October 31, 2009

International Storytelling Network

Is it me, or do Europeans know how to form federations better than we Americans?

For years, the American storytelling movement has talked the talk about reaching out to international comrades in the oral tradition, but walking the walk consisted mainly of having a single foreign-born English-speaking storyteller appear at a conference or festival.

The internet has revolutionized collaboration, erasing borders and leaping great distances in geography and time zones. American storyteller Dianne de las Casas created Professional Storyteller almost two years ago using the Ning social networking platform, and it's gained a lot of traction, with storytellers joining from around the world (a niche site for storytellers at Ning has proven more successful than subgroups of intersted parties on sites like Orkut, Facebook, and Myspace). As of today, PS has over 1,100 members.

But a social network of professionals is essentially a closed room--a private party. Why isn't there a united public face to the world?
Well, over in Spain, storyteller Beatriz Montero has made a start. She's got the Spanish speaking world on board (and India) with an International Storytelling Network. (Technically, La Red Internacional de Cuentacuentos).

Beatriz has something on her side that PS doesn't have: collaborations with storytelling organizations in Brazil, Germany, India, Mexico, and Spain.

Will RIC make a connection to FEST, the newly formed European storytelling network to create a global networking powerhouse? Whether or not it does, this will definitely be a site to watch, if you're interested in what your fellow storytellers are doing in other countries.

Want to join? There's a directory of storytellers and festivals. I've added my name to a list of over one thousand entries. Storytellers can join here. Festivals join here.

The site is in English and Spanish. You'll get more out of the site if you know Spanish, but even if you don't, click around: I've already discovered storytelling festivals in Cuba, Ecuador, and Greece that I would never have otherwise learned about.

October 24, 2009

Guest Opinion: Gregory Leifel on the Storytelling Trance

Storyteller Gregory Leifel of Illinois, has graciously granted permission to post his musings on the "storytelling trance" (Stallings, 1988), a recurring topic of discussion among storytellers. This post first appeared on the Storytell email list, on October 1, 2009.

Let's say you're telling to an audience of 10 people (for simplicity-- you can extrapolate from there). They've come for a relaxing evening of story-listening.

In speculative estimates, say 6 of those people worked during the day out of the home and 3 worked within the home, and 1 was unemployed with no children to care for. Out of those six who worked, 5 had an extremely hard day due to more responsibility on the job due to recent company layoffs. The other 1 owns his business, and has also had to lay folks off, for which he feels terrible, but knows it's healthy for the company and allows the other employees to keep their jobs. Of the 3 that worked at home, 2 stay at home moms and 1 stay at home dad, it was laundry day on top of everything else going on with the kids, and they all arrived at the storytelling event after dropping off the kids at the soccer or dance or music class, and have 60 minutes for themselves before going to pick up the kids. The 1 unemployed person has sent out 200 resumes and has gotten one phone call, but was highly overqualified for the pathetic offer, though it's been months since he's worked so he actually thought about accepting the job--the paper hat he'd have to wear was the only thing preventing him from taking it. Out of the 10, only 5 have health insurance and hope to hold onto it, and the other 5 simply pray a lot, while Congress continues to argue and grandstand. Needless to say, it's been a rough day for all 10 people.

As the Storyteller for the evening, you know none of the above. You just see 10 people in your audience who will (hopefully) be with you for the next 60 minutes while you tell stories.

Each of those 10 people have either a voice or picture in their head (or both) reminding them of not only the things that happened to them today, but what they have to do right after the show and then tomorrow and then in the next few days. 2 have relatives who have medical conditions, and 4 aren't feeling so well about themselves due to recent tragedies within their close circle of friends.

You step out onto the stage, alone. 10 people are looking at you. Perhaps 3 have been to a storytelling event before and are actually ready to have you shut off a portion of their brain because the next 60 minutes are their escape from the laundry-list of worries and responsibilities. The other 7 people thought the evening might help them relax a bit, so they came to this event, with only a slight hope of relaxation, up against their own laundry list of responsibilities and what they will have to do 60 minutes from now.

Your job, as storyteller, for the next 60 minutes is to capture and hold their attention. To find a way FOR THEM to shut off their voices and pictures of responsibility in their heads and allow them to be REPLACED with suggested images from your stories.

Now that you've been privy to what was actually going on with these 10 people as they entered the room, does not the ability to hypnotize or enchant them seem like a tool you need in your storytelling pocket? Especially if we extrapolate and there are 100 people in your audience? 300 people? 500?

Their eager faces look up at you and you say, "Good evening ladies and gentleman."

