December 18, 2010

Interview with a Rock and Roll Storyteller

Following up on my earlier review of "Dizzy Miss Lizzy's Roadside Revue presents Finn McCool," I'm sharing an interview with one of the company's founders, Debra Buonaccorsi. First, here's a description of how D.M.L.R.R. describes itself:

Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue is theatre and vaudeville. It’s rock and roll, bluegrass and Americana. It’s the spirit of Woody Guthrie and the dustbowl wrapped up in a gyspy punk. The spirit of the vagabond and the rebel. They are the voice of human kind’s savage soul. It’s pure storytelling with bare hands and authentic voices. Storytelling cranked up good and loud through a Telecaster and a Marshall amp.

DMLRR was founded in Washington DC by veteran actor/musicians Debra Buonaccorsi and Steve McWilliams. Led by their common love for theatre, rock and roll, and the traditions of American music and storytelling, they sought to bridge the gap between a night at the theatre and a rock concert.


Pictured: Debra Buonaccorsi (foreground) and Steve McWilliams (R) in "Dizzy Miss Lizzy's Roadside Revue presents Finn McCool" at the Capital Fringe Festival, July 22, 2010. Photo copyright 2010 by Paul Gillis Photography; used by permission.

How did you first hear about Fionn mac Cumhaill? And what was the inspiration to bring his origin story to life with a rock and roll show?

It was an idea that Steve and I had been tossing around for a while- we'd never nailed it down to one particular Irish legend. I was into all things Irish in high school- literature, music, culture, Bono etc… and my sister, upon returning from a trip to Ireland, brought me a book called Gods and Fighting Men, which was a book of Irish Mythology compiled by Lady Gregory (a good friend of William Butler Yeats). The stories were odd and funny, as mythology usually is, but they stuck with me. When my good friend Laura Keena, the actress who played the Druidess Bodhmal in the show, brought Finn McCool up as a possible subject for a DMLRR show, I was instantly inspired. Laura’s parents have this amazing wood carving that they brought back from their honeymoon in Ireland, of the Finn McCool legend. It has the faces of Finn and Finneces carved out, there’s a salmon in there somewhere. So, the Laura and I set off to googling Finn McCool, and called Steve. Being of Irish descent and having spent time in Ireland, Steve was familiar with Finn and loved the idea.

Rock and roll is an essential part of the DMLRR aesthetic. There is something so “everyman” about rock music. It’s unpretentious, unadorned, high energy, it’s visceral and cuts to the chase. That’s why we feel it suits us and our storytelling. The extra added bonus of Irish legend and rock music is that there was so much inspiration in Irish music and Irish rock music. The Irish have been telling great stories through music for centuries- so we thought it was a perfect marriage.

Did you consciously view this show as storytelling, as opposed to a rock opera, or a musical, or a live concept album?

We hate to think of ourselves as musical theatre. We do have the concept album in mind when we’re writing. We’d like all of our music to be able to stand alone as a concept album, without a script, in the tradition of The Who’s Tommy or Pink Floyd’s The Wall. We do think of ourselves as storytellers. It gives us license to have fun and play and interact with the audience; it frees us from the confines of “theatre.”

Were you worried about the audiences knowledge of this story (or lack thereof)?

Maybe we should have been more worried. There was a mention in a review about “barely decipherable Irish names.” That’s never stopped people from understanding Chekhov, and those are barely decipherable Russian names. Most of the negative comments about the show have been about the confusing story and names. I thought it was pretty simple stuff. We’re thinking in the re-write that we would add a story song to get all of the necessary exposition and background out. We’re also thinking of using multi-media “cave painting” -esque drawings to assist in that area.

What does the rock and roll revue format give you artistically that traditional musical theatre doesn't?

