A professional storyteller brings stories to life. This means choosing, adapting, shaping and delivering.
Even historical ‘fact’ is open to interpretation, how much more so are folktales and urban myths? The storyteller brings out the interesting elements, adds new bits and leaves out the boring parts.
A story can be any length between, say, 30 seconds and 30 hours. With longer tales, a big part of my job is keeping the audience’s attention, so like any TV scriptwriter I try to extract the maximum amount of cliffhanger action, pile on the loaded encounters, emotion and unexpected twisty-turny bits.
Storytellers nearly all work orally – without the written word.* From an audience’s point of view this is more engaging and allows for flexibility. The story is different every time. We modify our delivery to suit the audience: a shy 6-year-old today, a crowd of half-pissed students tomorrow.
Some people ask me if I’m an actor and the answer is definitely no, though theres a certain overlap between acting and storytelling, and some people do both. Of course, actors can deliver a great yarn with all the voices, timing and emotion you could ask for. However, acting involves becoming a character, which is not the fundamental part of storytelling. Also, actors don’t spend their time obsessing about stories and ways of telling them.
Storytellers live in narratives. We get obsessed by extraordinary images, fresh ideas, gripping characters, unusual dilemmas…
Don’t laugh too hard when I say I sometimes feel like Doctor Frankenstein, zapping breath back into the dried-out husks of ancient stories. Whatever it takes to make the magic happen.
So, sometimes I write fiction, read poems, run workshops, do drama, sing, dance and use props. Sometimes I collaborate with junk orchestras, app creators, puppeteers and film-makers. Sometimes there is nothing but the barest whispered word. And sometimes there’s not even that. Maybe the audience tells me what happens next. So long as the story lives and breathes, I’m happy.
* Words on a page are not required, though a good storyteller knows how to bring a text alive too.