Perhaps the 3 who've heard storytelling before will allow your prediction that the evening will be good, to stand for the moment. The other 7 may be saying to themselves, "We'll judge for ourselves just how good this evening will be, thank you very much." They all stare at you.

Tough crowd, you think. (And perhaps you, yourself, had a rough day, too--perhaps your own voice and pictures in your head are still voicing and showing what else you have to do before the day is done--or the room is too hot or cold, or the pay was based on attendance.) And you get yourself into storytelling mode by bringing up the first picture in your head of the first story you're going to tell. In order for that picture to take you into the story, you most likely make the picture bigger in your head/mind (you don't consciously do this, it's just what now happens having practiced your story enough). You do so because the bigger and more detailed the picture you have in your head, the easier it is for you to tell the story. You make that picture so big and detailed, the previously bigger laundry list picture that was in your head shrinks and then gets crowded out completely. And when it does, you're ready to tell these 10 people your first story.

In essence, what you've just done in your own head, is hallucinate an illustrated version of your story and made it so real that it dominates your attention, blocking out everything else. After all, this audience deserves your full attention. You know the laundry list picture is still behind the current story picture, but that's perfectly fine because for the next 60 minutes these other pictures are more important. They are highly detailed, with color, dimension, and even sound enhanced, and you feel them affect you. They enable you to concentrate on the story and on the audience, and block out anything else. It is the only way you're going to strongly communicate with these 10 people who've all had one hell of a day.

The process that took place in your head in order for you to get into the story, is what HAS TO TAKE PLACE in the listener. The images and words you're suggesting to them, have to take that tiny space they've allowed in their minds for the next 60 minutes, and quickly allow that space to grow, same as it did in your storytelling mind, where it blocks out the other 95% of space which is filled with their day so far, and with what responsibilities comes after this show. You literally have to help them grow their picture in their mind so that dominates their thoughts.

So the question becomes, HOW do you make that happen? HOW do you get them to do a similar process in their mind that you did in yours so you could concentrate on the story at hand, and not on your hell of a day?

You pace them to it. You suggest things for them to accept. You make your suggestions seductive and interesting, and acceptable. You lead them gently but firmly, and show them a better picture with your words.

When you said, "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," you've began pacing them. You suggested it would be a good evening. They may have fought you on that a bit, "We'll see," they may have said in their heads, but you planted the seed of possibility. Now you begin to water it and tend it, and they begin to see it grow and are amazed it sprouts so quickly. They feel the warmth of sunshine in your story on the side of their face and turn in the direction of full warmth because it's comforting. They hear and feel the water absorbing into the roots of the story, and even smell the damp earth of growth. Their previous pictures and nagging responsibility voices fade, move over, become smaller and smaller, fainter, as your suggested images grow in their minds. They perhaps nod in sync to a timed gesture of yours, as you engage them further.

All the while you, as storyteller, know the outcome, the moral, punchline, lesson, or even overall philosophy the story allows them to explore for themselves. They've eliminated the laundry list and are absorbed by your material and voice and movement and silences between these. You've hypnotized or enchanted them into a hallucinatory world where two pictures in their head/mind swapped places and sizes and details, one fading and getting smaller, the other growing with detail, color, size, dimension, depth, and relevancy. Yes, your aim was relevancy, and you got them to accept the suggestion with your words, actions, voice, gestures, eyes, pauses, and a host of natural communication skills, some you've worked on, others which are a part of you.

And then, like all good storytellers, you plant that seed of future suggestion. You give them something to take with them, so they aren't jarred into the laundry-list of responsibility when the 60 mintues are up. You give them hope there's more than the laundry-list. There's time for themselves. There's an ability to make the story picture bigger any time they want. To shrink the laundry list's importance so that there's room for what's more important, life. Life in all its possible suggestions which they can and will accept, for the betterment of themselves. Yes, you tell them, you can be responsible and have fun at the same time. That's a good evening, that's a good life.

That's the power of story. That's your responsibility as storyteller: to give them future suggestions with story, through story, and because of story, that will improve their lives through the further use of their imaginations.

Call it hypnosis. Call it trance. Call it positive hallucination. Call it imagination. Just call their attention to its possibilities.


Gregory Leifel
www.AhhhFinally.com (where Aha Moments in kids find fullfillment)

October 22, 2009

The Invisible Storytellers of the San Francisco Bay Area

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, described succintly by the New York Times, "9 counties, 8 bridges, 7 million people." With San Francisco as an international city and cultural hub, it's no surprise that the region has a large population of performing artists, and that includes storytellers. There are some amazing storytellers in the Bay Area, many of whom I've had the privilege to hear, to learn from, to be coached and mentored by, and to work alongside.

But recently I got a call from a potential client in a town nearby, just 12 miles away from me. She told me that although she found my contact information, she had a very difficult time finding any other Bay Area storytellers online. The other performer she contacted lived in Santa Cruz county, a hundred miles away. This surprised me, as I can think of at least 6 world class storytellers who live within a 15 minute drive of my house. 5 of those 6 have a website. But to a potential client, who didn't know their names, she couldn't find them.

I didn't ask how she phrased her query, but I did my own search, seeking "storyteller" and adding modifiers like "Berkeley" or "San Francisco."

Sure enough, my name came up. Of those other 6 talents... none. (Actually, just did the search again, 2 of them appeared under results for the query "San Francisco storyteller". Either they've finally updated their web site or Google once again adjusted their search algorithm or else Google is adjusting its search results based on my past search history or all of the above)

Other folks have written about this phenomenon before. And I've know about this issue for years. Back in the 1990s, I was an editor for the Open Directory Project--a massively collaborative online attempt to catalog the Web using human editorial judgement-- and I volunteered to catalog every storytelling website I could find. And I noticed that a significant portion, maybe 30-40% of websites for a single individual-- neglected to put any geographical reference point in their website's copy. So it might have several pages about programs offered, rave reviews, and even copy so compelling that were I in the market to hire a storyteller I'd definitely want this person-- but it had no information about where in the world this person worked. Sometimes, I could deduce the region based on the area code of the contact number, but other times there was no clue.

But the era of AOL and Yahoo! is ten years behind us. We've all learned to live with the Web. Not everyone jumps on the latest thing, like Twitter, but I thought that Google has become indispensable. (Ten years ago I was working for a competing search engine, and the writing was on the wall then: we knew (months before we went bankrupt) that the big G was a game-changer). I recognize that living so close to Silicon Valley, my social milieu is (supposedly) more tech savvy then the average person. (And my experience working in the industry, however briefly, makes me more attuned to the ins and outs of online marketing w/r/t search engine optimization.

But this recent reminder of how invisible storytellers are online, even now, surprised me.

If you're a storyteller-- can you find yourself on Google?

Tougher question: can you find yourself without typing in your name?

If you're someone looking for a storyteller, let me know how you search-- do you search by geography? Or do you search by content (e.g. "ghost stories," "Irish stories," etc.)

October 07, 2009

National Storytelling Festival Wrap Up, Part 2: the Blogs

A sampling of blog postings reflecting on the 37th Annual National Storytelling Festival, held in Jonesborough, Tennessee, the first weekend of October:

Emma Coffer and Erin Maring, posted their reflections on their blog, Whims-E:
Are you afraid of the dark?
Stories! Trains! Fun Hats!
I wanna sing, I wanna dance, Allelu
Top Three Story Moments

Blogger Ellouise Schoettler writes about her Jonesborough experience on Ellouisestory. She wasn't just an audience member—she was one of the invited performers!
Friday to Sunday at the National Storytelling Festival

Annie Campbell teaches third grade, and writes eloquently about her students and the process of teaching, writing, and telling stories. She's been to the National Festival before, and went again this year:
By Chance?

Over at the Storytelling Arts of Indiana blog, storyteller Lou Ann Homan-Saylor writes about her pilgrimage to the Festival, accompanying Ellen Munds, who was awarded the National Storytelling Network's Oracle Award for Distinguished National Service this year, the night before the Festival.
The Mecca to Jonesborough

Appalachian blogger and storyteller "Granny Sue" can always be counted on for a detailed description of her travels, as well as a few photos, and she does not disappoint this year:
National Storytelling Festival: Storytelling and Friends

Over at Alone on a Limb, Terrell Shaw shares his impressions of the tellers he heard at the Festival: Sunday Concert, Truthful Lies

National Storytelling Festival Wrap Up, Part 1: Twitter

Well, I wasn't there this year, at the 37th Annual National Storytelling Festival, held each year in Jonesborough, Tennessee, the first weekend in October.

However, I knew from last year, that it was possible to follow the weekend vicariously, through Twitter. This year, I tuned into the tweets of @Storyconnect (the official twitter account of the International Storytelling Center that hosts the event), and various attendees, and a performer or two, including Ellouise Schoettler, a wonderful storyteller out of Maryland that I know from several worlds (the storytelling circuit, the blogging world, and Fringe Festivals), who was making her debut at the Festival this year.