Both Steve and I have spent a lot of time in the musical theatre world and we both have grown dissatisfied with its limitations and conventions and we question the cultural relevance of musical theatre as an art form. We started out trying to tap into the traditions of vaudeville and burlesque—“low” forms of entertainment and we’re both rock and rollers—also considered a “low” form—in fact, I recently heard rock and rock described as a “derivative” form of music. Which I had to laugh at: what isn’t derivative? We’re all walking derivatives. Anyway, as I said earlier, the rock and roll revue format gives us freedom to have fun and be loose. There’s so much energy and immediacy in a rock show. Someone once said after seeing one of our shows, that we weren’t acting like we were having fun: we WERE having fun. Steve and I call Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue our playground. We simply invite others to come and play with us on our playground. You can play with us, or if you don’t like our games, you can take your ball and go home.

If you live in or near the Washington DC area, you can see the show again in 2011: DMLRR has recently completed a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to self-produce "Finn McCool" in March at the Woolly Mammoth.

November 23, 2010

Shout Out: Dizzy Miss Lizzy's Roadside Revue - Finn McCool

As an out-of-towner at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington DC this past July, I had minimal information to go on in selecting which of the 137 productions to see. I did what research I could, visiting performer's websites, paying attention to local reviews... but with limited time and money, I mainly chose based on content: what was the show about? When I discovered, on the Fringe web site, that there would be a "post-apocalyptic, raucous, rock and roll, retelling of the Irish legend: Finn Mc Cool" by a group called Dizzy Miss Lizzy's Roadside Revue, I made time in my schedule.

Now, as a storyteller, I'd certainly heard of Fionn mac Cumhaill (my Celtic storytelling colleagues would never forgive me if I didn't use the Gaelic spelling). Over the years, I had heard a tale here or there of this Irish warrior-king of the Fianna, but I'd never read or heard Finn's origin story (And, truth be told, hearing one too many versions of the tall tale where Finn meets Cuchulainn did not inspire me to seek it out). So now here, I hoped, in DC, I'd get to hear it... gathered in the darkness with strangers to hear a story.

Only we weren't gathered in the dark. We were in a portable tent (a good omen for storytelling) set up as a temporary venue constructed for the duration of the Fringe, with a massive soundsystem (so it could double as the party spot) and a roof to keep the summer thundershowers off the outdoor thrust stage (seating on three sides). Though not air-conditioned (and in DC in July, that fact made it into every review of each show that played there), the venue was conveniently located next to the Fringe bar.

The stacks of amps, full drum kit, microphones, and numerous electric guitars on the stage made me realize this was not going to be your average storytelling set. The programs and postcards for the show set up the frame that the legend of Finn McCool would be presented as a rock and roll revue with six bands on the bill (With just 8 performers in the show, the "bands" were created with costume changes and sometimes switching up instruments).

And so, in music and song, we were treated to Finn's origin story: how his father, leader of the Fianna warriors, was killed by Goll Mac Morna; how his mother gave him up to be raised in secret by the druidess Bodhmall and the warrior woman Liath Luachra; and how Finn obtains the Salmon of Wisdom during his service to the poet and teacher Finneces, which enables him to claim his place as leader of the Fianna and defeat Goll.

Plot points were kept to a minimum to let the music do the heavy lifting of the show: and it worked. The music ranged from ballads (both acoustic and power) to art rock to stadium rock to blues... the troupe used a wide musical palette to vary the emotions through the arc of the story, and the audience cheered every time they recognized a trope (e.g. guitar solos, power duets, drinking song choruses). I was also impressed by the quality of the performers (though the show had a thrown-together, held-together-with-duct-tape thrift-store aesthetic, everyone in it, from the costumer to the composer to the performers had bona fide professional theatre chops). The singers--most with musical theatre backgrounds and many recognized by local critics and peers with theater awards--really delivered, as the variety of songs explored a vast emotional range.

