July 14, 2012

Conference Reflections: An Open Letter from Camille Born

storyteller Camille Born
Camille Born (Mahomet, Illinois) became a professional storyteller when she realized that her skills in telling personal anecdotes, sharing historical tidbits and giving her younger brother a life-long fear of closets could all be put together in a career. She was delighted, at age 50, to finally find out “what she wanted to be when she grew up”.  Besides telling folk tales, she writes original historical stories for performance. 
Learn more about Camille at her website: http://couldbeworsestories.com/

An Open Letter to My Storytelling Guild and Storytellers Everywhere:

This is a cool idea: https://www.facebook.com/notifications#!/StoriesInTheStreets/info by Andrea Lovett of Massachusetts.

And now, I am stepping onto my soapbox. (you've been warned)

Lots of times, as individual storytellers and as a guild, we lament about being asked to appear at events where the crowd is "just passing by." We want a seated crowd, good sound, etc. etc. etc. All the keynote speakers at the 2012 National Storytelling Conference talked about the need to build our audience—and to do it in whatever way we can; even for free. (not all of the comments in the keynotes were cheered by the audience). From young audience members will come future audience members and future tellers. We need to spread the word about storytelling to the public in general, to as many people as we can, in order to grow our audiences for future gigs—paid, "free-will" or otherwise.

To grow storytelling—and of course, get more work for all of us—we need to be bringing stories to people wherever they are. If there's a good idea out there, we should replicate it. I bet we even all have good ideas of our own. Yes, we all have done free work and really want to be paid. Me too. To get paid, we need people to show up. How can we expect people to show up to concerts—especially adults—if people don't know what storytelling is?? I did tell stories at the Champaign Farmer's Market last summer... and maybe only to one family each time, and maybe only 2–5 minutes stories, but it did spread the word. I did have a follow up visit from someone who heard me there. I did hand out brochures to adults passing by who said, "I never thought I would be so interested in a fairy tale." What I did was spread the word about—gave people a taste of—storytelling. Maybe some of those people showed up at your events. Who knows?

Telling at a farmer's market, or on the steps of the courthouse, or at an event when people are just passing by isn't "the best" for us, or for showing off our profession. If the goal is spreading the power of Story, however, those type of opportunities shouldn't be missed—especially if the reason for missing is "that's not how it should be done." Below, see the picture and post from Massachusetts teller Karen Chace who with two other tellers told to lines of people waiting to get into a park!

When next we gather—or perhaps at a meeting just to discuss possible events—I would like us to consider some "out of the box" functions. Why? because of all the above reasons and because: 2 years ago, I appeared as part of 40North's [Champaign County IL] Arts Council program in downtown Champaign, telling in the evening on a street corner. And then I told them, "y'know, telling to people just walking by doesn't work for storytelling..." and I've never been asked back. And now I see that there's art performances on the street corners of downtown Champaign every Friday night this summer: dance, fire breathing, magic, music, spoken word. Maybe if I hadn't been so rigid about "what storytelling needs" I would have been asked to participate this summer.

We all make our own choices, and do what we see is best for our careers, and our profession. I'm committed to jumping out of the storytelling box more often. Just call me Jack.

NEXT STEP: A guild in France is telling stories poolside this summer! What "out-of-traditional-storytelling box" places have you told at? Have you ever "taken it to the streets"? Where might you tell next?

Screenshot of Karen Chace's Facebook page used by permission. Photo copyright 2012 by Andrea Lovett, used by permission.


Marni Gillard said...

Uplifting post! LOVED seeing Karen at work and hearing of Camille's lesson learned..... this summer I had a private snit about not getting paid enough - WANTED to speak back to a producer but asked for good friends to help me find the words. They both helped me out of my snit, and into remembering (my words) that this art is a gift and I've been paid well plenty, and at times, my job is to open my mouth for STORYING and close it when all I want to do is whine. Thanks Camille, Andrea, Nicolette, Karen, and all my sister and brother tellers who remind me what we're all about.

thimble said...

this blog is really cool! I've never really seen storytelling much here in Australia but it's a really cool idea!
emoddle from swap-bot :-)