Deeper Explorations of Stories & Storytelling

Berndt, Ronald M. & Catherine H. (1989) The Speaking Land: Myth and Story in Aboriginal Australia Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin Books.
A superb presentation, providing an authoritative cultural contextualisation of some 200 stories from 200 Aboriginal storytellers, acknowledged by name. The storytellers are from South Australia, Northern Territory, and Western Australia. As the title indicates, the land is central in the stories represented.

Boyd, Brian (2009) On The Origin of Stories: Evolution,Cognition, & Fiction Belkanap/Harvard University Press, Cambridge: Mass.
Boyd argues cogently about the evolutionary value of stories and storytelling , by a close analysis of the adaptive function of art and fiction generally, and of Homer’s Odyssey and Dr Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who ! specifically. An impressive, rich and timely perspective to add to our understanding and valuing of stories and storytelling.

Campbell. Joseph (1991) The Power of Myth Anchor Books/Random House, New York.
An edited version of Bill Moyers interviews with Joseph Campbell. An accessible introduction to the work and ideas of Joseph Campbell, a mythologist who has brought the psychology of Carl Jung, to the myths of the world. You may be able to get the DVD or illustrated version which are even better. Campbell brings a deep meaning perspective to stories which a storyteller need if they’re serious. Beyond this book are many more challenging ones to pursue, if you find Campbell insightful.

Geisler, Harlynne (1997) Storytelling Professionally : The Nuts and Bolts of a Working Performer Libraries Unlimited, Englewood, Colorado.
A comprehensive practical guide for anyone wanting to turn professional for a living. Although it is based on American examples, it addresses nitty gritty matters like your repertoire of stories, marketing, filing, workshop titles, & pricing yourself.

McKee, Robert ( 2005) Story : Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screen Writing Methuen Pub, United Kingdom.
Although this manual is based on designing & writing stories for the screen, it gives many deep insights of principle which can be applied to composing and stories for oral storytelling. It provides rich examples (of films you’ve seen and know). The author is among the world’s most sought after seminar leader for screen writers.

Sveiby, Karl-Erok & Skuthope, Tex (2006) Treading Lightly : The Hidden Wisdom of the World Oldest People Allen & Unwin: NSW, Australia.
A fascinating book which gives insights into the functions of Aboriginal stories and storytelling in traditional Aboriginal culture – more than any other resource that I can recall. It doesn’t surpass books like the Bernts’ The Speaking Land for its coverage of authentic traditional stories nor Diana Bell’s deep insights into traditional Aboriginal culture with her exploration of the local Ngarrindjerri and how they’ve been studied and misrepresented (in her Ngarrindjeri: Wurruwarrin: A World that is, was, and will be), but it does convey some unique insights.

Wilson, Michael (2006) Storytelling and Theatre : Contemporary Storytellers and their Art Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire, UK.
Wilson helps clarify the complexity and diversity among contemporary professional storytellers and their practices, along with attention to the issues surrounding the notions of ‘traditional storytelling’ and ‘traditional storyteller’; in particular he discerns some of the overlapping features of some actors with some storytellers, aided by seven interviews with UK storytellers (which are included in an edited form). Particularly helpful in its analysis, teasing out significant polarities among practices.

Zipes, Jack (2002) (2nd ed) The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World Palgrave Macmillan, New York: NY.
An authoritative analysis and discussion of a range of approaches to the Grimms’ achievements. Not only does it deepen our appreciation of the Grimm brothers and the well-known stories they (particularly Jacob) have disseminated, but also it illuminates the power of delving into social-historical context, personal biography, linguistic text analysis, and psychological approaches to stories and storytelling well beyond the Brothers Grimm.


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Biting the bullet: reflections on putting on a story show for adults (Helen Lawry, 2013)

Last year I decided to put on a one-person storytelling show for adults. It was something I felt compelled to do and despite my reservations, I knew that this was an itch I needed to scratch.

