Sunday, February 24, 2008

West window in my office

Notice the snow on the ground. I love having flowers in the winter!

Storytelling tip #7

Really, it's more of a life tip, but here goes:


Drink plenty of water before you perform and even during if necessary. If you find yourself clearing your throat, take a sip of water. I build in places in some stories where the characters drink water. Water is better than anything else for your voice. Yes, lemon tea tastes good, and honey feels nice on your throat, nothing wrong with that, but the absolute best is water. That's what a speech pathologist told me many years ago.

I don't subscribe to the theory that you have to drink 8-10 glasses of water every day. It turns out that's one of those myths that we parrot without knowing the underlying reasons it was given in the first place.

For your voice, though, do drink lots of water. It may well mean that you have to rush to the bathroom frequently, but it will help you sustain your voice through multiple performances.

I drink tap water, bottled if I'm offered it or if I'm in a place where the water tastes bad or is suspect. I never drink from a school water fountain (a bubbler, pronounced "bubblah," where I grew up), opting for filling my glass from a sink. Think about it--all those kids putting their mouths directly on the spigot!

All this blather about water has made me thirsty. I'm off to the kitchen for a glass of H2O.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

More communication!

And while we're at it, check out this Muppet video:

Aah, intonation!

My sister sent me this link. I don't understand the language, but I do understand the kid!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Last Friday, while studiously not working on Queen Berta and King Pippin, I found myself coughing a little. Not much. Just eh-eh, eh-eh from time to time. I drank lots of water and tea with honey.

The performance went well, for a first public showing. My plan was to make a rough recording of it, but I must have been stuck somewhere in the Middle Ages, because I didn't push the right buttons on my minidisc recorder. My brother kindly did a short video, but we were in the old train depot and the passing trains were LOUD, so that was mostly unusable. You'll have to take my word that it went fine.

Afterwards, friends packed me up and I went home (thanks, everybody!). One friend hung out for a while at my house, as we talked over the performance and everything else in life. When she left at about 10:30, I was starting to feel congested. A few hours later I woke up and knew I was sick. (That friend just called me, with her flu-induced baritone voice.)

This was the worst respiratory flu I can remember. I felt like Death eating a cracker on Sunday. I even called my brother to check on me later in the day, to make sure I hadn't gotten too dehydrated. Chills, fever, headache. Bleah. Fortunately it broke midafternoon.

This is one of those times when it would be helpful to have sick days. Self-employment is great some of the time, but when I'm sick, I long for the days of sick leave. Sick or not, I tend to go to work.

Thank goodness I'm much better today, only occasionally barking like a seal. Time to go have some lemon tea.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Stalling vs. hammock time

There's a difference in active stalling on a project or performance and necessary daydreaming time. Today I'm stalling. I have seven hours before my World Premiere of Queen Berta and King Pippin (tonight, Lawrence Visitor's Center/Union Pacific Depot, 8 p.m.). Am I working on the story? Am I thinking about working on the story? Am I kicking myself for not having even run through it once in the last week? Is my stomach in knots? Do I have to answer these completely unnecessary questions?

The story is ready. I know it. Could I do more work on it? Of course. I'll probably be uncovering new information within the story and within myself for years. I've only been working on this one for a little under a year, not counting from the time I first read an English version of it (maybe two or three years ago).

Here are some ways I've already stalled today:
  • I had a long leisurely breakfast, then did the New York Times crossword online. I'm not sure if that counts, because I often do that,
  • read a bunch of blogs unrelated to storytelling,
  • made myself a delicious asparagus-cheddar omelette (have to keep my strength up),
  • called a few friends about non-story stuff (dang, they weren't home!),
  • looked around on the Internet for French radio stations. Listened to some,
  • patted the cat,
  • ate some chocolate,
  • wrote this blog post.
It's early yet. There's still time to do a little online shoe shopping, run to the store for something unnecessary, wash the kitchen floor, clean the office, chop some firewood, freak out about not being ready, remember that I was going to make a program for tonight, go look at a house my friend is thinking of buying, talk to more friends on the phone, clean out my e-mail inbox.

I'm a gifted staller. Once when I had a big performance, I took the back off the dryer to clean out the lint. It gets better: I had to go to the hardware store to buy a socket wrench set in order to do that. Aaah, stalling at its very best.

This is different from hammock time. That's necessary daydreaming, incubation time for stories. Maybe that's the difference--hammock time is earlier in the process, before there's pressure. Stalling has much more anxiety to it.

For years I've been trying to find a way not to feel guilty about either of these behaviors. This seems to be how I work best. In college, I tended to write papers the night before they were due. I did the prep work in advance and then let the topic sit, percolating in the back of my mind. Once I decided that I would do a paper right away, as soon as it was assigned. I got a mediocre grade on it, while those written under pressure were much better.

Maybe I'll go for a walk.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My new favorite picture

I'm having trouble writing this. Because it's cold in the office, I brought the laptop out into the living room, closer to the woodstove. Joe Fish took this as an invitation, and so now he's the laptop. The computer is perched on the arm of the chair. Cat is purring.

At any rate, here is my new favorite photo, taken when a friend was visiting. I realized that I didn't have any pictures of me and Joe Fish together, so I asked my friend to snap one.

Storytelling Tip #6

Hmm, let's see, what was I telling the high school kids in the workshop this morning?

Be aware when you are creating physical noise in your performances.

I heard Heather Forest use the term "physical noise" in one of the very first storytelling workshops I ever went to. At the time, I belonged to a small storytelling guild. One of the storytellers in the guild did a kind of dance step when he told, not as a part of the story. It was his nervous tic. It was physical noise. Some storytellers, often teachers or professors, pace as they tell. That's a kind of physical noise. When I work with kids, they sometimes play with their buttons or hair while they're telling. It has nothing at all to do with their stories. I've seen storytellers and actors make a sort of pawing or grabbing gesture, usually because they don't know that they can let their arms relax. Physical noise.

