It seems like I’ve been telling stories all my life. My dad was a storyteller and I loved to listen to him tell. In ’95 I attended a seminar presented by a storyteller and realized this was something I could do so I took on the title of storyteller in 1996. To further seal the deal, I had my first exposure to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Any storyteller will tell you what a marvelous experience that is.
I like very much telling stories to children. However, when I first started in ’96, I found myself performing primarily for adult audiences. As time went by, my focus narrowed to telling stories mostly to children. I love to tell funny stories. I am primarily a happy person so I like to relate happy endings. When I first started, I relied heavily on fairytales and folktales, but over the years I have broadened to include family stories and totally made up material.
Many years ago a college friend of mine encouraged me to “be myself.” She showed me how to look people in the eye and pay attention to what they said. To be honest, I don’t always put that into practice, but when I do, I have good success. As I tell my stories, I make sure to make eye contact with members of the audience. I look for interest as well as boredom and then I modify my telling accordingly.
Preparation is an important aspect to my telling. In the early years, I was so nervous, I would line up all my teddy bears in the living room and practice telling my stories to the bears. As time went on, I replaced my bears for a storytelling frame of mind. I think about the setting in which I will be telling as well as the demographics of the audience.
When I first began, I chose the persona of a “little old lady” or possibly a type of Mother Goose image. My white hair and age make the little old lady image work very well. I still use costuming when I tell to children because it provides an added interest for them. For adults I am still a white haired little old lady but dressed in regular clothes.
After performing in a variety of venues, an opportunity came along to tell my stories to an entire elementary school. This school was not the first but it was the best. The children showed great enthusiasm and my ability to engage the audience was at an all-time high. They were more than willing to participate. It was a great moment in my storytelling career.
This feels like the time for true confessions. The easy part of telling about myself as a storyteller is my strengths. My stories are upbeat and I have a very expressive face, and I like to make people laugh as I’m bringing home a point. The downside would be not following through. I tend to remain quiet and apart when not telling stories. I don’t always look to learn from my audience both before and after a performance.
I joined the Virginia Storytelling Alliance in 2004. I wanted to become acquainted with other storytellers and to improve my craft. By joining VASA I have indeed made friends with a number of storytellers, and have also improved my craft. In the process I have learned that there is a wide world of storytelling out there. Although one may never see the results of this craft on the front pages of a newspaper, it is still very important to the fabric of our lives both culturally and historically.
In 2008 I decided to accept a “temporary” position on the VASA board. It opened my eyes to the importance of such an organization as VASA. Later I took on the role of being in charge of the traveling display which gives VASA a visual presence at as many storytelling events in the state as possible. In 2016 I stepped down from serving a three year term as president.
My advice to tellers is be true to yourself and listen closely to what people are saying. Own your heritage and share it whenever you can. Join VASA and become acquainted with fellow storytellers. Observe tellers and how they tell so you can hone your own style. And don’t forget to have fun in the process.