It was easy to find a venue, I rang the Box Factory, a local community centre, and made a booking. It cost $45. The next thing was advertising the event, something that I did by making a poster, sending emails and sending the poster to people via snail mail. I was aiming to get about 40-50 people there. I think that the best results came from sending the poster in the mail and speaking to people directly. I doubt that any-one came because they saw the poster in the local IGA. I decided to simplify matters by having no pre-event ticketing. This made it a bit nerve-wracking but I think in retrospect was a good idea. A couple of friends took money at the door. I charged $10 and $5 concession.

I decided against offering refreshments .I figured the venue was in town so people could go for a drink or a bite to eat afterwards. That meant I could have a drink after the show instead of manning the tea-towel. I was unsure as to if I would need amplification , so I arranged for Graham to bring the Guild’s p.a. in case I needed it. Although I decided not to use it, having it there gave me a sense of comfort. (Thanks Graham).

I selected the material from things I had written myself. I wanted the show to be 45-50 minutes long. I hoped the audience would feel happy after the show: like they had been on a journey . Accordingly, I selected material that was diverse, and arranged it carefully. I thought of ways of incorporating song, sound and musicas a way of breaking up the barrage of words. I knew that the crowd would be unsure about what to expect, so I put a lot of thought into the first moments of the show. Explaining what was in store allowed them to relax and be carried by the stories.

Learning the material
As the material was very closely scripted this took HOURS. I started about 4 weeks before the show and would go down to the local park with my script after I dropped my daughter off at school. Sitting on a bench in the park muttering is not a good look. However I knew that I had to be entirely fluent and at ease, and this only happens as the result of much muttering. Performing your own work is a way of saying this is what goes on in my head. I made this up. Revealing the products of your own imagination to an audience largely comprised of friends and family is intimidating, liberating, scary and wonderful.

Set and Costume
Obviously this was pretty low key, but nonetheless important. My ‘set’ comprised of a small folding table, lamp, teddy-bear, small xylophone and a pot plant. I wore white pants and black top .

The Final Result
It felt strange opening up the venue, screwing open the windows, setting up the chairs. I felt quite calm and excited. I asked the audience to come at 7:45 for an 8 o’clock start so there was a lot of friendly chatting and milling around before the show. It was strange to see the mix of long lost uncles, neighbours, work colleagues, and friends of friends.

There was a terrific mixture of people there, and best of all Mum and Dad were sitting in the front row!As the show progressed this lovely atmosphere in the room built. I felt connected to everyone there, and in a way they were connected to each other. I believe this is the beauty of storytelling. It is a binding force. I felt that I had given people some time to step out of themselves and to be carried by their imaginations and my words.

The Sequel
I am aiming to repeat this show in April and to devise a new one ready for November.


Am I Fringing in 2014? (Milan “OneShoe” Gnezda)

Well, my 2013 Fringe performance was quite a hectic and crazy experience! It was my first ever Fringe performance, and let’s just say I was a little unprepared for all the things I’d have to consider and would experience. So, am I going in it again this year? Let’s just look at some of the things that happened during my time last year…

Firstly, there was the weather! As if it’s not bad enough trying to perform and actively promote my show during 35-40 degree days, couple this with the fact that the costume I wear for my storytelling performances includes thick pants, a large, billowy shirt, felt vest, long wizard cloak and rubber dragon foot! Definitely not the ideal attire to be wearing during the middle of an Adelaide heat wave! I guess a real wizard would have had some sort of spell to keep himself cool! On top of that, the venue itself – a small canvas tent seating some 60 people when full – only made the heat more unbearable! But, you’re probably thinking, surely the venue had adequate air conditioning, right? Surely they accounted for the Adelaide summer, right? Wrong! The extent of their air conditioning was two small pedestal fans that were perched alongside the stage and did almost nothing to help the heat, creating a constant wall of perspiration and body odour to spring up in the venue. In all fairness, it did add a little bit of ambience to the performance – who knew that I would be performing my first Fringe show in the Amazon Rainforest?! And it looks like this year is going to be worse…

