Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Telling Life: Creating set lists

December is an interesting month in this storyteller's life. Each year I am fortunate enough to be hired to tell "Christmas stories" and each year I have a moment or two of panic, thinking I don't know any Christmas stories! I do, of course, but I need to review and consider which stories I love, which I find trite, and which will work for a given audience. It is an ongoing exercise in creating an appropriate set list.

A few days ago I had a lovely gig telling Christmas stories for older adults. As I considered what to tell them I had to make my way along a fairly narrow path.

  • Stories appropriate for adults. 
  • Stories that honor the spirit of Christmas, even though I'm not Christian. 
  • Stories that won't make them uncomfortable and I knew this was a relatively conservative audience. 
  • Stories that will evoke their past and honor their present.
  • Stories they might not know. 
  • Stories I enjoy telling.

I pulled stories out of my repertoire and realized there were some holes. Because I was doing this work far enough in advance (thank goodness!) I had time to learn a few new short stories and add them into the set. At least one of those stories will likely become a permanent part of my repertoire (a story rarely becomes part of my permanent repertoire until I've told it several times).

I go through a similar process for most gigs. I realize this may seem time consuming, but it feels important to me. I do have set lists that generally don't change from performance to performance (Christmas story gigs, for example, are generally pulled from a set list that varies only slightly) but I want to make sure I am honoring this particular audience and doing my best to give them what they need based on who I understand them to be, every single time. Reviewing set lists also gives me a chance to find holes in my repertoire and add to it, as I did with this recent gig. From time to time I will wait until I'm in front of the audience before deciding what to tell, but that has become less frequent as I've become more confident in my abilities to tell the right stories most of the time.

I keep track of my set lists in the same program I use to track gigs, so I know I won't duplicate a set if I'm invited back by the same group. This is part of why I consider what stories to tell before every gig, I want to make sure I give them something new.

How do you select stories for a given gig? Do you have consistent set lists that don't really change or do you create new ones each time? Do you know what you're doing to tell before you get up on the stage or do you let the wind blow you where it will? I'd love to know!

(c)2016 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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