As a professional storyteller it’s important to be able to pick up a new story and tell it straight away.
BUT I think it’s even more important to have a selection of stories you have worked on and can tell immediately. These are the contents of your repertoire.
By working on stories I just mean truly understanding them, dealing with any contradictions or difficulties…. (e.g. is this folktale deeply sexist? How does my telling deal with that?) Also structuring the story so it has a rhythm and climax which leaves an audience satisfied. Perhaps can adding in details, character development (or music) which bring it to life. It usually includes researching the tale’s culture, history and background so you know what you’re actually talking about!
But which stories to work on? What should a professional storytellers’s repertoire include?
I see it as a toolbox. The contents of your toolbox depends on what kind of work you do.
Storytellers specialise. A schools-storyteller would (hopefully) have stories covering the entire curriculum! Some people pretty much only do kids parties, they won’t need lots of metaphysical epics for adults. Other performers specialise in one tradition, e.g. Irish, African, First Nation and we come to them for their amazing in-depth knowledge and wide repertoire within their specialism.
Storytellers like me who work with a very mixed variety of audiences in many different settings need a more general toolbox which covers everything. Because I do so MUCH storytelling, I find that by now I have the stories to hand for most common situations: schools, parties, adults, corporate, galleries etc.
But of course there ARE gaps in my armour. Do I have a 30 minute Scottish story for sophisticated 20-somethings…? Can I tell the Norse creation epics with toddlers? The answer is yes of course(!) but not from my general repertoire.
However here is the most wonderful part. Every time I have to learn a new story, I add a new tool to my box… so by the time my 150th birthday comes around I will probably have all the stories I need. Or maybe not.
Of course there will always be the client who asks for “The story of the death of the potteries of Northumberland in the 1860s” or something else fascinatingly random… but that’s what special commissions were invented for.