Then come the dangers with promoting the show itself… Call me crazy (as well you should!), but if I’m going to be attending a Fringe cocktail party, or walking around the streets, or anything else for that matter, I want to spend as much time as possible in costume. Even if people haven’t seen my performances, I’d like them to at least remember seeing me around when they see my flyers, “Oh, that guy! Let’s go check him out!” Besides, you never know when some fancy-pants promoter is going to walk past, inquire about the costume, and then offer me an awesome deal touring all throughout the known (and unknown) world! Okay, maybe the odds of that are pretty slim, but one can dream – I am a storyteller after all! Of course, this all sounds well and good if the events I’m at are fairly civilised affairs but, like I said, I try to do *everything* in costume, where possible. Or, at least the things I can do in public – so, no, I don’t wear my costume when doing the housework! This, however, creates an interesting dilemma when I have chosen to go in costume to a Fringe dance party, or to somewhere like Barrio, where there is a commando-style obstacle course of countless drunken dancers gyrating about the place, throwing their glasses in the air at the music, trying to pull at my cloak while slurring how awesome the costume is. I’m a very easily amused person, and normally I’d laugh at such antics, however amusement definitely wasn’t what I was feeling then! A more correct word would be terror! This is my only costume! This image is plastered all over my flyers! What if it gets torn? What if it gets beer or, worse yet, red wine spilled all over it? Whatever will I do? AAARRGH!!!

However, then were other events at the 2013 Fringe season that stood out equally, but for different reasons. For example, coming from the parade and being stopped by a mum asking if I was OneShoe. When I said yes, she told me that her son had seen one of my Book Week performances the year before and he’s really excited to see my show! Or there was the other time one of the six year old children from the vacation care that I work at attended my final performance. He sat in the front row and just as my last story was starting he raised his hand. Of course, I couldn’t stop part way through the story, so I just carried on, and he kept his hand up for the entire ten minutes, alternately raising one hand and then the other as they got sore! Eventually his dad asked him to lower his hand, but I made sure I approached him after the show and asked what his question was. A big grin on his face, he responded, “Hi Milan!” What a treasure! Or, after two shows that were about half-full, there was the sense of achievement I felt when my final show was fully booked out – and people were even being turned away at the door! Or finally, there was the time when two young ladies stopped me in the Garden of Unearthly Delights and one of them said, “I love your shows! You’re amazing!” “Why, thank you!” I said. “Tell us a joke!” the first one said again and, turning to her friend and pointing to my dragon foot, exclaimed “This is Piff the Magic Dragon!” I’m not Piff… Damn

So, to answer the previous question, am I going in the Fringe again in 2014? You bet your booty I am!! I am a performer and, more than that, I am a storyteller. This is who I am! Where would we be without a story?!


An altered state of mind (Tony Wight 2014)

Have you ever read a book and been so immersed in the story that hours later you are not conscious of even turning a page? This is an altered state of mind and is linked quite closely to hypnosis. To enter unreservedly into a story is an exhilarating experience. It can bring you to tears, laughter, excitement, sadness and joy. This is the power of story. It can be delivered in a book or orally by a storyteller.

I believe that storytelling is a special gift. For me, telling stories requires total involvement. I am in the story: mentally and visually. I invite my audience to trust me and come with me on the journey. For the willing audience, the experience is similar to that of being under hypnosis. Every person builds their own visual impressions as the story unfolds. No one person’s story world is the same as any other. Their world is uniquely personal and yet they are all drawn together through the theme of the story as delivered by the storyteller.

