For the purposes of this post, organizers are those who put together storytelling events, series, run or work for organizations that promote storytelling or organizations that hire storytellers. Organizers are wonderful. We could not do the work we do without them. Whether it's someone who runs an advocacy organization, organizes an open mic, or decides to hire a storyteller for their corporate event, organizing is hard and often thankless work. Thank you.
Organizers have a lot of things to juggle as they do their work, so I will try to keep this post brief. Here are some ethical questions and considerations they may want to take into account. These issues become ethical when considered in the broader realm of promoting the arts (especially storytelling) and creating a good experience for all involved.
Ethical considerations when hiring and working with storytellers
- Are you hiring the right teller for audience? Your cousin's best friend may be a wonderful storyteller, but are they skilled at the kinds of stories that would be appropriate for your audience? Does your potential teller have experience telling for the kind of people they will be telling to? Should someone who only tells to small children be hired to tell at a business dinner? Should someone who only tells to adults be hired to tell to pre-schoolers?
- Is this the right audience for a storyteller? I'm delighted that you want to hire a storyteller. That being said, will your audience be able to give the storyteller the attention they deserve? If you aren't sure, let the teller know ahead of time that there may be some distractions, so they can prepare appropriately.
- Financial considerations Are you paying the teller a living wage? Remember, the 45 minute performance reflects hours of work. If you can't afford what they're asking for, try negotiating and offering them something additional in return - services, goods, etc.
- Care and feeding of storytellers If you're feeding and housing your teller, have you asked about allergies or other special needs?
- Sound Do you have a sound system for your teller? If not, have you let them know so they can plan accordingly?
- MCing the event A good introduction tells the audience that you care about the event. A distracted, careless MC can start a teller off on an awkward note. Make sure you can pronounce their name. Likewise, if you (or the teachers in the classroom or the organizers in the background) are disengaged it tells the audience that it's okay to ignore the performer. If you are engaged your audience will be more engaged too.
- Due diligence Have you sent out a press release, let your community know and done what you can to ensure an audience? Even if this is a private event, letting the local press know that a private event is hiring a storyteller helps raise general awareness of storytelling and is a nice bump for the artist.
- Ask the teller to help Most storytellers will be glad to let their mailing list know about public events. Make sure you give them appropriate details well in advance so they can promote themselves.
- Are you presenting a good public face for storytelling? As a storytelling advocate you become a public face for storytelling. Do you remember to say nice things about everyone else in public? Of course you get tired and some people annoy you, but publicly we need to help each other out. As Norah Dooley, founder of massmouth says, "A rising tide floats all boats."
- Are you the right person for every gig? As an advocate and a public figure you may get gig offers that are tempting, but not in your area of expertise. Are you referring them to other tellers who may be able to do a better job and thus represent our art as a whole more effectively? This was discussed in detail in the ethics of the teller post.
- Are you asking for help? Advocacy and organizing work can be overwhelming. If you are overwhelmed can you share the load? You'd be surprised how often people may think you have everything under control and so forget to ask if you need help.
- What are your goals as an advocate/organizer? Do you know? It helps if you know why you're doing the work you're doing. It means you can say no more easily, say yes and work more effectively. Massmouth's mission is "promoting the timeless art of storytelling through social Media, education and live performance" so everything this organizations does is to that end. What are your ends?
- Does your organization have a code of conduct? If it does, are you following it? Many non-profits have codes of conduct that dictate how you can benefit personally from your advocacy work. This helps avoid conflict of interest. If your organization doesn't have one, consider developing one - many granting agencies look for conflict of interest policies. If your organization does have one and you are in a position to be bound by it, follow it. You'll still be able to get work and advocate for your cause.
As before, the opinions expressed herein are mine and do not reflect those of any agency or organization. I hope this is a starting point for conversation. I'd love to hear what you think!
(c) 2010 Laura S. Packer