Tuesday, February 12, 2008

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?


Tim said...

A coach busted me once for my pacing, which I confessed was a trope adopted somewhat intentionally from standup comics.

I found it helped me with transitions.

If a standup comic paces during their bits, that's nervous energy. And, yes, it's distracting. The good ones, the ones who get hour long specials on cable... they stay riveted to one spot. Their confidence shows.

But you do see them move in between bits. I think it's a mnemonic device. Helps them transition internally to the next thematically unrelated bit. When such movement is intentional, and even planned, it doesn't read as noise. Probably helps "cleanse the palate" of the audience, too.

Not such an issue for storytellers, except for those (like me) who construct solo olios, stringing together stories within a performance.

Anonymous said...

Pacing? Bad. But I can see moving across the stage if it somehow illustrates the story. It can also lend more intimacy to a performance on a larger stage with a larger audience. Needs to be done judiciously and for a purpose, though.


PriscillaHowe said...

You both have really good points--this reminds me not to be categorical about these tips. Sometimes pacing is appropriate within a story or set of stories.

Maybe in another post I'll write about the other kind of pacing!

Sean said...

Just proving the need for a good coach.

I have a nervous tick of scratching my wrists. Don't know why, don't know how it started. I work on it all the time. On Monday my wife pointed out a gesture of holding my shoulder. Comes from a long term illness with a lot of pain. It was the first time I had done it on stage and was totally unaware of it until she told me. Wild. A new chapter in my telling.

I do move a great deal on stage. Intentionally. Root when it's time. Move when it's time. Wriggle when it's time.

Granny Sue said...

Boyo, yeah. I have seen this so often in stand-up comics and in storytellers. I doubt they see it themselves.

I watched myself on video a couple of times. Very humbling experience. I heard my nervous giggle, saw myself moving too much. So I bought a stand mike and worked on the giggle.

We all got 'em; the key is knowing it and working to correct!