For a storyteller to be able to induce this state of total involvement it is necessary to select material to which the audience is likely to relate. The teller must, of course be totally committed to the story. Panning across your listeners, eye-balling them fleetingly, you invite them to come with you on your personal journey. The audience participates by focusing unreservedly on the story being told. This is a personal commitment of time and effort on behalf of the listener. Occasionally, in the course of the story, re engagement by eye helps to maintain the listener’s interest and commitment. Minimising distractions will help listeners to remain engaged. Mobile phones must be turned off (including your own), body movement should be kept to a minimum and jewellery be avoided. Stories of no more than ten minutes work best for me. Accordingly my material is mostly drawn from poetry. The discipline of meter and rhyme imposed on poets helps to ensure that the story is told powerfully with a great economy of words.

To put together a performance of storytelling, four to six stories would deliver entertainment for between thirty and forty-five minutes (allowing an average of seven minutes per story). In order to provide the audience with an exciting journey, they should be exposed to the greatest possible range of emotional experience. Therefore light and shade, humour and pathos should be thoughtfully mixed to deliver the maximum impact. If possible deliver your stories acoustically (that is without a microphone), but be sure that your audience is able to hear your words easily. The degree of your commitment will determine the level of energy you deliver to your listeners. Generally, your audience, by their total involvement will return energy to you. There are audiences, however, who are unable to return energy. They are the elderly and mentally impaired. But these are the people who most need the opportunity to escape into the realm of story. No longer can they read. Radio no longer delivers the radio stories they loved so much when they were young. TV does not deliver the same escape. You, the storyteller can. For a short while you can take them on a journey, help them enter a world far away from their current, often depressing circumstances, where they can laugh and cry and experience life away from reality through an altered state of mind.


How Storytelling May Vary

The types of stories told by oral storytellers

  • Folk tales
  • Myths
  • Legends
  • Fairy tales
  • narrative poems
  • Narrative jokes
  • Tall tales
  • Multicultural stories
  • Urban Myths
  • Fables
  • wisdom tales
  • personal experience stories
  • literary
  • sacred and teaching stories
  • Wonder tales
  • historical and heritage stories
  • Ghost stories
  • Yarns
  • Trickster stories
  • Epics or episodes from epics

Stories are also grouped in collections by reference to a theme (eg animals, ecology, monsters), a specific region or country, or by recurrent motifs (eg abandonment, transformation, lost in forest).

The purposes oral stories are told include, to…

  • entertain, distract, and divert
  • develop oracy and literacy
  • express oneself (as teller)
  • enthuse about historical events and people
  • nurture particular social attitudes and values
  • develop problem-solving skills
  • provide a vehicle and narrative genre for learning English

(ie ESL and EFL , and ESOL)

  • nurture an appreciation of cultural diversity
  • supplement school subject learning (eg literature, history, maths & science)
  • nurture imagination and creativity
  • transmit cultural and family stories across generations
  • contribute to psychological healing
  • develop an organisational culture
  • provoke self-reflection on personal attitudes about controversial topics (eg racism, sexism etc)

Is there anything that can’t be done with storytelling?
By far the most common purposes are to entertain, distract, and divert. . And of course, these main purposes may be achieved with other ones concurrently.
Many of these purposes, however, can only be achieved with very specific story types, by using the stories as part of a well-designed workshop, or by incorporating storytelling into skilful teaching processes.


The occasions and settings where storytellers may tell …

Member storytellers

  • At their regular story sharing meetings
  • At concerts we hold from time to time
  • Some individuals have family and community events and clubs where they tell’ sometimes professionally (eg weddings; birthdays; reunions).
  • At special events where a subgroup of members can attend as a group (eg Medieval Fair; Residential Care facilities; with donations to the association)

Professional storytellers (Tellers who maintain themselves as career, business, main occupation)

  • Social & Educational Institutions : for example, working in schools, kindergartens, universities, festivals, social clubs)
  • Business training seminars, in psychotherapy, on trains, planes and tour cruisers.
  • Special commissioned project performances (alone or in collaboration with other storytellers, musicians, or visual or performing artists)