Thursday, September 27, 2012

Storytelling: Woolgathering1.4 - Play With it!

Storytelling: Woolgathering 1.4 - Play With it!

When you listen to a storyteller, you are helping create the story while you listen. After you hear a story it is yours. To play with…to learn from…to imagine with. Here are a few ideas that I share with the students who listen and create stories with me at Read Boston.

Playing is a powerful way to learn. And it is now scientifically proven to be important to our health and well being. From the TEDx site "Dr. Stuart Brown came to research play through research on murderers -- unlikely as that seems -- after he found a stunning common thread in killers' stories: lack of play in childhood. Since then, he's interviewed thousands of people to catalog their relationships with play, noting a strong correlation between success and playful activity. His book  Play  describes the positive impact play can have on one's life." Dr. Brown says that play and story are closely related. "Three dimensional play lights up the cerebellum"

So when your are having fun with your own version of a story you heard, you are creating and bein as you mix up what you heard with your own rich imagination. 

Exercises: Woolgathering 1.4 - Play With it!

1. Imagine a new ending.
A story with a completely or even slightly new ending is, a different story. It is fun to think of different ways the same things could end or different things the same events could lead to. It is like yoga for the mind. It stretches your thinking and strengthens your problem solving ability.

2. Draw some pictures.
What’s is your picture of the main characters in the story ? Make masks of your favorite characters. Or each one can draw a favorite part of the story. Put these all together and arrange in order, from beginning to end. Add any parts that were missing. Show these as a story line or tape drawings together to make a kind of story “quilt .

3. Tell the story through action.
Instead of telling the story with words see if you can tell it with your gesture, your posture and your facial expressions. 

4. Pretend.
Pick a character from the story that interests you.  Then speak, act, walk and breathe like that character for the rest of the day.

5. Post your idea in the comments below:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

What is a traditional story?

What is a traditional story?
by Norah Dooley and wiki 

The author telling traditional tales to children in South Boston through the literacy program, Read Boston, 2012

Since we announced our Folk and Fairy Tale Slams, all sorts of people I thought would know,  have been asking me, "Huh? What is a traditional story?" In the article below I have tortured and twisted a wikipedia article into illustrating a Miller Analogy Test type statement. My main intent was to explore and hopefully explain the difference between traditional storytelling and contemporary 1st person narrative in performance. Secondly, I hoped to save time by lifting lots of the material for my explanation. This process is sometimes called slapdash, and when less transparent, also known as plagiarism or "lack of artistic integrity" and will be covered in another post. Just as soon as I find an essay on that topic from which I may quote... But I digress. 

The statement I am working with is: traditional stories are to contemporary 1st person narrative stories as traditional folk songs are to singer-songwriter's songs. Imagine an acoustic performance of Arrow, by Cheryl Wheeler next to a performance by Simon And Garfunkel "Scarborough Fair"  or any other traditional ballad of Great Britain.  

The song Arrow is a beautiful contemporary love song, with melody and lyrics composed by Cheryl. Scarborough Fair is a song in the public domain; melody by Anonymous ( not the hackers but in the late 16th century sense via late Latin from Greek an┼Źnumos ‘nameless’ ) and words by Anonymous. In the article below I have substituted "story" or storytelling for every citation of song or music. There are way more interesting things to know about folk tales but this will have to do as a start.
Odetta was a folk singer of the late 20th century revival. She left a career in opera & musical theater to sing folk songs.
From a historical perspective, traditional folk music storytelling had these characteristics:
  • It was transmitted through an oral tradition. Before the twentieth century, most people, especially ordinary farm workers and factory workers were illiterate. They acquired songs stories by listening and memorizing them. Primarily, this was not mediated by books, recorded or transmitted media. Contemporary yet traditional  Singers  storytellers  extend their repertoire using broadsheets, song story books or CDs, but these secondary enhancements are of the same character as the primary songs stories experienced in the flesh.
  • The music  Storytelling was often related to national culture. It was culturally particular; from a particular region or culture. In the context of an immigrant group, folk music storytelling acquires an extra dimension for social cohesion. It is particularly conspicuous in the United States, where immigrants and  oppressed minorities strive to emphasize their differences from the mainstream. They may learn songs stories  that originate in the countries their grandparents came from.
  • Stories They may commemorate historical and/or personal events. On certain days particular songs stories celebrate the yearly cycle. Weddings, birthdays and funerals may also be noted with  songs stories...Religions and  religious festivals traditions often have a folk music storytelling component especially a set of teaching stories. Choral music Stories at communal events bring children and non-professional storytellers to participate in a public arena, giving an emotional bonding that is unrelated to the aesthetic qualities of the music performance.
  • The songs stories have been performed, by custom, over a long period of time, usually several generations.
As a side-effect, the following characteristics are sometimes present:
  • There is no copyright on folk songs. stories. Hundreds of folk songs tales from the nineteenth century have known authors but have continued in oral tradition to the point where they are considered traditional for purposes of music publishing. This has become much less frequent since the 1940s. Today, almost every folk song tale that is recorded or written is credited with an arranger author.
  • Fusion of cultures: In the same way that people can have a mixed background, with parents originating in different continents, so too music storytelling can be a blend of influences. A particular rhythmic speech pattern, or a characteristic instrument, cultural detail or element is enough to give a traditional feel to music, stories even when they have been composed recently. The young are usually much less offended by the dilution or adaptation of songs stories this way. Equally a electric guitar digital element can be added to an old songs story creating a new genre for the art form of storytelling.
  • Traditional storytelling is non-commercial.
Please let me know in the comments below if this makes sense to anyone else but me? All the words in bold italic have been added by the blogger.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Storytelling:Think&Do 1. 3 Endings

