How long have you been a storyteller?
Because I have always loved working with children, it was a natural evolvement for me to become an early childhood educator. When I began teaching over 18 years ago, I discovered that my students really enjoyed listening to me tell stories. I learned that great storytelling is an essential tool and skill in teaching twenty-first-century learners to prepare them for the future. After witnessing the numerous positive benefits that storytelling had on my first storytelling audiences, my students, I felt the need to expand my audiences beyond the classroom (and expose a broader scope of children to the performing art of storytelling). I have been a children’s professional storyteller for about 10 years. However, if you count the years that I have been telling stories to the students in my classes, then I have been a storyteller for over 18 years.
What kind of audiences (children/adults) have you told stories to?
I have been classified as a children’s storyteller and have proudly maintained a page-one presence on the Google search engine category for “Children’s Storyteller” for many years. My stories are enjoyed by children of all ages – not just the very young. Some schools/organizations have requested shows for the entire student body, which can range from pre-K to eighth grade. Other organizations may request two separate shows for different age groups. I also have been the featured entertainer at adult events such as The Woman’s Club of Norfolk Christmas Meeting/Celebration.
What kind of stories do you tell?
I tell a wide variety of stories and enjoy expanding my vast collection of stories to satisfy customer requests. For example, this summer, I had a couple of requests for shows on the topic of outer space to match an organization’s “outer space” themes. Another time, a group celebrating fairy tales requested that I perform classic/familiar fairy tales for the youngsters. The Girl Scouts requested a storytelling show about girls making a difference in world. I also have a large collection of original seasonal/holiday storytelling shows. Plays such as our Storytelling Shows with Mrs. Santa Claus are highly popular during the applicable season. During the fall months, our storytelling shows with pumpkin, scarecrow, fall leaves, and turkey characters, etc. are also quite popular. I believe that it is important for children to believe in themselves; thus, I have created stories that promote self-confidence and celebrate diversity. In addition, I perform a set of religious stories that vividly bring classic children’s Bible stories to life. Whatever the occasion or topic, I always aim to make sure that my stories have a special message for children of all ages.
How do you keep your audience engaged in your stories and what techniques do you use to keep your audience captivated if they seem to lose interest?
The best way to ensure audience engagement throughout the performance is to be proactive when preparing for a show. Since my youngest audiences are toddlers, I use techniques that will immediately command their attention and keep them captivated for the duration of the show. Such techniques include introducing story characters such as a silly rooster puppet in the beginning of the story, so that the young children can instantly form a bond with the character(s) and therefore want to listen and find out what happens to the character(s). I also like to make connections with familiar songs/nursery rhymes and classic children’s chants to the storyline and incorporate a few lines from those favorite songs, etc. throughout the show for fun audience participation
Interactive shows for older children may include their participation in the storyline. For example, during a Math Night presentation, students were thrilled to use math skills to help the characters in the story to solve problems.
What do you do to prepare yourself for telling stories?
I make sure that I always know the specific age group(s) that the show(s) will be for in order to select or create storylines that are appropriate and enjoyable for the audiences. Every show is unique, as each audience is different. Even when performing familiar stories, I believe in having a certain number of practices ahead of time to ensure that everything will go smoothly. When I am working on new material, the script/story is written and edited first, then the materials are gathered to match the script; then I am ready to begin rehearsals. Feedback from others as well as video recordings of practices are also helpful. I can watch and listen to the video tape afterward to see what changes need to be made prior to the show.
Do you use props or costumes while telling your stories?
Since most my audiences are made up of children, I use props in all of my shows because the props help bring the storylines to life. Depending on the show, I may dress in costumes such as a pumpkin, a turkey, a literacy action hero, Mrs. Santa Claus, etc. My props include inflatables, puppets, character accessories and furniture, posters with significant story vocabulary and cheers for audience participation, and storyboards with background scenes.
What is the most memorable experience you had in telling stories?
After a play a few years ago, one parent, who had brought her 18-month-old son to a show, informed me that he usually was not quiet during these types of events (she was prepared to take him out of the facility if he started crying and had even thought about giving her tickets to another parent). However, she was pleasantly surprised by his reaction to the stories because he quietly watched the entire show and was “truly entertained.” The mom also stated that she enjoyed the presentation as much as her infant son did and would attend future events. This was truly a memorable moment for me because it happened during a time when I was exploring the idea of extending my storylines to increase the number of exclusive performances for toddlers. The positive feedback that the parent volunteered to give me reinforced that I was headed in the right direction by expanding my collection of storytelling shows to include age-appropriate material for toddlers. As a result, hundreds of toddlers have experienced excitement while being entertained at my shows. I appreciate “the power of one” to speak up at a time when applicable feedback was needed.
