6/15/08

STORYTELLING 101



In the past the term has been used to refer to "once upon a time" tales....to bald face lying that would end with a trip to the "woodshed" where discipline was swift and sure.Today, the term is used to refer to everything from film to graphic novels to a rock group. The simple and traditional use of the term has been lost for many.


Types of Storytelling:Traditional, Oral. This form is defined as the small group gathered in an intimate environment where a story of moral, imaginative, or educational value is shared by a person. This is the primarily and historically the place where folklore, heroes, myths, and legends are passed along to new listeners and preserved for the generations. Although, it can occur in larger venues - many feel that the larger the audience the less impact the stories have. Some traditions required the storyteller to not move or make only limited gestures as they shared a tale.


Nontraditional, Oral. This form is best defined by the Garrison Keillor approach but also includes storytellers who incorporate objects, costumes, movement and more theatrical elements into their stories. This form may incorporate more animated telling styles with gestures, movement, and audience participation. Although, of late the danger has been that the "theatrical" has been used as the primary definition of storytelling due to a move to tell to larger and larger audiences. This removal from the intimate, face-to-face, traditional storytelling means that you get a more entertaining show but not necessarily better storytelling.


Digital. Stories created, passed on, and preserved in digital formats as video, animation, or audio forms, most often online.Visual. This form includes the use of film, cinematography, photographs to "tell a story". The narrative structure of story is translated into a almost entirely visual format in this medium. As with many art forms this one requires the audience to bring with it their own experiences and emotions as a vehicle for the telling of the story.


Book sharing. This is one of the most common uses of storytelling with children. Librarians and parents and teachers all read a book to children to share the experience through followup instruction, interaction, participation, role playing, puppets, and art. Although a viable vehicle for adults and teens, it does require some preparation for reading pace, intonation, volume, and presentational skills and is sometimes most useful as a "teaser" rather than a real reading of an entire teen or adult book. Many librarians and teachers have found, however, that some picture books are really written on a higher level. This makes the useful for older people because they are visually interesting and contain more mature themes, vocabulary or ideas.


Writing. The marriage of the written word and the oral tradition has tremendously benefited modern storytelling. Although two different mediums with differing requirements they can be used collaboratively since all storytellers need writers to provide material and inspiration and all writers need audiences and contact with natural forms of verbal and non-verbal communications.Performance based. A merger between the modes and values of theater with the stage production of storytelling. Professional storytellers often benefit from classes on how to move, to speech, and express emotion in a natural, artistic, or entertaining manner.


Group, troupe, or team. A sub group that is very ancient and often found in team or duo exchange storytelling. George Burns & Gracie Allen perfected a comedic form of this style and provide a model for the timing and artistry required to team tell effectively.
Musically embedded storytelling. Using music to highlight or link stories.

Organizational Storytelling. Using narrative speech to communicate the successes, training themes, and vision to staff or customer base.


Healing Stories. Stories that are used to provide a therapeutic models of strength, courage, and personal choice to people involved in traumatic events such as terminal illness, natural or man made disasters.

Narrative Preaching. Sermons that are crafted and delivered as stories conveying the elements of religious instruction and values gained from inductive and deductive studies of sacred texts.

1 comment:

Diane S. Levesque dslevsq@yahoo.com said...

I happened upon your blog about storytelling quite by accident, while trying to identify specific OK CCC/WPA artists, Ashurst in particular (and striking out).

Your Storytelling 101 has been (somewhat) covered by a scholar or two in the Tulsa-based Chautauqua troupes, although not all of them do a good job of authentically telling the story of a particular historical character.

I've already made the OK Arts/Humanities Council aware of my concerns with the storytelling level of some of their scholars a couple years ago, and for a while it seemed that they improved--but THIS year, they've gone back into the same tired rut of...well...it boils down to a dramatization of a book report assignment, and it sucks.

I would encourage you to write something about historical storytelling in particular, how the life of the times is important context surrounding any given character, and for that you need to go beyond commonly-accepted biographies, statistics etc. and take particular care to look behind any popularly-accepted mythology surrounding any given historical figure.

My biggest beef with this year's Chautauqua (about The Sixties)is that NONE of it took the Ken Burns approach (Charles Price excepted; he was unique in taking an anthropological approach, which did well even so)...and by that I mean doing research as if an investigative reporter while gathering up the important events which shaped that era without confining one's self to popular mythologies about the period.

EXAMPLE: In mentioning what were the important events of the era NONE of the scholars mentioned the birth of FM radio (didn't exist outside the college engineering lab prior to that era), the influences of TV, TV's transition from black & white to color, Norman Lear, Flip Wilson as the first black host of a variety show, and the role all that played in the civil rights movements (black, women) of the times.

Basically, the same tired Chautauqua veterans just read a bunch of books and dramatized a dang book report, getting a bunch of things mischaracterized by doing so. I was so disgusted I didn't attend the last two days of the week-long event--I was convinced I already knew what they were going to say before they said it, it was so rote and so far off.

Ken Burns at least interviewed people who lived and served during World War II to get beyond all the officially published mythologies of that war; seems to me a scholar bragging of a Master's degree worthy of the name could do no less.

And yet this collection of Chautauqua "scholars" (and I use the term loosely) did considerably less. I certainly hope you'll address the matter of authentic, credible historical storytelling in a future blog.

Thank you.