Tips and Programs
Response to "What Are the Rules?
I think we will have continued questioning on this topic of what
makes a good telling, as in any of the arts. It is an interesting
and, at the same time, difficult, if not frustrating question. Some
three years ago the French storytellers got together near Paris around
the theme "Storytelling as a Performing Art." The Director
of the National Circus School was among those invited to that colloquium.
And I got to thinking of the circus arts and made a comment about
how one judges if you have successfully accomplished the practice
of the circus arts. When you think of it, with juggling, you have
any number of balls, although three is a good starting point, and
you can tell without the shadow of a doubt if the person has succeeded
in juggling because either the balls are in the air or they
are on the ground. Professional jugglers of course can see when you
are doing a "sloppy" juggle. But at the basic level, if
you can keep your three balls airborne we have a criterion. Could
we storytellers find this kind of objective criterion to gauge workshop
participants in regards to a good telling?
One could extend this analogy to sports. If you score or win a game
or match, at least you can say you are correctly playing the game.
But of course, "its not if you win or lose, its how
you play the game" remains valid. Then again, you at least have
that objective measure of points.
If you take a discipline like classical dance, certain precise muscular
and geometrical corporal positions constitute figures in a ballet.
It is very easy for a choreographer to judge if someone is accomplishing
an entrechat or a pas chasse. Again, what
might an equivalent be for the verbal rendering of a story?
All of us as professionals have had that magical moment or evening
when you know deep down in your soul, and by the audiences reaction
that, yes, this is good storytelling. But as happened once to Sir
Lawrence Olivier after a brilliant first half of a Shakespearean play,
when the director came to his dressing room to congratulate him on
his performance, he found Olivier head in hands and looking distraught.
He asked Olivier why he was so down trodden as his performance was
so stunning. Olivier replied, "I know it is stunning... But I
dont know why!"
Ill just finish with what I feel is a very touching anecdote
about what happened to me one day in the late eighties. I lived in
a blue collar quarter of Lyons, France. One day I invited the immigrant
children of our North African Arab neighbors from the house next door
to an impromptu session of some tales I wanted to practice. After
the session an adorable little girl came over to me and thanked me
for the beautiful tales I had told. I thanked her back and asked her
name. She answered, "Schaherezade." That day at least I
think I got the juggling right...
Your article, "What Are the Rules?" was helpful in asserting
what I had been not able to articulate so clearly as different rules
for the different genre. Your comments on Ghost Stories were timely
for me as I am currently reviewing tapes submitted for a ghost story
concert at the Northlands conference. I dont agree that the
intent of a good ghost story must always be scary, though that is
a common element. I, and I know many others, include a wider range
of stories that explore that area at and beyond the borders of life
in time. I think the Resurrection and appearance stories in the 20th
chapter of John are strong Ghost Stories. While there are the elements
of fear in these stories, church culture has so numbed us to them
it is a real challenge to tell them in a way that people identify
with the fear that was clearly a part of the characters responses.
It is to this point that storytellers can be of great use in re-humanizing
the stories and returning to them the power of oral tradition. Interestingly
the account has the disciples more afraid of the "authorities"
than of Jesus mysterious appearances. However, the point of
the story is not to scare people, but to bring them to a new understanding
of the life beyond life.
Alan Irvine responds:
Why I Hate Lady Ragnell Alan Irvine's article and the rebuttal it engendered.