In researching the history of storytelling in modern Oklahoma it has become clear that the term "storytelling" has been a fluid term and used interchangeably to represent reading to children, orally telling a story, writing a story, and making visual a story (via cinema or art). This has led to more than one misconception in the mind of journalists and programmers as to what constitutes "storytelling". Indeed, in one newspaper article from 1995 a storyteller was described by the journalist as intending to "read to children."
Several myths that emerged have included:
Storytelling is for children
Storytelling means reading to children
Storytelling is theatrical
Storytelling must have a purpose
The misconceptions have colored how news media interpreted press releases, how editors relegated space to the teller or the event, how program planners approached hiring and use of storytelling talent, how educators have handled storytelling, and ultimately, how storytelling has been valued within the state.
Storytelling appears to be the only art form where local artists are regularly ignored in favor of artists from elsewhere. Indeed, Peter Dolese when he filled the roster of talent for the 1st "WinterTales" established the principle of always bringing in those for whom Oklahoma was a new experience. These were tellers whose styles and presentations would serve to set the model of what "storytelling" had to be. As a result there developed a dearth of support for local artists (storytellers) unless they emerged from ethnic groups. In comparison other states had storytellers who covered a broad range of styles from homespun folk tellers to highly stylized theatrical tellers. The breadth of storytelling styles would greatly add to building a storytelling listening base that encompassed wide socio-economic segments leading to better support for the art form in those regions. An honest intent to inject new views, voices, and perceptions into the developing Oklahoma cultural ethos also set in place an elitism, and an artistically stifling atmosphere and marginalization of many Oklahoma voices.
Education also served to limit storytelling, as it has often done with reading, to the formula of read-hear and then analyze the story until all appreciation or joy is removed from the initial experience. This ultra-conservative attitude that all activity had to have a purpose or a rationale served to move storytelling from the motivation-art appreciation camp into the story-analysis-test paradigm. Storytelling was viewed, as most arts and music, but seldom sports, as a fringe component that had little impact on student learning and therefore could not be part of the school year. This served to remove the imaginative element from many schools and created a cold and uninspiring classroom.
The loss of the "folk artist" was most probably related to the low self-esteem most Oklahomans experienced in the post-Depression years. Those "cracker-barrell tellers" with their stories of hard times and little education often were simply not what the state wanted mirrored to them in stories. They were economically growing, becoming more sophisticated, "catching up" with the other, longer established, states and wanted to shed those times like a child seeking to grow-up too fast. This meant that many local tellers of the traditions, lore, and vales of the state were sorely under appreciated and much distinctly Oklahoma folklore was lost as a result.
In moving a fundamentally intimate art form on to the large stage there has been a loss of appreciation for the intimacy of storytelling. The larger-than-life theatrical movements required by many event planners has set in stone the public precept ion of what "storytelling", especially with children. The belief is that those stylings are required to attract and keep the attention of youth raised on 60-second sound bites. The truth is that a good storyteller can style hook their listener and get them focused on the story without a lot of physicality or histrionics. They achieve this through the ability - despite the venue - of creating intimacy with their audience and drawing them into the story.

No comments: