Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ask the storyteller: Love your audience

This week on #askthestoryteller I am taking a slight detour from your questions, but it's an important one and something I believe in passionately. I thought in this, the dark time of year when we celebrate light, it would be a good time to talk about love and art. Please keep your questions coming, I love answering them.

I've written before about the relationship between teller, audience and tale. You asked and I had something to say. I'd like to take this a step further and talk a little bit about how the storyteller becomes the vessel for story, and how loving the audience makes this easier. I'm not talking about loving each specific individual, though if you can that's great. I'm talking about the kind of love that allows you as performer to get out of your own way and give the audience what they need as an ingredient in the performance.

What follows is an article I wrote for a recent issue of Storytelling Magazine, published by the National Storytelling Network.

May your holidays be bright and gracious.
May you find peace and comfort.
May you tell and be heard.
May you hear.
May you love and be loved.

*          *          *

A few years ago my apprentice told to her largest audience yet. She was nervous. Shortly before the performance I asked her to look at the audience. “Really look,” I said, “What do you see?”
“People staring at me.”
“People with the same hopes and fears you have. Love them and you won’t have anything to be nervous about. Just love them.”

When we love our audiences and recognize that they are no different from us beyond the fact that we are on the stage and they are our listeners, we can’t help but want to do our best for them. We can’t help but want to invite them into the shared experience of storytelling.

We must remember that our essential job as tellers is to leave the audience enthralled not only with us, but with the story and its meaning in their lives. We must love them enough to be willing to let them immerse themselves in the storytelling experience and perhaps experience something different from what we intended. Our goal is to be so good at what we do that the audience can claim the story as their own, regardless of whether it’s a personal story, a traditional tale, fiction or another kind of narrative, and give it their own meaning; we are the messenger as well as the message. We need to be willing to let the audience build their own world and that world may or may not have much to do with us. We need to be able to let the audience develop their own relationship with the story.

I find it easier to leave this room for the audience when I remind myself of several things.

  1. We don’t know what’s going on inside the mind of a listener. All we can do is offer them something that we know has meaning and trust them to take what they need,
  2. This is easier to do when we approach our audience with love. We don’t punish babies for having needs, we recognize those needs and do our best to meet them. Likewise with the audience. We may not know what those needs are, but we can admit they exist and leave room for them in our narrative by not demanding that the audience see every detail the way we do, instead constructing their own version in their own minds.
  3. The act of storytelling becomes a gift that can leave an audience transformed if there is room in the narrative for not only the teller and the tale, but the listeners. In design this is called white space. It is the space in which images, form and narrative structure exist, but with enough room that the audience isn’t crowded out. It is the silence between notes in music. Without white space meaning can be lost in the crowd.  Don’t worry, your audience will remember that you are the one who gave them space and permission to live in the moment of the story.

Storytelling is composed of relationships between the teller, the tale and the audience. When the teller loves the audience enough to let them form their own relationship with the tale we can't help but transcend the moment. As listeners we are moved beyond our every day experiences into new worlds. As tellers we become the sacred vessel that the best art is: a vehicle for transformation and connection between artist, art, audience and the world.

(c)2014 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. Another wonderful, Laura. In 2013, I was in Exchange Place at National Storytelling Festival and just a bundle of nerves before going on stage. I went to Diane Ferlatte, my mentor, and asked her for advice before going on stage. Her words were, "When you get on stage, lift your head and look at the audience and take it in. Then tell your story." It was the best advice, because I looked and saw all the love from those willing to receive and I couldn't wait to give it back. By the way, I did great! Even better, it's a story that many have remembered. Keep sharing, Laura.

  2. You are a wise and generous storyteller, Laura Packer, who helps the new teller coming up beside you, who comforts the friend in need, who supports the story, the listener and yourself. Happy New Year.


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