trying to claim an umbrella term as your own.

Imagine if Milton Berle had tried to claim "television" as the genre for the Texaco Star Theater show, and got all the other comedian hosted variety shows to claim "well, what we do is television." Those soap operas, those news shows, they're not "television."
Imagine if track and field competitors tried to claim that basketball players weren't "athletes" because they used a ball, and had to use teammates.

I'd like to see an event producer create a series or even a festival that is truly open to all forms of storytelling.

In the meantime, those of us performers who consider ourselves roots storytellers can certainly call ourselves "storytellers." We can maintain our distinct art form. But I don't think we should be so exclusive.
I'm excited to share the term with the folks I meet at Fringe Festivals and late night variety shows and theatre salons. (I'm not so excited to share it with corporate anthropologists, but that's a subject for another time)

*Roots storytelling is a term I've borrowed from Tim Jennings, who probably meant it as an offhand analogy to "roots music." I think it works well to describe the Tennessee-centric storytelling revival of the past thirty five years.
There will always be purists and there will always be "pure" forms of storytelling. The future does not change that for the art. It is more of a matter of what percentage of storytelling will be pure and this depends on how many listeners want to hear that kind.

Interestingly, other art forms such as theatre, dance and music are struggling for audience members. Some art organizations sense that many audiences long for more of a merging of arts or even some sort of interactiveness. I see storytelling as a great bridge to make that happen.

Frontier Fest, an event put on by the Utah Pioneer Heritage Arts, has outreached to many art groups in the area including the Utah Storytelling Guild; Clog America; Old Time Utah Dances; Utah Old Time Fiddlers; Cowboy Poets of Utah; Institute of American Music; Wasatch Contras; Gardner Village; National Pony Express; Nashville Songwriters Association International; Association of Square Dance Clubs of Utah; Utah Talent Showdown; Folklore Society of Utah; Enoch Train; Caboose; Bluesage Band; Mountain Men Association and the Utah Quilt Guild.

Even the individual shows usually combine more than one art. For Frontier StoryFest, which I am apart, is mainly storytelling with songs weaving the whole program together. Another show, "Ghosts of Gardner Village" combines storytelling, dance, music and even quilting. One of the performers attended a Utah Storytelling Guild meeting to give a teaser and I was blown away. I am invited to their rehearsal on Monday and I want to see how they have made storytelling--in many ways--the "star" art of the program.

So I am not worried about the pure form of storytelling as it has lasted from the beginning of time and even before that. Instead, I relish in the way storytelling can be appreciated by other art forms by performing with them.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
I find it interesting that most purists are not. When it comes to oral tradition most of the stories that are past down from one person to the next aren't anymore. How many Jack tales have you told that were found in a book and not told to you to pass on? As an author I am a storyteller on paper, when I tell those stories aloud, I am a storyteller. So many definitions of what a storyteller is. Yet I know many people who do not want a definition of storytelling written down.

In that same vein why won't people accept that storytelling is a performing art just like acting, dancing, or singing? While I am a storyteller, I am more than that— I am a performing artist whose skills encompass and embrace my artistic abilities. My voice and my body are my instruments and how I choose to use them in the presentation of a story reverberates to my audience. Their response will echo back to me their understanding and acceptance of my story.

I think storytelling is always in flux. We have virtual storytelling, we have storytelling on radio, CD, internet and so much more. People talk about a revival of storytelling. It never really went away, it just got a little sleepy. It was there each night my parents told me stories to put me to sleep, it was there when you were hanging out with your friends, it was there when you were working in the fields, it was everywhere except in the public eye. So if we want to get it into the public eye we have to work harder, because most people still don't know what it is. If you say your a comedian they know what that is, if you say that your a storyteller they say, "Oh really, that's nice."

So what is the answer? I say onward and upward.

Always a tale to tell,
MyLinda Butterworth

I think we are all looking for an acceptanc

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