Monday, December 19, 2011

Interview on SettleStories blog

Every interview is a little different. Here's the most recent, from

I promise, I'll have new pictures soon, to reflect my shorter hair and my glasses.

Friday, December 09, 2011

How to book a storyteller

A few years ago, I wrote a list of tips for public librarians who hire storytellers. For the most part, it works for other venues such as assemblies, Family Night events and festivals. 

First find a storyteller. Here are a few ways: Google "storyteller" and your state, search the directory at, contact your state arts commission (except in Kansas), or search the directory at the National Storytelling Network. Library systems, school assembly websites, and chambers of commerce are other places to look. Storytellers also advertise at booking conferences and showcases. Ask around--word of mouth is one of the best ways to find a storyteller, appropriately enough.

Not all storytellers tell stories to kids (it's certainly one of my specialties). Do a few minutes of research on the storyteller's website to understand their scope.

Call or e-mail the storyteller. Most performers will try to get back to you quickly. (By the way, if you e-mail me and I don't get back to you, use the contact form on my website. Sometimes e-mails go into the black hole and never get to me.)

Here are some specific questions to ask the performer, depending on your situation:
  • Are you available on X date, at X time? If not (and if the date is fixed), can you recommend another storyteller?
  • What is your fee? Does this include mileage and expenses?
  • Are you comfortable working with X (ESL students, preschoolers, k-6, high schoolers, etc.)? 
  • Do you have a limit on the number of listeners?
  • Do you need a microphone?
  • Can you work outdoors if need be?
  • Do you need any special set up? Do you need a table? How much space do you need?
  • What is the name we need to put on the check?
  • Do you have a standard contract, or would you prefer that we send a letter of confirmation?
  • Could you send a short blurb of your show, a bio and a .jpeg for publicity? (for libraries)
  • Do you have a study guide for teachers? (for schools)
  • Do you have a short introduction you’d like us to use?
Tell the performer about the venue. Will the performance be in the gym or cafeteria, in an auditorium, in the library? Will the listeners be on the floor, on chairs, at tables? 

Discuss the age range of the audience and the number of listeners expected. I know, public libraries often don' t know how big the audience will be.

As you discuss the fee, ask about block booking. For example, I give a lower price when I can book more than one performance or at multiple schools or libraries in the same day. 

Tell the performer the policy on payment (on the date of performances, within a month after performances, in advance, etc.). If you need the performer’s social security number or tax id number, or if you need them to fill out a W-9 form, ask for it at the time of the contract. Some performers ask for a deposit on booking. 

Discuss contingencies for bad weather and cancellation.

Many performers have recordings or books and welcome the chance to sell them after the show. If there is a policy against sales, be sure the performer knows. 

Verify the salient details on all contracts/letters of confirmation. Be sure the address of the venue is included (especially important if the venue is not the library), as well as a contact phone number for the day of the performance. Sign and return a copy of the contract.

A week before the performance, contact the storyteller to double-check details.

Ask the performer to arrive 20-30 minutes early. This saves you thinking you’ll have to come up with a program on the spur of the moment.

When the performer arrives, introduce yourself by name. Remember, you know who the performer is, but he or she may not know you. Have a bottle of water available for the storyteller and point out the location of the restrooms. 

Introduce the performer briefly. By doing this, you build enthusiasm for the performance and you have the opportunity to make any housekeeping announcements. 

At the end of the performance, lead the audience in thanking the performer. This lets everyone know the session is over.

If you and the rest of the audience enjoyed the performance, feel free to spread the storyteller's name around. We love referrals!


A little more on writing

Last week I was in Salina, KS for three days in the schools. On Thursday, I had four sessions. The first was with three fifth-grade classes (9-10 year olds). Then I went into each class separately to do a workshop on storytelling and writing, as I described a few posts ago. I remembered to take my camera. Here are a few pictures of the students writing about candy. That's the topic I almost always start with. 

While they write, the students are usually absolutely focused. If they get stuck, I remind them to keep writing. I may give a quiet prompt, "What's the worst candy you ever had?" or "Don't forget about candy at Halloween or Easter or Christmas."

Though this was only a three minute piece, they were able to get quite a lot down on paper.

Some of the kids read aloud afterwards. If we'd had more time, we would have been able to hear more of the writings.

One girl wrote a piece that personified the candy, moving past the first stage writings which are often like this: "I like candy. Candy is awesome. My favorite candy is...." It's not a bad stage, but I'm always interested to hear what happens when they move through it to something juicy.

My only regret in these workshops is that we could have used another hour or two. I like to give two topics at a time: "Write about armadillos and/or roller coasters." We expand to five- and ten-minute writings. With more time, we also have more time for other writing games. Even with this short amount of time (50 minutes for the storytelling session, 50 minutes for the workshop), the kids were jazzed about writing and would have happily have spent much more time exploring with pencil and paper.