Pictured: Audience and Felicia Curry, Matthew Schleigh (as Finn), and Debra Buonaccorsi. Photo copyright 2010 by Paul Gillis Photography; used by permission

This show called to mind ancient traditions of epic storytelling, where the community gathered to listen to stories of heroes, and achieve an altered state of consciousness. At the Fringe, our consciousness was being altered not only by our willingngess to engage with the drama, but the soaring melodies and the volume of the music, but by the venue's heat, humidity, and proximity to the performers (no one was farther than 15 feet from the stage). The availability of alcohol helped, too.

Furthermore, the posturing and tropes of rock and roll passed for modern day versions of the ritual required for the sharing of such epics. So, while in an oral culture, everyone in the audience would know the story (e.g. the Ramayana) , this performance gave the audience a story in a style everyone knew, though many weren't familiar with the characters or plot.

The creators of the show made sure that before and after each song, characters explained who they were, what they wanted, and where they were going. The extra exposition here was necessary for an audience unfamiliar with this epic. Some reviewers complained that the exposition muddied the dramatic arc, but I found it was not only necessary to get the story out, but actually a clever way to continue to build the trance state you want in an epic storytelling session (My own theory: by giving the logical brain narrative, we're compelled to engage more--to find out what happens next-- which allows us to continue in the performance environment towards a trance state).

Me? I’m predisposed to enjoying epic narration (my list of most enjoyable theatrical experiences include narration heavy shows like lookingglass theatre’s Argonautika and Metamorphoses, and Mabou Mines’ Peter and Wendy… and to which, I’m adding this production), so my enthusiasm for this show might differ from the typical DC theatregoer, but all in all... I found it a thoroughly delightful way to engage with an ancient myth, and in terms of artistic craft, an inventive and masterfully crafted performance experience.

If you're not in the DC area (and won't get a chance to see future productions of Finn McCool), you can get a mere taste of it: Check out this Flickr slide show with Paul Gillis' photos (link) while you play music from the show via DMLRR's page on Myspace. (The versions there are clean, but nowhere near as thrilling as hearing them performed live by sweaty rock and rollers a stone's throw from you!)

Coming up soon: an interview with one of the show's creators, Debra Buonaccorsi

September 15, 2010

Gemma Hannah's Online Storytelling Challenge

Storyteller Gemma Hannah of London has put out a call for storytellers: storytellers who are willing to collaborate-- via video-- on a multi-teller version of Anansi and the Box of Stories. Watch her version (see below), then post a video of your telling (on Vimeo). Once she has a variety of versions, she'll produce an edited version featuring storytellers from around the world.

More details at

Can't quite picture how this will work? Check out John Liu's film "The Art of Storytelling": link

September 10, 2010

Storyteller Jay O'Callahan on Imagination, Listening, and Appreciation

The 99% has posted a talk by storyteller Jay O'Callahan, in which he shares some of his process for developing stories. Included is an excerpt from "Forged in the Stars," a story commissioned by NASA on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.

The audience for this talk aren't storytellers, so O'Callahan's simplifies his process greatly (you would too, if you only had 20 minutes to explain what you do), but notice how the story he tells to illustrate his point is a story about storytelling. In his telling, he's not telling the story of the moon landing, he's telling the story of Neil Armstrong telling the story of the moon landing.

August 27, 2010

In Conversation with Ellouise Schoettler

I can't quite remember the timeline of how I met Ellouise Schoettler. I'm sure it was via email first (perhaps on STORYTELL). She introduced herself in person at the Bay Area Storytelling Festival. I ran into her again in Fresno, California, at the Rogue Festival. And then I found her blog, and her online videos. I've learned a lot from Ellouise: we worked together in a MasterMind group, and this year, we each had shows at the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington DC (where I finally got to hear her tell in person... and she had one of the most focused, robust social media strategies for promoting her show of any of the 130+ artists in the Festival). While I was there, she asked me to come be interviewed on her cable television show, "Stories in Focus," and I was delighted to talk with her on camera about my work as a storyteller and storytelling blogger.

Considering we didn't plan our conversation at all, I thought we managed to sound reasonably coherent. Ellouise wanted to keep the conversation lively, so all I knew going in was that I could tell a story (about 10-12 minutes long) and that I should think of a tip to share at the end of the show.

