Monday, January 10, 2011

Ten places you can tell a story

In my storytelling travels I am often asked, "Where do you perform?" I have a pat answer about theaters, fringe festivals and schools, assisted living facilities, businesses and spoken word venues. But the real answer is anywhere I can. Just about every time I open my mouth, I tell a story. If I limit myself to venues or other audience driven opportunities then I miss out on most of the chances I'll have to tell.

Stories are a part of the human fabric - as massmouth says, because you have a life, you have a story. You tell those stories everywhere. At home, to your friends and family, at work, to the stranger beside you on the bus.

When you consider your storytelling life, why limit yourself to performance spaces and the places you get hired? Here are some suggestions for places you can tell. Your audiences may be different than what you're used to, but it's good for you. Stretch those boundaries. See what comes out of your mouth.

  1. Open mics like this one or that one are great places to stand up in front of audiences and say something. The audiences are usually friendly and at worst you've tried something new. You don't need to go to a spoken-word specific open mic, just respect the time limits and present work you're proud of. If you're nervous, bring a friend. You can even call the organizer ahead of time to make sure you'd be welcome.
  2. Story slams are another great place to tell a story. Unlike traditional open mics, slams are competitive and often themed, so you'll need to make sure your story meets the slam criteria ahead of time. The competition gives everything a bit of an edge, so your adrenaline really propels you onto the stage and helps you bring out your best.
    For both open mics and slams, try a google search with your city name and "open mic" or "story slam." The links above are local to me.
  3. Home Sweet Home. You tell stories to the people you live with every day. What if you were to ask them if you could set up storytime? A few minutes every week or every few days where you told them a tale, for their ears only. You might need to coach them on the kind of response you want - should they tell you what they liked? What they thought needed work? Should they break into wild applause? Regardless of the ground rules, your kids, spouse, siblings, parents or housemates will probably appreciate a bit of story time once in awhile.
  4. To your pets. Tell your pet a story. They might not look like they're listening, but you never know.
  5. At work. Or just hanging out with friends. My co-workers routinely ask me for stories. If I'm working on a piece and need to hone a particular section, they listen to me. I set up ground rules, as mentioned in #2, but they have become one of my most reliable and charming audiences.
  6. In odd public places. Bring a friend or two to listen to you and start declaiming your tale aloud in a public space. Others may come to listen. Welcome them. Tell for the joy of it, for the relationship you'll build with your audience; many locales require permits for public performance, so check out the law beforehand. At a minimum, if you don't have a permit, don't set out a hat. Tell for the love of story and for the love of your friends who came out to hear you.
  7. House concerts. Ask a friend with a nice, big living room to host a house concert. Have them invite ten friends over, you invite ten friends, order some pizza and tell them stories. 
  8. At work, part 2. Or in school. Next time you need to give a presentation, tell a story. Instead of facts and figures pull a story from the real world or from traditional stories. Make it relevant, short and interesting and it gives your audience a way to connect with your material beyond the slides.
  9. Volunteer. There are many wonderful underfunded organizations in the world. Think about what you're passionate about, find the organization that helps people with that need and ask if you can come and tell their constituents stories. Battered-women's shelters, assisted living facilities, dementia units, children's hospitals, prisons - most organizations that help the needy may need your help. Go tell some folktales to kids who are down on their luck. You'll enjoy it just as much as they do.
  10. In the middle of nowhere. Next time you find yourself alone on a beach, in a field or the woods, tell yourself a story. Hear how you savor the words, how your mind and imagination come together to craft this moment of beauty. You are the only audience you can always count on; why not perform your very best when you are the only one listening? Besides, the trees, grasses and waves may hear you too, in their own way.

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. Walnut Street Cafe in Lynn also hosts a Wednesday "Speak out" spoken word open mic. Tony Toledo is the MC.

  2. It's a great venue. It's one of the two links in the open mic section of this post!


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