And while the 140 character limit of Twitter can't help but fail to express the feeling of a three-day storytelling lovefest, there were some nice glimpses over the weekend of the festival's spirit:

@BuckPCreacy Ah I am here. . . Tell me some story 5:11 PM Oct 1st

@MargaretMeyers: Nat'l Story Night has a nature all its own. Stories so touching, audience in tune. 9:28 PM Oct 1st

@Storyconnect: A beautiful morning in J-borough. Watching families & excited festival-goers pin on their calico "tickets." Tellers, your audience awaits! 6:30 AM Oct 2nd

@Djeliba: I got up early to do my ritual of visiting the stage. There are people seated in the audience 2 hours before performances begin! Wow! 7:31 AM Oct 2nd

@iBelin: "There are no fairy godmothers in my story 'cause women stand on their own two feet where I come from." Gay Ducey #Storytelling 11:35AM Oct 2nd

@Storyconnect: Kathryn Windham, on being Southern: "We are not embarrassed by our peculiarities. We chart 'em out & tell stories about them!" 12:26 PM Oct 2nd

@LeeRosen: National Storytelling Festival totally doesn't get social media. Photos, videos, and device use prohibited. Fail. 12:51 PM Oct 2nd

@DavidJoeMiller: //// If you're in Jonesborough right now, stay out of Boo Alley after night fall. Legend has it that ....................... 4:26 PM Oct 2nd

@Djeliba: Just finished my performance (1,200) people in the audience. What an amazing experience! 5:12PM Oct 2nd

@Ellouisestory: Please excuse me. I am still glowing from my first time on a Jonesborough stage at Exchange Place. #storytelling 9:30 PM Oct 2nd

@MargaretMeyers: Watching Eric Wolf around town at #storytelling festival doing interviews. Waiting to hear what he does with them. 9:31 PM Oct 2nd

@LeeRosen: Awake and getting ready for big day of stories. Jonesborough will be packed today. 4:21 AM Oct 3rd

@VeronicaMcG: Crammed like a sardine in a tent w/ 1000 other people at the Natl Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tn., & loving every min of it. 6:53 AM Oct 3rd

@focusonthecloud: I've travelled the south looking for ghost stories & have only found 2 evil ghosts. Thats a lot better than the humans I've met. - Kathryn 8:44 AM Oct 3rd

@focusonthecloud: So there we were a catholic priest, a baptist pastor and a methodist minister flying thru the air with no punchline in sight. - Bill Lepp 1:32 PM Oct 3rd

@DianaBaldwin: At the National Storytelling Festival- the first real social media. Amazing, captivating stories, and absolutely zero backnoise. 3:54PM Oct 3rd

@Storyconnect: Irish scary stories never fail to terrify-- I am now afraid of cairns, bath water, pokers, & cake. You might not want to know why. 6:13 PM Oct 3rd

@Consultdoc: Had a great time at the Intl Storytelling Festival. Fun to get a little old school and laugh out loud. Highly reccommend it. 7:03 PM Oct 3rd

@DianaBaldwin: @storylaura just finished the ghost stories segment. Did you go? Amazing & under the perfect moon... 7:14 PM Oct 3rd

@Ellouisestory: listening to the train passing through early in the morning. Its the music of storytelling here in Jonesboro. 5:02 AM Oct 4th

@Storyconnect: A tent full of of thousands just sang three songs in four-part harmony. That's it's own kind of magic! 7:23 AM Oct 4th

@Storyconnect: Bil Lepp vs. mountain lion. Any takers on the bet? 12:17 PM Oct 4th

@SlashColeman: is back from Jonesborough....ahhhhh. 4:40 AM Oct 5th

Some of the Twitter users even managed a "tweetup" on Saturday morning (photo here)

Tweeter @LeeRosen's frustration with the Festival's policy on electronic devices is understandable, but that didn't stop several tweeters from snapping photos with their cell phones (I found pics of Sheila Kay Adams, Donald Davis, and Kathryn Windham via Twitter... well, most of the pic is row upon row of audience in folding chairs while at the far side of the tent was a tiny human being. If you say that little speck is Sheila, I'll believe you).

Meanwhile, over at @focusonthecloud, Matt Harris was actually twittering quotes from storytellers in near real-time. (Maybe Festival staff and tent volunteers aren't on the lookout for active Blackberries?) Not a substitute for hearing the whole story, but Matt was capturing some nice turns of phrase from these orators. And, if, like me, you've heard some of these tellers before, the tweets evoke the sound of their voices. So I appreciate what Matt was doing.

If I had been there? I would have found a way to post, but probably not during the performances. As much as I like to share the experience online, when it comes to performances, I'm there to experience the storytelling trance. The tweets can come later.