Monday, April 19, 2010

Storytelling Excellence, Part 3

It’s two days before the Big MouthOff. The contestants are in a lather preparing their best four minute stories. Audiences are preparing their listening ears. Judges are sharpening their pencils.

So let’s finish thinking this three part series (because storytellers love threes) exploring what makes a really good storytelling experience with a look at the last three questions Bill Harley suggests storytellers ask themselves. In my last two posts I covered Narrative, Language, Voice/Physical Instrument and Performance Skills. Let’s wrap it up. Harley’s questions are in italics

Relationship with the audience
What is the storyteller’s relationship with the audience – is s/he telling to the audience present before him/her, or to the one in his/her head? Is the performer open to the audience – is there an awareness of the nature of the fourth, permeable wall between the audience and the performer? Is there a consistent understanding of where the storyteller is at any moment in the delivery of the narrative? Is there some understanding of the isolation of characters from each other and the narrator? Has the storyteller made conscious choices about those relationships? (c) 2010 Bill Harley

I’ve written before about how storytelling really happens in the audience’s mind. The storyteller facilitates the white space that let’s the audience do the heavy lifting of imagining and building the story. When a teller creates a relationship with the audience that’s built on trust then the audience will go where you take them because they know they can. They don’t have to take care of you and they know you’ll bring them back to a place of safety. Storytelling is all about building relationships; as a teller you are lucky enough to build relationships with whole audiences at a time.

Show structure
Does the performer have a sense of how an entire performance builds? Over the course of the performance, is there a flow from one piece to another, and some sort of arc? What is the performer’s relationship with the audience between set pieces? (c) 2010 Bill Harley

While this isn’t applicable for a slam (there isn’t time for one teller to tell multiple pieces) when you do have the opportunity to tell longer sets please consider the way the stories mesh together. If you choose dissonance then make it a deliberate choice, not an accident. And if you’re performing with someone else please take the time to talk with them ahead of time and plan out your sets – you may not  want to tell your version of Little Red Riding Hood right after they told theirs.

Think about how Bill Cosby’s jokes flow one into the other. At no point are you wondering how he got there, you just trust him and go along for the ride.

Does the storyteller have a sense of his/her aesthetic – her reason for performing and how s/he presents her material? Are they consciously making choices about what they are showing and how they are showing it? Does the storyteller have a unique voice? Does s/he have something to say? (c) 2010 Bill Harley

This brings it all together, regardless of your venue (slam, street or concert hall). Practice your piece, know why you’re telling it and have something to say. Please. It will make you a happier, better performer and will help your audiences lose themselves in your performance more easily.

And one last point I’d like to add – love your work. Like any craft, storytelling improves vastly when the practioner loves what they’re doing. Have fun. Play. Don’t be afraid to risk especially in practice. Greet each telling experience as an opportunity to do something daring, new, wonderful, even if it's a story you've told it a hundred times. Court it into a new place and you won't be disappointed.

(c) 2010 Laura S. Packer
Creative Commons License

1 comment:

  1. I'm developing a show right now with nine integrated stories. That's the hardest part: integrating the stories without hammering the integration over the heads of the listeners.


True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at
Related Posts with Thumbnails