August 08, 2010

Shout Out: Storyteller Mark Goldman's Advice from the Experts

Storyteller Mark Goldman may be relatively new to the storytelling community, but one thing he's been doing recently is asking professional storytellers for advice to share with everyone. Thanks to Mark's iPod (with a built-in video camera) and YouTube, you can see the results in one-minute video bites. And Mark's recent trip to the National Storytelling Network's 2010 Conference means he's got a bumper crop of new videos.

Check out Mark's "Experts" page:

August 02, 2010

Shout Out: the 2010 National Storytelling Conference

NSN conferenceI'll have more to say about the four days I spent in Los Angeles at the 2010 National Storytelling Conference, but I wanted to publicly thank all the Conference organizers, from those who found the hotel venue to those who read proposals to those who auditioned performers.
I especially want to thank NSN staffers Karin Hensley and Kit Rogers who do a million things behind the registration desk and behind the scenes cheerfully and efficiently, --and a special shout out for the sound crew (Steven Henegar, you're my hero).

Thanks to Mike Speller, Lisa Rowland, and Nancy Donoval for being willing to jump into Ruth Halpern's and my late night fringe show and improvise without knowing what would happen.

Thanks to all those who were willing to stay up late discussing storytelling... thanks Dixie, Eric, Jeff, Nancy, Joel. (I hope I've thoroughly convinced you that personal memoir is an OVERRATED AND OVEREXPOSED PERFORMANCE GENRE AND WE'RE SO OVER IT)

So many workshops, performances... it was impossible to fit them all in, so if we only had time for a hug, a hello, a "how's the conference going for you," a brief hallway chat: I just want to say how glad I am to have made the connection, no matter how brief, if only to prove that you're not just an imaginary "friend" I connect with via a 75 x 75 pixel photo on my computer screen.

It was great fun to meet new folks, meet online friends in person, and catch up with old pals.

Hey, if anything I said or did during the preconference / fringe / showcase / panel / back of the room discussion / late night at the pool bar / early mornings by Starbucks / passing in the hallway raised a question for you... let me know. Email me. I'm delighted to continue the conversation.

Photo credit: Dianne de las Casas

July 23, 2010

2010 Capital Fringe Festival Wrap Up: Lessons Learned

I returned recently from ten days in Washington DC telling stories at the 5th annual Capital Fringe Festival. I'll have more to say both about my run of shows and the other performances I encountered, but here's a quick summary of some of my experiences.

  1. Solo performers support solo performers.
  2. A hundred and thirty shows to choose from? Doesn't matter how good your postcard is. You need buzz, targeted marketing, and personal connections. And, in DC in the summer, an air-conditioned venue.
  3. And a good title.
  4. Be nice to the venue manager. Among other things, she's in charge of the air conditioning.
  5. Whether there are 12 people in the audience or 50 people, you still have to deliver.
  6. Media outlets don't have storytelling critics. So if they send a theatre critic to review your show, they may not understand what you're doing.
  7. Don't forget your vocal warmup.
  8. Or your pants.
  9. It is possible to do a show without air conditioning (in Washington DC in the summer), but it's not pleasant.
  10. It is possible to do a show without a vocal warmup, but it's not pleasant.
  11. It is possible to do a show without pants.

June 15, 2010

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Simple idea, brilliant execution: take a fable that most people are likely to know, and ask them to tell it. Splice the tellings together.

Designer John Liu did just that with his Nikon camera:

Art of Storytelling *new from John Lui on Vimeo.

June 11, 2010

Which Would You Rather Hear?

Great story or great storyteller: which do you prefer?

(hat tip to Sean, who reminded me that this question was first put into my noggin by Priscilla Howe, who asked the question on her Storytelling Notes blog early in 2009: link)

May 27, 2010

What Transports You?