I'm not exempt from this advice: I sometimes find myself pushing my sleeves up or down while telling a story--I speak sternly to myself about it (there are other annoying tics I have, but I'd rather not draw attention to them, ahem).

When I listen to a story, I get distracted by these extraneous movements.

About pacing back and forth: when I watch stand-up comics on TV, I notice this habit. I find it unnecessary. The audience can see the comic perfectly well, and the comic can easily just turn his or her head to take in the room (though stage lights make it almost impossible to see the audience, more on that later). Drives me crackers.

Do any of you have an opinion about this?

Friday, February 08, 2008

Hey, whatever happened to Storytelling Tips?

I promise, they'll be back soon. They just stepped outside for a breath of fresh air. From the beginning they thought it was ridiculous that I said I was going to introduce a new tip every Tuesday. Sigh.

The Story Is True

That's the book I'm loving at the moment, The Story is True by Bruce Jackson. Here's what he says in his introduction:
The Story Is True is about making and experiencing stories as something people do, as one of our basic social acts. It's about how stories work, how we use them, how they move about, how they change, how they change us. It is about stories we tell friends, family and strangers, and it is about stories made for us at a distance, such as movies, television programs, newspapers and books. It is about when it is appropriate to tell what kinds of stories, and when it is permissible to tell stories that don't make sense, stories that are crazy or incoherent or disconnected...

One of the reasons I'm enjoying this book so much is that Jackson uses examples from his own and others' lives--that is, stories. Though my work is usually concerned with "stories made for us at a distance," I'm fascinated also by the weird stuff we all tell each other.

Back to performance storytelling for a moment. In the beginning of Chapter 8, Jackson quotes John Barth in On with the Story: Stories. Here's the first part of that quote:
[I]t's in a story's Ending that its author pays (or fails to pay) his narrative/dramatic bills. Through Beginning and Middle the writer's credit is good so long as we're entertained enough to keep turning the pages. But when the story's action has built to its climax and started down the steep and slippery slope of denouement, every line counts, every word, and ever more so as we approach the final words...
This hit home. I've been working on Queen Berta and King Pippin, as I've got the World Premiere (yeah, I know how ridiculous that sounds, but I like it) next Friday. Two nights ago I told it to my friend Mianne, in hopes that it had smoothed out since the last run through. It has. She liked it.

The story fairly barrels along. I was aware the other night of how quickly I told the last part of it. The above quote reminds me to take a little more care at the end. Because I know what happens, I tend to rush. It's important to allow the audience to savor the story, let them enjoy the satisfying ending.

When I tell a story I take the listeners out on a journey. Unless there's a very good reason, I bring them home (yes, there are a few instances where we stay out in the forest, but it's on purpose). That's the piece John Barth is talking about, I think. If I do it right, the audience is pleased with the story, and so am I.

P.S. If you're near Lawrence, KS on Friday Feb. 15, come on down to the Lawrence Visitor's Bureau/Union Pacific Depot at the corner of Locust and N. 2nd (across from Johnny's Tavern, in case you want good pizza and a beer before the show) at 8 p.m. Queen Berta and King Pippin is for grownups and older kids (PG-9). The cost for this Post-Valentine's Day show? I'll pass the hat for a love offering, of course!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Weather and work

I've been remembering to put my car in the garage these days.

As you can see, it's not a modern, attached garage. The short third on the right side opens like a regular door and the other two thirds slide on a curved track into the garage. No electric door opener. The car just barely fits on this side. The lawn chairs, mowers, tools, plant pots, picnic table and benches, porch swing and unfinished projects are on the other side.

All that to say that I have to make a clear decision to put the car in the garage. I'm glad I did so on Saturday, a lovely warm day. I didn't drive anywhere on Sunday--when I'm home, I try to walk more and drive less.

Monday morning I woke at 5:45 to intense fog. I've never seen it so foggy in Kansas. I left home at 6:30 a.m. for an 8:30 gig at a school an hour and a half away. I figured the fog would begin to lift. Nope. I called the school twice, once to say I had made the turn that was 3 miles away, and once to say that I couldn't find the school. It's a tiny town, just a few houses, the school, a church and a cemetery, but I truly couldn't see anything in the fog. The secretary talked me in. I made it with about two minutes to set up. Good thing that's all I needed. I drove to the second school in a nearby town in the fog but by the end of that performance, it was sunny and clear.

I was exhausted when I got home, not from the performances but from being so tense as I drove early that morning, ever alert to the possibility of brake lights or leaping deer ahead.

Tuesday morning it was raining. A lot. Dogs, cats and a few small alpacas. I drove to Wonderscope Children's Museum, opting to leave the interstate earlier than usual to avoid some highway accidents I heard about on the radio. Amazingly, I had an audience, a lovely group of young children from the Kansas School from the Deaf with some parents and an interpreter.

Today, as you can see from the photo of the garage, we have several inches of snow on the ground. I don't have any performances, so I'll stay inside with the cat, nice and warm by the woodstove.

They say the same thing in Kansas as they do in New England: "Don't like the weather? Wait five minutes." That's all well and good, but weather in Kansas means it can be tricky getting to performances!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

New Video!

I don't know why I'm so slow putting these up. I'm planning to do a whole new DVD of all the brave baby stories and a few more funny-scaries this spring. In the meantime, here's "The Pancake," a slightly different take on the more familiar "Gingerbread Boy." This is on my DVD, The Bully Billy Goat.