What is a storyteller? Someone who tells a story? “Storytelling” is a word used in many different contexts, and hence confusion. We remember books read to us as a child, and often storytelling as “story-reading” is the only definition some have encountered. Sometimes, it is also applied to novelists, essayists, playwrights, and movie directors. In colloquial usage, the word “storyteller” can be synonymous with “liar” as in “Why are you making up stories?” However, the art of storytelling as an oral tradition and performance art is regaining popularity. Or is it?
My friend Mary Lou Williams is a professional storyteller in Southwest Florida. She called up a local assisted living facility to see if they would be interested in booking her for a performance.
“Would you be interested having a storytelling event?” asked Mary Lou.
As if offended, the social director replied, “Our residents do not appreciate being treated like children.”
“No, no,” Mary Lou interjected quickly, “these are stories for adults.”
After an uncomfortable pause, the director replied, “That would be too risqué for our residents.”
For the professional storyteller, “storytelling” refers to the original ancient oral tradition of storytelling, a live performance art — one person (often on a stage) telling a story to an audience (from memory) — interacting, connecting and captivating the audience. The venue can be as small as a family sitting together at home listening to grandparents, friends sitting around a campfire, or tents that holds over a thousand people at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. In this age of multimedia, it is often hard to imagine how captivating one person can be as they interact and connect with the audience in a way that television, movies, and YouTube cannot. As a live performance, storytellers respond to and often interact with the audience. Storytellers evoke emotion, create community, and activate an ancient part of our psyche.
The power of the storyteller can be described, of course, in a story (told to me by Carmen Agra Deedy).
There was an anthropologist studying a remote village in the jungle. After more than a year, he had completed his research. As he was leaving, the elders wanted to know more about the outside world. While he did not want to influence the culture, the elders insisted on a television. After much debate with the elders, the anthropologist decided to leave them a television and generator. He showed them how to use it.
A year later, he returns. The children are excited to see him again. He goes to the place of the television and generator, which is now covered in vines and already taken back by the jungle.
“What happened?” he says.
“It was great for a while,” says one of the children, “but then we remembered that we have a Storyteller!”
“But this television knows thousands and thousands of stories. It knows more than your Storyteller,” says the confused anthropologist.
“Yes, but our Storyteller knows us.”
In the oral tradition of storytelling, the teller and audience are intimately connected. The teller weaves a world and invites the audience to not just watch, but to be a part of the story. This is the power of listening, empathy, and human connection.
The best public speakers today use story and storytelling. While facts and logic speak to our minds, story speaks to our heart with emotions. Emotions make speeches memorable. And so the power of story goes mainstream into all facets of life from advertising to entertainment to small talk.
“A change of heart is a change of mind” — Dalai Lama
At its best, storytelling captivates, connects, and inspires.
I have found a passion for storytelling and bringing it to Southwest Florida. In 2016, I helped produce (and also performed in) several showcase events, each with 10 tellers in a “StorySlam”, at various locations including Sugden Theatre. I love finding new talent and new stories! With the Storytellers of the Round Table, I’ve performed locally at the Brambles English Tea Room (2nd Thursdays during season) and other locations regularly. I even created a workshop through Toastmasters Academy to teach the art of telling your own personal story. Storytelling in Southwest Florida has an online presence on my website www.opendreaming.com. I have helped bring nationally-known professional tellers to perform locally, like Bil Lepp and Andy Offutt-Irwin. I have attended Storytelling festivals, workshops, performances, events, and local groups to hone my craft. I even created our own monthly Naples Storytelling Guild to continue to share and learn new stories as a community. With all these events, I have collected a repertoire of amazing stories. Visit the Dr. Joel Storyteller information page. I’ll tell a story to anyone that will listen.
It is only in reviewing the year that I have realized how full 2016 has been!
2017 will be just as exciting for storytelling.
Help keep this ancient oral tradition alive in its modern form:
- Check out the the line up of events on our online Storytelling Calendar.
- Join our storytelling mailing list.
- Learn the art of the personal story in my workshop. The Online Course Format for “The Personal Story: Touching Hearts, Changing Minds” will be coming in 2017!
Upcoming Storytelling Showcase Events for 2017:
Visit our online calendar for more details: www.opendreaming.com/storytelling-events
Wed Jan 25th: StorySLAM: An Evening of Storytelling at Alliance for the Arts in Ft. Myers. We are repeating our successful Naples show! Last year our packed audience said: “I haven’t laughed so hard in years.” “I haven’t had such an enjoyable evening in a long time.” “This is so much more than I expected.” “It was captivating.” Box office: 239-936-3239.
Fri Mar 3rd: The Little Elephant: An Evening of Storytelling. New name for our StorySLAM with new stories. This is a FREE event at my office. Warm up for the theatre, but not the same stories. RSVP.
Mon Apr 3rd: The Elephant: Stories You’ll Never Forget. Back at the Sugden Theatre, all new stories, our best yet!
Box office: (239) 263-7990
Check out our amazing Nationally-known Visiting Professional Storytellers in 2017:
Feb 10&11: Bil Lepp, King of the Tale Tale, returns to Alliance for the Arts in Fort Myers, Florida. Five time winner of the West Virginia Liar’s contest will have you rolling in your seats with laughter. Workshop, Matinee, and Evening Performance. All shows will have different stories. Attend all 3 events. Box office: 239-936-3239.