(Apologies for the lack of recent posts. I've had lots of ideas, but as it takes me about 90 minutes to 2 hours to write a blog post, it's been difficult to carve out time. So I thought up an experiment: with video, I could blurt out my thoughts for a few minutes, and shazam!, instant blog post. (While my internal editor is harsh when it comes to the printed word --a 15 minute burst of creativity turns into a couple of hours of wordsmithing and copy editing-- but when it comes to improvisation, my editor is okay with "what you see is what you get" )

So, when do stories transport you?


Read more about the story listener's state of transportation in "The Enchanted Imagination: Storytelling's Power to Entrance Listeners," by Brian W. Sturm, American Library Association, September 27, 2006. Link.

May 07, 2010

The Storyteller's Fire (David Novak)

Creative Commons LicenseStumbled across this audience warm-up: an old outdoor education standby for focusing the attention of a large group of campers, adapted here by storyteller David Novak for storytelling.

File this in the "why didn't I think of this before?" drawer.

April 19, 2010

Noted Recently (April 19, 2010)

  1. The Cape Girardeau Storytelling Festival, which ran April 9-11 in Southeastern Missouri, seems to be the first storytelling Festival that had live tweeting for the entire event. Stephanie Lynch, the Director of PR and Marketing for the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau, muses on the Twitter feed here, but more interesting is the feed itself: --when you get to the bottom click on "more" to get earlier posts.

  2. Millicent, former storytelling blogger, seems to have moved on to content aggregation over at Netvibes: Tonsil: the Itinerant Storytelling Listener's Portal.

  3. And this, from Tuesday's Guardian:
    "There's nothing quite as fun and exhausting as an improvised story marathon that covers everything from murderous children to wizards in forests."

    More here:
    And on the Thousandth Night...
    (don't miss the gallery, and view some video clips)

Photo courtesy Kristof Van Landschoot

April 10, 2010

Happy 100th Episode, Art of Storytelling Show

Over at The Art of Storytelling Show, Eric Wolf is celebrating 3 years of his podcast with a 100th episode jubilee. If you haven't had a chance to listen to any of Eric's podcast before, it's a veritable encyclopedia of the current storytelling revival in North America. Each episode is an interview with a working artist, producer, or academic in the storytelling community. Whether you're interested in personal stories, ghost stories, or working with stories in classrooms, you'll find something of value in one or more of these free interviews (If you've never listened, you might want to skip episode 100... it's self-referential).

I'm pleased to note that later this year, Eric Wolf will receive an award from the National Storytelling Network for Distinguished National Service, for his efforts sharing the knowledge of the storytelling community through his podcast.

March 31, 2010

Shout Out: Fireside Storytelling (San Francisco)

I've been so wrapped up in watching storytelling online lately, that I had to take a breather tonight and head out to see some real, live storytelling.

So I headed across the bridge to the Climate Theatre, a cozy 50-seat black box in San Francisco, to see Fireside Storytelling, a new monthly series of personal storytelling.

I had a great time--despite the fact that, as you longtime readers will recall--I don't even particularly like personal storytelling as a genre.

Six storytellers plus a story from the emcee. A theme, tonight's was "I faked it," which was interpreted in a variety of ways by the tellers.

Why did I enjoy the show so much?

The enthusiasm of the producers. The cozy feeling of gathering in a small room to hear stories on a rainy night. An aesthetic of "sitting up late at the kitchen table with really interesting people." A lack of polish (but not a lack of confidence). A chance to see storytelling in its natural habitat... okay, it was on a stage, under theatrical lighting... but from people who hadn't crafted the story as part of an eight week class, or a day-long workshop... just people who the producers knew were good at telling stories from their lives.

Overall, the evening had a decidedly different feel for personal storytelling from the carefully polished sentiment and nostalgia that graces so many of the storytelling community's stages. Neither did it have the alcohol-fueled agitation of other established personal storytelling nights.

I suspect this series, just three months old, could well become a beloved institution in San Francisco.

March 11, 2010

So, Willy, that's a New Sound for You, Isn't It?

