Tag Archives: storytelling

Lessons in Storytelling 2-4 (Durham Fair)

Before I discuss the lessons, I would like to state for the record, that the Durham Fair is waay better than the Big E. I know that for some thems fighting words, but if you are there for the crafts & creatures, the folks at Durham are much better at displaying them. The professional vendors are all in one place, and while they are not given short shrift (being right there near the first entrance) they are not the main focus of the fair. Many of the food vendors are local fire departments, scout troops and churches. If you aren’t careful you might find out that a political party you oppose makes a fine apple pie.

Clouds showing off at the Durham Fair

Clouds showing off at the Durham Fair

Back to the lessons.

Lesson 2. Understand the performance space before you tell.

The Potbelly Place at the Farm museum was set inside a museum display. The Farm museum is a barn like building with a concrete floor. The performers were to the right of the main entrance. People were coming and going, to-ing and fro-ing. Most of the folks at the fair had been coming to the fair for years, and were coming through to see all the old stuff at the museum. There was no real place for an audience to stay for the listening.

The day before I performed, four gentlemen who sat around and spoke about the Hurricane of ’39 pulled in a great crowd. Their advantage was that there were four of them, and when one ran out of material another could jump in, like a real conversation.

The problem with the space as a performance storyteller was just that, there was very little space–physical or mental–to perform. Very few people were interested in watching a performance.

Lesson 3. A month and a half of research + one week of percolating + two days of writing out a six page story= 15 minutes of story

That’s pretty self explanatory. I dug around my local history for a story with a hook for weeks and found little that appealed to me. So I gave up and stole borrowed someone else’s. The good folks over in Windham, Connecticut have a great story involving a frog battle and the French and Indian War. (I’ll post more about that story and my sources tomorrow.) The best thing about that story, other than it involves frogs, frog noises, and villagers running around in various states of undress in the middle of the night, is that it can be structured like a ghost story, and if I know anything, I know my way around a ghost story.

Regardless, the story was about a fifteen — twenty minute story. Which was the right amount of time for holding anyone who kinda wanted to hear the story, but kinda wanted to look at the old stuff as well. With the right conditions and the right audience willing to make frog noises one could stretch it out a bit, but with people passing by, the smithy clanging metal together in the back ground, I needed the story to move along, or my audience would move along. And well, after that story, I had nothing. Nada. Zip. See the big plan was ease from the Connecticut story to the Star Island stories, but people were just passing through. Since the crowd handful that had gathered continued to wander after the one story, and it was hard enough pin down another handful, jumping into a collection of stories about New Hampshire pirates seemed a little silly.

Lesson 4. Learn more stories, doofus.

I need to start asking around locally for more good stories. I should know better than to rely on written accounts.

And by the way, Lesson 1 was Four Year Olds are a tough crowd.

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Four Year Olds : A Tough Crowd

And I enjoy hanging out with four year olds. They are cute. They like to play. They have no qualms about picking their noses. All worthy qualities in a human. As an audience however… 

Actually as with many things in life, the challenges of storytelling to this audience is also what makes it so rewarding. 

Challenge They have a short attention span. Upside The stories get to be shorter.

Challenge These are angels who want to participate, and they will by telling you about their brother, the bug they found last week, or how much they did or did not sleep the previous night. Upside These are an audience who will get up to do the buzzy bee bugaloo if you are boogying with them.

Challenge Four year olds give immediate feedback by either walking out, or climbing into your lap. Upside Either way, you know how the show is going. 

Regardless, even though only three angels showed up for my first official storytelling gig, and only one sat wiggled all the way through 30 minutes of me telling stories (another lasted ten minutes, another lasted twenty), the good folks at the local library have asked me back.

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