Woolgathering: Wrap it Up!

by Norah Dooley
Theory and Practice for Storytelling as a 21st Century Skill

Storytelling:Woolgathering 1. 3  Endings !

A few years ago I wrote this description for our kick-butt storytelling workshops:

Storytelling is a performance art in its own right. In massmouth’s workshop you will experience how storytelling differs from theater, stand up comedy and twisting balloon animals. We will be mining your memories to craft a story with believable characters, a solid point of view and a clear beginning, middle and end.

It turns out that storytelling is actually more in common with making balloon animals than I had originally thought. When we inflate a balloon we create a shape with our hot air. The thin membrane of the balloon keeps the air in place and creates the shape.  But only if we tie the end. When we neglect to tie off the end? The air escapes, it makes a bad sound and the shape of the balloon is lost.

The worst kind of ending is where we just do not stop but repeat, wander aloud in thought and add in details that do not add value to the listener's experience. We come to stuttering halt and no one is as happy as the audience.

Exercise:  1.3  Endings ! 

Practice your ending, making silent eye contact then acknowledge audience then walk off...
However you usually end the story  try a few new endings by adding or substituting one of these:
1.    An action that clearly ends your story
2.    Some of the main character’s thoughts...
3.    How you felt, a wish or a hope;
4.    A statement on what has changed or is different;
5.    A memory that is strongest from the story;
6.    A decision you made.
7.    End with your generalization or revised version of it.
8.    AVOID “the moral of the story is” … or repeating the theme.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Storytelling:Woolgathering 1.2 Exaggerate!

Storytelling: Woolgather & Exercise

by Norah Dooley
Theory and Practice for Storytelling as a 21st Century Skill
(Yeah, I just was not "feeling" the Think&Do title.  And Theory and Practice is too dry, just not me. So I have new title. Woolgathering; it is what I do best! Exercise; it is what I need most.)

Storytelling: Woolgather & Exercise 1.2  Exaggerate!

Those who listen to my bombast know me as the Empress of Hyperbole. I play fast and loose with size, quantity and quality in my storytelling.  I try not to do so when I write but in the heat of speaking moments, 'once'  may become become 4xs  and big becomes giant and salt should be liberally applied. Really no point in checking my facts if I am telling a story - I shade, stretch and distort with the best of them. I know I am employing hyperbole "exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.  And people, g_d help 'em, do listen so I know it works.  Here is wool and wisdom gathered on the subject of exaggeration.

  In his post FOUR rules I practice in storytelling: Brian C. Hughes, Senior Pastor + Blogger says

Creative Whack Pack
“I cannot tell you how many people have asked me, "Was that story you told yesterday actually true?" I guess it was so outrageous that it was pretty hard to believe. The answer is: Yes. It's true. And I thought it would provide a good opportunity for me to talk a little about storytelling as illustration in any kind of public speaking - whether it's a sermon or a lecture or a speech…

1) Exaggeration is ok. Most of the time, I look for ways to insert an absurdity. Strategically placed, these accomplish 2 things: 1- they make the story fun and funny, 2- absurdities tell the listener, "that part is an embellishment." In this particular story, I said something like, "I was so mad, I pumped iron like the old Arnold..." Well, that's clearly not true. But it's also clearly an embellishment. It's so absurd that it cannot possibly be true.

Where Pastor Hughes is very careful about his exaggeration, I think that in a short story like a 5 minute slam story it is sometimes necessary to distort story elements to get your meaning across. Is this alright? I say, yes. Is it truthful?  Well, no. But is it dishonest - to you intend to deceive and make people think particular details are true for some ego gratifying purpose? I think this is crucial. Since storytelling is an art - not journalism, we need to have room to create.  Exaggeration as a brainstorming tool can lead amazing results. 

Exercise:  1.2  Exaggerate!

1. In any story you want to tell try adding an exaggerated detail at the beginning and end of your story. Tell your whole story with and without the detail (to a live listener or record it) Ask for specific feed back. Does the new detail distract from your intended meaning or heighten it? Does it add some panache to your performance or does it call too much attention to itself?

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