Random department: If you search on the name "Willy Claflin" on YouTube, you get about 19 results. Most are of storyteller Willy Claflin singing a song, or telling a story. But you also get this:

Love the suit.

Anyone seen Willy Claflin break into Korean boy band pop?

Update March 16: the original video was removed from YouTube, so you can't repeat the search results oddity anymore.

I still have no idea why a live performance of the song "1 년 정거장," or "1 Year Station" sung by G-Dragon showed up in the search results.

March 01, 2010

Shout Out: Morgan Taylor, Musician (and Picture Storyteller)

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to attend a house concert in Oakland, California, to see singer/ songwriter Morgan Taylor. He introduced me and my children to a live version of the Gustafer Yellowgold experience.

Morgan sang and played guitar live, with tunes bringing to mind the songwriting of David Bowie and the Beatles, as if arranged for Seals and Croft, England Dan and John Ford Coley, and Al Stewart). Of course I fell under his spell: I'm exactly his demographic.

But there was a difference from a typical house concert featuring a musician: Morgan stands next to a screen, and from his laptop produces not only backing tracks (bass, keyboards, drums) but animated illustrations of the characters that he sings about or sings as.

The music is well-crafted (great hooks, thoughtful arrangements) and the animated illustrations bring the songs to life, aiding in the visualization of the strange and wonderful denizens of the mythology Taylor has created. But here's the key, for me: the content of the songs are Alice-in-Wonderland strange, and the illustrations help to make that accessible. So music and image work together, but the flow of the evening... the connective tissue of the world Taylor has created... is story. Songs seemed to inspire characters, character inspires songs, but in fact the evening worked because Taylor, in between songs, gave us matter-of-fact-ly delivered explanations of the details of Gustafer Yellowgold narrative: how he came to Earth, where he landed, what his brother does, how he spends his time. Each detail accumulates to build a story.

I'm late to the party on this one (hat tip to my brother): AlternaDads, librarians, and kindie rock aficionados have known about him for years, but here's what struck me the most, while watching the performance: Taylor is actually a traditional picture-storyteller, continuing on a tradition like the picture storytellers of India (a tradition dating back 27 centuries), Pardehdari in Iran, and the art of kamishibai in Japan. He's part of a small group of modern day performers whose live performances depend on a lively interplay between visual images and the told story (in this group I'd include performance artist Laurie Anderson, cartoonist Ben Katchor, and Fringe Festival favorite Barry Smith).

Catch up on Taylor's touring schedule on the Gustafer Yellowgold website.

One more thought: I am reminded of my trip to India, where our storytelling tour kept encountering references in song and in image to the Ramayana... which most of us had not read from beginning to end... and so we learned the story by accretion of details. In the same way, the story of Gustafer Yellowgold, is pieced together through songs and videos. As far as I know, there is no definitive Gustafer text (i.e. you can't read his story from A to Z, though obsessed fans could, I'm sure, put the songs on a timeline)... but here's my wish: that someday Taylor gives us Gustafer's monomyth--the hero's journey--because I would love to follow Gustafer on a sequenced narrative (and, hey, the younger kids... sequential patterning... not a bad conceptual ride for the pre-reading crowd to go on). I suspect the care and attention that Taylor has put into the "color" of his mythos has left me hungry for more plot.

So, how about it Morgan? Any plans for Gustafer's Odyssey?

February 15, 2010

Storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham on Alabama's Ghost Trail

While combing through YouTube for video of storytellers, I found a terrific interview with Alabama storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham, recorded for the Alabama Ghost Trail (a project of Southwest Alabama Tourism). She's mostly not telling stories in the interview (though there are a few), but talking about storytelling, so I thought I'd let her do the talking. (Interview in three parts, about 30 minutes total)

Part 1, she talks about ghost stories, and a little about her own ghost, Jeffrey.

Part 2: More about Jeffrey, the importance of storytelling in the Southern United States and her part of Alabama, blue bottle trees, and family storytelling.

