Storytelling books, teaching storytelling performance

Each of these books spends some time on storytelling performance...

The Way of the Storyteller by Ruth Sawyer
Talks about vocal technique in the chapter "A Technique to Abolish Technique" (p. 131-151). This title more or less captures the attitude that has traditionally been part of children's librarianship in regards to storytelling. The storyteller effaces herself in favor of the tale. And while I see the wisdom in foregrounding the tale over the teller, especially for beginning storytellers, it's an attitude that certainly predates the feminist revolution. For that reason alone, it deserves rethinking.

Olcott had a similar quote in one of her articles:
"The more informal the story hour, the greater the lack of selfconsciousness
(sic) on the part of the children, and this is to be aimed at, as a perfect
effacement of self makes a receptive audience."
from Olcott, Work with Children at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, p70.

However, Sawyer does also talk about the quality of the voice and connects this so musical training, say8ing that it is important to "acquire a listening ear." (p. 132) She advocates proper diaphragmatic breathing, relaxing the vocal muscles. Exercises she mentions include: panting, then speaking A-I-O-U in rhythm and in a natural pitch for your voice, and playing with chest/head voice. (p. 133-140)

Sawyer writes that stories should seem natural: "...that perfect art of seeming improvisation" (p. 142) so that "there may be no distraction of revealed technique." (p. 144) The method she advocates to achieve this end is "That of learning incident by incident, or picture by picture. Never word by word." (p. 142)

She is especially disparaging of anything that appears to be "mechanical" or "mechanically acquired."

Where does that leave the professor of storytelling, whose students demand some mechanics as crutches, so that they know what they should do?


Creative Storytelling by Maguire
In the chapter on "Telling Stories, Maguire has a section on "Using vocal tone, pace and rhythm to stimulate the listener's interest." It is telling (little joke there) that this follows sections on choosing the right time and place for storytelling. That's how I was taught too: that the time and place, even the arrangement of the audience, have a potentially magical power to create a good storytelling experience for the audience. And they do--I believe they do from my experience. But what about performance?

Maguire divides his advice into a handful of bullet points, some of which sound much like Sawyer:
--Speak in low, modulated tones--common error is using a voice that is too high
--Vary the rhythm of your delivery--action passages should be spirited, a low voice is effective for dramatic events, speed up near the end
--Use pauses for special effect--power of the pause to lend drama and energy
--Be flexible with vocabulary--look up synonyms for common words, let certain phrases reflect characterization
--Allow gestures to come naturally--and yet he says to make the gesture before or at the same time as the words it relates to
--Relax, breathe easily, and feel your voice--he references Sawyer here on diaphragm breathing

He mentions Sawyer and Ramon Ross's Storyteller as 2 good sources on the topic. The Ross is available at the CCB: S.808.543 R733s1996


Tell Me a Tale by Bruchac
In the chapter "Sharing" Bruchac has a section on "The Act of Storytelling."
It boils down to a few questions: "Why do I want to tell this story? What do I like about it? If someone asked me what the story is about, could I explain it? Can I really see this story when I tell it?"(p. 94)

"Memorizing a story word-for-word is not the way that professional storytellers do it. Instead, they know the heart of the story and then tell it in their own words. Try to see your story as you tell it." (p. 94) [pretty cryptic advice there!]

He does give some good tips:
-Use pauses for suspense and count the seconds in the silence. It gives listeners time to absorb.
-Speak clearly, don't mumble or speak too softly.
-Speak from the diaphragm, and project to the back of the room.
-Use your own voice, don't imitate.
-Think about tone, pitch, volume and emotional qualities (sad, happy, frightened). Think carefully about making up voices for each character--this can be very tricky.
-Gestures and body movement shouldn't be overdone


Improving Your Storytelling by Lipman
(need to get this at work and look at his tips)
Several sections are relevant: In chpt 1, "The Variety of Expression, all of Chpt 4 "Kinesthetic Imagery and Characterization," and chpt 11 which looks like it's about staging, and all of section 4, chpts 15-17: "Your Voice," "Performance Anxiety," and "Your Support Team."

Wow, this looks like actual fun to read. I'm considering taking it on my trip. If I replace the MacDonald with Haven and Ducey and use Lipman as the second text, will I totally freak my students out???


Crash Course in Storytelling by Haven and Ducey
Chpt 10 is "Owner's Manual," all about use of voice, body, etc. using the metaphor of a car. The section on voice cover pace (which they call "rate"), pitch, and volume with less judgment than the Sawyer and other older texts. The section on Gesture and Movement has some great what-to-avoid tips. Probably the best section I've seen.


The Storyteller's Start-Up Book by MacDonald
(need to also get this one at work)
You'd think I have this one memorized already, but I don't. In fact, this is because there is almost nothing in this entire book about performance. I am ready to switch to another main text for the storytelling class.

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