July 27, 2007

What is Breaking the Eggs?

Hello. My name is Tim Ereneta, and I'm a storyteller. I'm also a story listener. On occasion, I've been a storytelling producer.

I've started this blog, Breaking the Eggs, to discuss the practices and preferences of oral storytelling, particularly in the American storytelling revival (although comments and discussion from "outside the bubble" would be most appreciated). This revival, which sprang up in the 1970s (documented and chronicled in Joseph Sobol's The Storyteller's Journey) seems to be on the verge of dying out. Some disagree, and see the potential for new growth. I see both trends, and am putting my money on a sure and steady slide into cultural irrelevance.

I'm sure I won't be able to keep myself from injecting my own experiences as a performer out of here, so it won't all be theoretical. Hopefully, it won't all be centered on my career.

I love listening to stories, particularly in a performance setting, and am stating up front my personal bias towards storytelling as a performance art. Now I can recognize and appreciate good kitchen table storytellers, who can hold forth around the office or a party or after church... but what's really satisfying is sitting in the dark with a bunch of other strangers and listening to a storyteller weave her spell.

Provided, of course, there's good lighting and amplification.

And intellectually, I know that every person I meet has unique and important stories from their own life journey to share. But what nourishes my soul are the old stories. The fairy tales, the folk tales, the myths. And for me, they come to life not on the page, or on DVD, but when a living, breathing person is speaking the words on a stage.

I'll sit through three hours of "the day Grandpa fell off the ladder" stories to hear just ten minutes of folktales.

Are we clear on my biases up front?

One more thing. I have found the storytelling community, made up of amateurs, professionals, and semi-professionals alike to be a generous and giving group... and also stubborn as a mule. (The double edged sword of storytelling... like Patrick Ball once quipped, borrowing a phrase about the inhabitants of Ireland, "six million storytellers in search of a single listener"...). Specifically, in my experience, I have found that getting new ideas to stick can be difficult. And if the idea involves technology, it is downright impossible. (I exaggerate, of course. The storytelling community is only about twenty-five years behind the times.)

I've noted with interest the lively opinions of the theatre blogging community. Some of the bloggers are professional critics. Some are academics. Some are in the trenches as directors, producers, playwrights, and actors. They tackle everything from hiring practices to casting choices to the commercialization of Broadway to the economics of theatre to the very purpose of art. (Tony Taccone, Artistic Director of the Tony-award winning Berkeley Rep, decries this trend as moving discussion in the artistic community in the direction of talk radio.) Granted, theatre blogging is a small community, and many of these bloggers admit the risky position they take as both a vocal gadfly and a participant in an artistic community. And like any form of blogging, it can be hard to dialogue when everyone is chattering incessantly.

Storytelling is a much smaller community than theatre. And "platform storytelling," that is, storytelling as a performing art, is an even smaller subcommunity within the community of storytelling.

I may be shooting myself in the foot here, as I too aim to play both sides of the platform.

I am fortunate enough to have spent time in the company of forward thinking individuals who contribute mightily to keeping storytelling alive in our time. Many of them even have open minds and fresh innovative ideas to make it so. (Now if I can only get them to use the Web!) In the spirit of their generosity and drive I offer up this blog as part of my contribution.

Part of the reason for starting this blog is to open up discussion on the ways that the Web has and will continue to transform storytelling. And how the storytelling community (or the individual storyteller in his or her own community) can embrace aspects of technology to enhance their professional and personal connections.

Why "Breaking the Eggs" for a title?

It's been said that "You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs." I suppose that's where Gerald Fierst got the title of his Intensive on Storytelling in the 21st Century at the National Storytelling Conference in 2004. The conference description noted:
Narrative information is being conveyed with new constructions of language, image and technology. The Producer’s SIG has commissioned a storytelling work that will test the boundaries of beginning, middle and end. Attend this performance and continue on to debate how we communicate, what is narrative, where will story go as language is redefined by changing cultural images and new technologies.
All well and good, and many of us were excited about this... but the commissioned work never appeared at the conference. Gerry quickly assembled a substitute panel, each of whom presented or talked about new forms and formats of storytelling, but the discussion, while lively, didn't address new directions in narrative so much as it became a rallying point for those frustrated with the homogeneity of regional storytelling festivals curatorial visions.

Like many such encounters at conferences, this one kept me thinking for a long time... but the passion and excitement of discussion of ideas that happens at conferences is hard to sustain once you return home (but that's part of the hero's journey, right?).

This blog, then, is offered as a boon for the community-- or, if that's just too self-serving-- a gadfly to stir Pegasus to action (ooh! look! mythological reference!)-- or perhaps just a sturdy kitchen bowl into which we can all toss in a few eggs and make an omelet.


Anonymous said...

A boon! - your blog is a boon to shrinking and nearly moribund community. Let's rally and shake it up.

Professional Storyteller Rachel Hedman said...

Dear Tim:

You are a forward-thinker in the storytelling world. Thank you!

I would like to explore more of the theatre blogging community as this would be a natural step toward strengthening the storytelling movement.

Will Gerald Fierst re-submit the panel on Storytelling in the 21st Century? More than ever this panel is needed. The deadline has passed for the 2008 Conference though there is always the 2009 Conference in Los Angeles. California may be the best place to kick off this kind of panel.

I am glad to have found this latest blog of yours. I added your blog as a link on mine.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman

About Sean Buvala said...

Please enjoy the fact that on our favorite Storytell ing list serv, the new discussion has been about "have you all seen YouTube????!!!!"

My thought was that Tim must be rolling over in his grave, 'cept he's not dead yet.

Anonymous said...

Tim, you did make your biases clear and I identify with them strongly.

After retiring, I rekindled my interest in reading and writing poetry. One night in a coffee shop, I watched poet after poet walk to the microphone, sit down on the stool and read their poetry--head down, eyes on a piece of paper. Then a young man walked up and performed his poetry from his heart, eyes on us and just enough histrionics to let us all know he was the one who had created and crafted this poem but was allowing it to speak for itself.

That night and that poet changed my approach to poetry forever.

Some poems are more fit for the page, but as you said, a poem delivered from a stage can be so much more evocative in the ears of its listeners. I believe it was Bob Holman who said, "Poetry is an impact sport--no home but the ears." Well, yeah, and I like that, but we all know a poem or a story, once it's made the journey to the ears travels right into our hearts and minds, too.

Most of my poems tell a story. Do you have any suggestions for poets wanting to learn how to perform stories?