Part 3: telling ghost stories to children, why ghosts come back, collecting and preserving ghost stories.

These videos were produced by Matt Wilson in association with the University of Alabama Fellows Experience and Southwest Alabama Tourism. You can find more videos from the Alabama Ghost Trail at:

February 08, 2010

Introducing: Story Lab X

Does the art of the storyteller translate well to video?

It's a question that storytellers have wrestled with since the beginnings of the American storytelling revival, which predated the rise of the home video recorder by just a handful of years.

As a performer (and as an audience member), it's an interesting dilemma, as video has the potential to increase reach, at the same time that it may or may not capture what is essential about the live art.

There's been some recent chatter (again) about the invisibility of this art form in today's broadband media landscape, and this called to mind recent efforts (like those of Ellouise Schoettler, Philip David Morgan, Eric Wolf, and RED Internacional de Cuentacuentos, among others) to use the Web to showcase videos of storytellers telling stories.

So, along those lines, for your consideration, to consider both the plusses and minuses of watching storytellers on video, I'm launching a new site, Story Lab X.

I'm simply curating-- scraping videos from YouTube, Vimeo, Ning, Blip, etc. (so if one day you happen to catch one of your own videos there-- don't panic. I'm simply linking to where you originally posted it using the 'embed' code. (If you don't want your online video shared online, then might I suggest disabling the sharing option?)).

I chose the word "lab" to call to mind an experiment. The videos that appear will not only differ in their content, but in their approach to the medium. There are aesthetic issues the translation to video entails... some of these videos are clearly using what different about the medium to their advantage, and many, it is clear, have not thought about it. Posts on some of these issues raised, the plusses and minuses of translation to video, are coming soon.

Meanwhile, over at Story Lab X, the videos are there for you to ponder, to enjoy, and to stir up questions of aesthetics.

Here's your first assignment: enjoy the videos:

For the time being, there's a new video posted each day.

(But if that's not enough for you, there is always my semi-curated storytelling collection on YouTube)

January 15, 2010

What does storytelling look like?

Find more photos like this on Professional Storyteller

This question, "What does storytelling look like?" came up as I was re-designing a website for a local storytelling organization. I was having trouble porting over the organization's website header to the new template, and so I wondered if I could create a new one, using a combination of the organization's logo and an image that captured the essence of storytelling.

It's hard to capture that moment in a photograph.

You'll notice that a lot of professional storytellers have head shots (de rigeur for business)> Many have publicity photos of themselves in a dynamic pose. The pictures are attractive, even engaging, but they don't show the act of storytelling: they hint at it.

I visited some stock photo sites, but the few images that turned up were too staged, and often featured a parent reading a book. Google images wasn't much better.

And the wisdom of crowds doesn't help (looking for "storyteller" or "storytelling" on Flickr and Picasa doesn't yield any evocative images.)

I ended up abandoning my attempt to create a new logo, but the question came up again when I noticed that over at the National Storytelling Network, the front page had added a slideshow. The questions of "what does storytelling look like?" came up again.

A picture of a storyteller on a stage documents a performance. It shows that storytellers so-and-so were at such-and-such a place for this-or-that event. It might even be a dynamic shot. But if I don't know who that performer is, or that it's a storytelling event, would I think "storytelling" just from the photo?

Does the audience need to be in the photo? And how would you distinguish a photo of someone giving a speech from that of someone telling a story?

I don't have an answer. Have you seen a picture that captures the essence of storytelling? Post in the comments.

For now, I'll leave you with some pictures to explore:

Selections from The Ray Hunold Photography Collection (19,000 photos of storytellers, housed at UC Davis) Scroll down to see some B&W photos of West Coast tellers from two decades ago.

The National Storytelling Festival Photo Gallery (photos taken by Tom Raymond of Fresh Air Photo)

Slideshow of 2008 Ojai Storytelling Festival (photos by Dean Zatkowsky)