What are your strengths and weaknesses in storytelling?
For me, storytelling is a performance in which a play is being presented as the story is magically brought to life. My strengths include displaying high energy and enthusiasm throughout the show. My acting skills are instrumental in convincingly bringing characters to life while using different character voices and character gestures. I have good recall of the storylines and have fun interacting with my audiences throughout my shows. My experiences as an educator have helped me to create and tell stories that are a perfect match for the applicable age group.
I’m not sure if this is a weakness, but others have said that I am too modest when it comes to describing my storytelling skills. In reference to my storytelling, I often say that I am an obedient servant because I am simply being respectful and true to the divine purpose for my life (as I answer to a higher calling).
When did you join VASA? And why?
I joined VASA in 2011 because I wanted to network with other storytellers in Virginia and obtain pertinent information about storytelling. I also thought that VASA would be an excellent vessel for me to have a storytelling support system on a state-wide level and, in return, offer my support to a state-wide storytelling community.
How has VASA served you? And how have you served VASA?
VASA has provided a wealth of unique information about storytelling that has increased my storytelling skills. Receiving VASA invitations to attend other storytelling events helped me to learn new show techniques. My VASA membership has proven to be a valuable resource for links to other beneficial storytelling organizations and has made me eligible to receive discounts on other storytelling network memberships. VASA has provided me with storytelling opportunities such as being selected to perform in the Gathering (Storytelling Showcase) in March 2015 (due to a death in the family I was not able to perform). One of the ways that I proudly promote VASA is by boldly displaying the VASA logo on my website. I feel that a great way to serve and represent VASA is by always bringing my “A” game to every storytelling show and performing to the best of my ability.
What advice would you give newer storytellers?
Storytelling requires stamina and physical energy. Often times, you’re performing a one-person high-energy show and have to keep the audience(s) engaged for nearly an hour. Also, if you discover that storytelling to younger audiences is your niche, then props will likely be part of your productions and may include packing, loading, and unloading them. I would highly recommend that one be in good physical condition by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating the right foods, exercising, getting enough sleep, etc.
If you’re using props, be sure to practice with the props prior to the day of the show, so that you’ll be familiar with handling them, where they fit best in the storyline and where to place them on the stage.
To piggyback on what others have said, join storytelling alliances such as VASA in order to receive the advantages that can be derived from networking with a broader storytelling organization. Storytelling training is also an invaluable tool for new storytellers. Newer storytellers should consider volunteering at events in order to increase their experiences.
Darlene Green is an award-winning storyteller and elementary school teacher in Virginia Beach, VA, and has taught for over 18 years. Miss Green currently teaches first grade and has also taught second grade and kindergarten. She loves telling stories to her students, using an animated and expressive style to help them reach their highest potential in reading. In fact, many of them have exceeded grade-level expectations. Darlene has been the featured storyteller in numerous festivals such as the popular Strawberry Street Festival and children’s programs such as the RISE summer enrichment program. Miss Green has performed in many special events such as The Santa Breakfast, The Halloween Showcase, and even Math Nights, which focus on fun interactive plays with stories that give the audience members opportunities to increase their math skills. On March 20, 2014, Darlene was proud to be the host and performer for the official Hampton Roads celebration for the global event, World Storytelling Day. Her shows, which were presented during a book fair, had maximum capacity crowds. Darlene has been the highlighted storyteller at church services and other family religious celebrations. She always has a significant message for her audiences such as the importance of having self-confidence and being diligent.
Darlene’s programs are designed to actively engage students of all ages and improve their story comprehension and critical thinking skills by creating unique, enjoyable, and memorable experiences. Great storytelling is the vessel to twenty-first century learning! Darlene also specializes in dramatic presentations for adults and creates unique programs that highlight the event’s theme.
Darlene lives in Virginia Beach and is the president and lead performer of D. Green Storytelling. She is a member of the National Education Association, Virginia Education Association, Virginia Beach Education Association, Virginia Storytelling Alliance, National Storytelling Network, Voices in the Glen Storytelling Guild, and Toastmasters International.