Saturday, January 28, 2012

Telling stories on Skype

Remember how wild the idea of a videophone was thirty years ago? We're there! I've been using Skype, the video calling program, for a few years. This afternoon I coached another storyteller by Skype. It worked pretty well. A couple of years ago I gave a puppet workshop by Skype. It was okay, not great. There was a time lag and I couldn't see the kids very well. 

A friend suggested this morning that I could tell stories individually over Skype as a way to connect with kids who might only have listened to my stories on CD or on my website. We're going to try it out with her nephew and niece, who have all three of my CDs and want more. 

I don't think I'll tell stories by Skype from my office, where the walls are blood-red. It's okay for coaching, where I'm not the focus, but for storytelling, it's a little startling.

The wall paint is enamel, so it reflects the overhead light. 

For Skypetelling, I'd have to pay attention to what I'm wearing--no pajamas, for example. I'd need to check what's in the background. Too much clutter can be distracting. I might suggest to the cat that he go outside, so he's not a distraction. Or he could be part of the show?

And what if the quality of the Skype call is bad? I've had to hang up and try again with Skype calls. 

Any opinions on this idea?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Announcing Master Classes

We interrupt your regularly scheduled program for a word from our sponsor...

Storytelling Master Classes*

Ready to move to the next level in your storytelling? In this series of three classes, experienced storytellers will consider aspects of storytelling from the theoretical to the practical. We’ll work on presence, pacing, body language, voices, crafting of language, rhythm, the deeper meaning of the stories we tell and more. These classes are hands-on, so bring a story to work on, please. 

February 18, 2012
Beyond plot: discovering the backstory
One of the keys to strong telling lies in knowing the backstory, the unspoken history of characters and setting, as well as knowing our underlying motivations. We’ll also discuss—and practice—unusual ways to work on our stories.

March 24, 2012
Making it real: characterization, voice, rhythm and tone
Telling a story is so much more than just the words you say. We’ll push beyond the language, using various exercises to breathe new life into our stories.

April 21, 2012
Pulling it all together: telling your very best
Drawing on what we’ve done so far, we’ll add presentation skills to the mix. You must have attended at least one of the earlier sessions to come to this one.

Who: Participants must have at least 3 years of storytelling experience.
Where: Priscilla's Yellow House (e-mail for directions) in Kansas City, KS
This is in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood, so be warned—there are 12 steps up to the house. Also, Priscilla has a cat. If you’re allergic, act accordingly. In nice weather, the cat is usually outside.
How much: $85 for each session, $210 for all three.

A simple lunch of homemade soup will be provided, or participants may go out to eat. Drinks and snacks will be provided. This class is limited to a maximum of ten participants, minimum of six.

Email Priscilla for more info and to register.

*It's called a Master Class merely to indicate that it is for experienced storytellers. Classes for beginners and classes on using puppets will be forthcoming.
By the way, did you notice the newsletter signup in the sidebar on the right? I haven't yet written one, but it's on its way, my friends, on its way.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The other way I get the audience's attention

So silly of me. I thought about that last post, wrote it carefully, reread it, edited, posted and shared on various social networks, completely forgetting the MAIN way I get the audience's attention. Thanks to Margaret Meyers for pointing it out! 

When I'm working with kids under age 10 and with family groups, I use puppets to get the audience's attention. In the beginning of the show, often after pied pipering with my harmonica, I say, "I brought a friend with me today, in my bag. I usually travel with my friends in a bag. Don't you? You know, you say to your friend, "Hey, jump in this bag and I'll take you down to the library.' Right?" I reach in the puppet bag for Trixie. 

Then Trixie and I have a little chat. I ask her if she remembers why we're here. Sometimes she does, and sometimes she thinks we're here for the big basketball game. Kids love correcting a puppet who is wrong. I remind Trix that we're here for stories and ask what she recommends. 

Frequently, kids say Trixie is a witch. She does look like one, and I always acknowledge this when a child says it, but she's not. She's afraid of witches. Trixie is just old. She's 111 (hasn't aged a day since I picked her up in1994). She likes to rest during the stories, so she sits quietly next to me on the chair while I tell.

Trixie and the other puppets draw the attention of the audience and help me manage the energy in the room. If it's too wild, a quiet puppet will come out of the bag to calm everybody down. If it's subdued, one of the puppets will bring up the laughter. If a child is afraid of Trixie (her eyes can be extremely piercing), she does something silly like chew on her foot, or she'll get shy. Sometimes she goes back in the bag for a longer nap and another puppet comes out. 

Here's the 2-minute puppet lesson, for when you're visible to the audience and you don't happen to be a ventriloquist.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Getting the audience's attention

This morning I went out to take pictures of my freshly painted house. It's YELLOW. Definitely a house to get your attention. That led me to thinking about how I get the attention of listeners. 

I know storytellers who are in-your-face performers. They reach out to grab the listeners by the metaphorical collar, hauling them in to the story. As an introvert, I prefer a more subtle approach, inviting the audience gently into the world in my head. In the best instances, I'm physically and emotionally centered before I begin. I arrive at the venue early enough so nobody feels rushed or anxious. For libraries, this is about half an hour, for schools about twenty minutes. I set myself up in the physical space, with my water. I have a lozenge handy in case I get a tickle in my throat. I'm ready and anticipating a good show by the time the audience arrives.

How I get the attention depends on the group. With preschoolers and younger kids, I start by being Pied Piper, playing familiar tunes on my harmonica. With older kids and adults, I chat with those who come in first, as I gauge the energy in the room. No matter what I do, the goal is the same: I want the listeners on my side before I even begin a story. 

Often (but not always) I get introduced by a librarian, a teacher, an emcee. Then I begin. Of course I'm telling a story I love, one I expect the audience will also love. I take a breath and look at the audience. It's nice to give a silent blessing to the listeners at this moment. No need to rush. We all want to have a good time. Usually I begin with a word, one that promises so very much: "Once..." 

And I'm off. The story rolls out in its own time. I watch the audience as I tell, checking to see that they're with me, shifting cadence or emphasis as necessary. If they look puzzled or lost, I make split-second decisions on how to shift the story. One of the keys to keeping the audience attention is knowing the backstory, all the stuff I don't say about the characters and setting and action. Appropriate pauses build anticipation. This is where practice beforehand helps--recording a story will tell me if I've developed an unnatural rhythm or one that is too predictable or too much "story voice," an artificial tone that detracts from the telling (yup, I still fall into that, even after years of performing).

When I'm telling stories, I'm like a conductor. I bring the energy up and down as needed. I want to leave the audience calm and satisfied with the experience of having been in my world of story.