October 29, 2015

To Boo or Not to Boo?

Last weekend, I was the featured storyteller at a local Halloween parade. I took the job despite initial reservations, namely that a) the crowd would be very young children, and b) my scary story repertoire (I've got a good half dozen creepy tales) has never scared anyone, of any age. I thought about turning it down (Laura Packer has a great post on saying "no" to gigs over on her blog this week), but thought it would be a good chance to brush up on some tales I had not told in a while.

Upon accepting the gig, I learned that it would essentially be street performance: outdoors, on the sidewalk, with pedestrian and automobile traffic to contend with.

Inwardly, I smiled. Street performance is a challenge. I've done my share of outdoor street tellings, trying to draw in a crowd. It's hard work. But it's the kind of challenge I enjoy.

The site had a very good sound system, so my voice would be amplified. Great! There were haybales arranged out of the way of pedestrians, so that the audience would not be distracted. Great!

The event started, a good crowd had arrived, families with children between the ages of 0 and 7. A terrific musician started things off with a Halloween song. And then...

everyone left to parade down the street, to trick or treat at local businesses, and visit the fire truck and pumpkin patch down the road.

No one remained in the audience area but the sound guy and the volunteers staffing the info table.

My turn. Showtime!

The microphone helped. I drew out my introduction, to let people know something was happening, that a Halloween story was about to happen. And as I finally hit "Once... upon... a... time..." I managed to attract the attention of two parents with a toddler in their arms. They actually came and sat down.

By this time I had already launched into my version of the Red, Red Lips (here's Donna Washington's version)... which is a lot of fun, but it's not really appropriate for an 18-month old.

It's much better for 4 to 7 year olds. But I did not have those.

I aimed this one at the parents, and when, halfway through, I snagged the attention of some passing-by 8 and 9 year olds, I drew them in.

Ah, stopping pedestrians. Stop one, stop two, and soon people will break their stride, slow, turn their head to see what's going on. And soon: an audience.

A few more toddlers. I launched into a version of Betty Van Witsen's "Cheese, Peas, and Chocolate Pudding," adding some Halloween references into it. This is a much better story for little ones (and surprisingly good at luring more passersby).

As the afternoon went, on the crowd grew. Kids returned from their parading, and the musician and I traded 15 minute sets for the kids enjoying their candy as they sat on the hay bales.

And as I watched the kids, dressed as superheroes and princesses and animals, and as the musician and I sang songs and told stories about skeletons and brains and bats and spiders, I wondered why?

The kids are happy dressing in costume. They are delighted to get treats. Why, then, are we so insistent that Halloween is about scary, creepy things? It's a little early (developmentally speaking) to be introducing them to mortality, and death. Heck, why are we even teaching them to fear witches? (Full disclosure: when telling to children at Halloween, I only include stories where witches are helpful wise women. How could I not? All the little witches in my audience had taffeta and pink sequins and fabulous green and black couture)

Thankfully, just a few days later Pam Faro had an answer for me: Why Tell Ghost Stories?

For me, I really enjoyed this Halloween gig. It had a friendly family vibe. I skipped all my jump tales and helped the kids celebrate dressing up and learning about what makes things spooky. (I could get a solid ten minutes of material on this topic... in my fantasies I become a standup comic for second graders. Whenever I try to get my own kids to laugh, and fail, I let them know that my material would have 7 year olds falling out of their seats with laughter)

September 25, 2015

Finding a Storyteller in the Bay Area, Part Two

Last month, I wrote about trying to search for storytellers in the Bay Area, and how my frustration led to the creation of a Pinterest board.

Looks like Milly Frastley had the same idea over on Listly. Has anyone else tried this for their region? Listly allows you to embed entire lists, so here is Milly's complete list of storytellers in the Bay Area:

August 29, 2015

Bay Area Storytellers: How Do I Find Them All?

I live in the "Bay Area," a nine county region of 7 million people and several major cities, lots of universities, and major businesses, that ring the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays in Northern California. This area has plenty of storytelling talent, including lots of professional storytellers.

But, try and find a comprehensive listing, and you will be out of luck.

