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Lynn Ruehlmann

How long have you been a storyteller?

A looooooong time—a couple of decades. I started very slowly, though. I had never heard of a storyteller. No one ever told me stories growing up. There was a lot of reading of stories and attending theater in my background, though, so those served as my foundations. I had been doing a show with songs and poems and monologues in schools when I happened to take a class with a local television commentator, Jim Kincaid, just because I liked his work. That’s where I first heard someone called a professional storyteller, and where I met someone who told stories in schools. That set me on the path of researching stories and storytelling, and what changed my focus for solo performing.

What kind of audiences have you told to, and what kind of stories do you tell?

Since I was starting the field of storytelling from scratch, I began by learning some basic folklore. I figured if I could grasp their format—both in structure and performance– I’d be able to transfer that to other genres. Over the years I’ve continued to love folk tales and mythology. I also tested out tall tales, which are absolutely NOT for me. Then I got into history stories. Focusing on character instead of factoids and dates made history enjoyable to me, which meant I could then share that pleasure with audiences. If I picked stories that fascinated me, I could be pretty sure audiences would also find them interesting.

By the time telling personal story was becoming popular in America, I was ready to try it out myself. Recently, I learned about the Sankofa bird. It’s a folk image of a bird looking back over its tail. The word is from Ghana and means Go Back and Get It, the idea being that by understanding your past, you are more equipped to understand your future. The trick as a storyteller, of course, is to figure out how to tell your past so that it resonates with the past of the audience—in other words, how to make it universal.

What do you do to prepare yourself for telling stories?

I rehearse a lot alone. But I rarely send a story out into the world until I’ve told it to a small group of story listeners or even to a single listener. Unlike actors in plays, storytellers don’t generally have directors, but honestly, they need them, whether or not it’s official.

Do you use props/costumes while telling stories, if so what do you use?

If I’m doing a story about something or someone in history, I have often included some kind of props or costume. And occasionally there are other stories that may be more clear with a prop, especially for very young children. Otherwise, I love the challenge of helping the audience see what is not tangibly there.

What are your strengths and weaknesses for storytelling?

I’m an introvert, so I’m not generally very comfortable improvising. I did make sure to take classes in improvisation, so that I at least understand the process and can do it if I need to. Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten some good results when I’ve pushed myself to use improvisation in building stories.

When did you join VASA and why?

I was one of the very first board members that formed VASA. At that time I didn’t know anyone locally who was interested in storytelling, so it was an opportunity for me to get to know other story lovers. It also enabled me to help in connecting tellers across this state with each other. Pete Huston (VASA’s first president) and I drove all over Virginia to attend board meetings since we were trying to hold meetings in each of the regions where we knew there were other tellers.

How has VASA served you?

Being in an organization like VASA is like reading bibliographies at the end of a book—each person you meet connects you to another teller, and each teller shows you different pictures of how storytelling can work.

When I looked at the people who attended the 2018 VASA Gathering and Culpeper Tells, I loved that I could reconnect with people from those early days, and that I could meet storytelling people who are new to me and who stimulate me to think of storytelling in new ways.


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