Search engines aren't much help, not because they are not smart, but because, by and large, the storytellers of the Bay Area (like storytellers anywhere else) who offer their services via online directories or their own websites don't use the "Bay Area" to distinguish their service area. They may list their city of residence, they may include a list of venues (which could be national or international in scope), or neglect to include any geographic information at all.

There is a regional storytelling association, the Storytelling Association of California which posts a list of storytellers, but having a listing there is a benefit of membership, and not everyone keeps their membership up, and there are no geographic limits on who gets assigned there.

So, to help with online visibility, I made a Pinterest board of Bay Area storytellers.

I like Pinterest as a visual scrapbook. I use it a lot to collect visual inspiration.

It's not a perfect tool for a Bay Area storyteller list. For example, not every storyteller has compelling visual imagery on their website, and everyone has different size photos. So the visual representation is not in any way fair.  And I can't organize the page, not alphabetically, or any other way. I'm also not sure that search engines crawl Pinterest (if you're not signed up for Pinterest, it's not easy to even see the page).

Still, I appreciate l that we have tools like Pinterest, so that if I complain that I can't find all of the Bay Area's professional storytellers in one place, I can do something about it.

Need to find a storyteller in the Bay Area? My Pinterest board may help.

(And if you have suggestions for making a Pinterest page more useful, let me know in the comments here)

March 08, 2014

"My" Stories are Your Stories

Recently, after an evening of telling ancient folktales to adults, I heard two comments from listeners:

"I needed to hear that chilling folktale about the mother who couldn't bear to see her daughter marry a snake. It allowed me to look at my own emotions about my own daughter's engagement in a new light."
"Tim, I love that you tell the old folktales and fairy tales. Because those are my stories."

These comments remind me of why I stick to my preferred genre, despite its relative lack of popularity on stage.

January 29, 2014

Of trolls

Closeup of the Troll, photo by jotulloch, used under a creative commons license

I recently had the honor of being one of three storytellers asked to tell a story about a piece of local folklore: the troll that guarded the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for 24 years after the Loma Prieta earthquake, on display at a local museum.

One of the other storytellers, Kirk Waller, asked me if I had ever created a story around an object before, and I said no. I had certainly told stories in museums before, but always fairy tales and folk tales that aligned with the exhibits on display, no originally created work. But then, upon further reflection, I had to admit:

Floyd, a troll, on campus in Evanston, Illinois
The very first story I ever told when I began my storytelling journey was, in fact, an original tale about a troll. 

When I was introduced to the art of storytelling in a literature class in college, my professor asked us to learn a story to tell at a local elementary school. Though most of my fellow students learned folktales to tell, I happened to have my own troll, and when I showed it to my teacher she immediately said, "you have to bring your troll and tell the children a story about him."

Why did I have a troll? I had spent much of my free time in dormitory with one of my buddies who had a how-to book on building monsters out of papier mâché. With coat hangers, newspaper, white glue, a discarded tablecloth, some modeling clay, and paint, he and I created a three-foot tall blue troll. We named him Floyd, and he promptly ended up having his own adventures at college. (Lesson learned: if you leave a three-foot tall blue troll out where other college students can interact with it, they will. And he might be gone for days or weeks at a time)

For my class assignment, I crafted a tale about a lonely monster who lived under a bridge (in fact, the Golden Gate Bridge). I don't recall exactly how the story went, although I recall using Ray Bradbury's 1951 short story "The Fog Horn" (aka "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms") as inspiration, but had a happy ending when the lonely troll found community with the monsters in residence at Industrial Light & Magic, the visual effects house then located in Marin County, just north of the bridge.

  Over the next few years I created a handful of other trolls, using the same paper and cloth mâché technique. Some I gave away as gifts. Two smaller ones, have stayed with me, and currently keep watch over my basement. (It may not be the most practical way to keep goats away... but it works! We've never had billy goats enter our house).

Sadly, Floyd and I parted about twenty years ago. I was out of the country, participating in North America's oldest and largest Fringe Festival, and upon my return, Floyd was gone.

The large dumpster outside of my rented house might have had something to do with it (I'd been evicted), but though I dove in and recovered many personal items from the dumpster, Floyd was not among them. I like to think he wandered off in search of a new home, and that he found a new bridge to call his own.