How long have you been a storyteller?
There are two answers to this question. First, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t telling stories. I began telling to myself and then to close family members.
My first real job at age 18 was on stage with Al Capp Enterprises. Then storytelling in the entertainment world. Next came 40 years as pastor of 4 churches, the last of which was a 33-year position. Every week my messages were built around a carefully crafted story.
The second answer is two years. Upon retirement, I was invited to tell in a story slam and won 1st place. I now tell stories throughout the country.
What kind of audiences have you told stories to?
Mostly families and story enthusiasts. I can tell for children as well.
What kind of stories do you tell?
My niche is true/almost completely true, real life experiences from my life and the lives of friends and relatives whom I know very well. My stories are homespun tales, always with humor, a subtle positive underlying subject, centered around my deep-south early years growing up in an exciting family involved in the candy, amusement/entertainment business and farm supply businesses.
How do you keep your audiences engaged in your stories and what techniques do you use to keep your audiences captivated if they seem to lose interest?
I tell the truth. My life has been a “storybook” from childhood. I make certain that all that I say is on-target, punctuated with humor and descriptively delivered. I also pick material that appeals to a wide range of people.
My specific techniques are to be rehearsed and prepared. As I tell, I never take my eyes off of the audience and I engage them visually.
At the same time I play a mental video of the story in my mind and tell what I “see”. This helps keep the story in order. I also tell with key words that keep me on target.
I never use notes, even in the studio.
I smile, use posture relevant to the story and hold on to my objective with determination. I haven’t lost anyone yet!
What do you do to prepare yourself for telling stories?
Pick the beginning and ending. The middle almost fills itself in.
Select key words to prompt my memory.
Carefully choose my wardrobe, particularly the shirts.
Put life into every character so they can be visualized by the audience.
Never use a script. I create a rehearsal card with words and names only. Some are highlighted.
Rehearse in front of a full-length mirror with no one else present.
After three solid rehearsals, I record the story and put it in CD format.
I play nothing but CD’s in my pickup truck until I can relate the story with powerful effectiveness.
Do you use props/costumes while telling stories; if so what do you use?
Props are helpful with children. I used props in a touring story project for 28 years for a collective audience of about 2,000,000 children. Props were essential. I used magic, interesting objects, and a variety of live animals.
I do not use props with adults.
I do not use costumes.
What is the most memorable experience you had in telling stories?
What a question! There are many. I’ll share one –
Years ago, I adopted a soon-to-be-homeless baby African lion (I’ve been around animals my whole life). I named him “Bubba” and we became fast friends. I taught him to lie down with a live lamb – the effect was right out of Isaiah’s prophecy in the Old Testament.
I spent time with Bubba every sing day and we came to have excellent communication.
Hundreds of thousands of children and parents experienced Bubba’s story and the goal of Peace on Earth as a lifetime objective for all of us.
In Roanoke, Virginia, one day, I had concluded Bubba’s story and he was in his huge traveling “comfort suite” for lions. A small boy appeared at the security fence and said, “Josephine Emery was my great-grandmother”. I could not believe my ears. Josephine was my first grade teacher. She lovingly coached me through all 12 grades of school. In Mississippi, where I was born and raised, Josephine knew I had learning disabilities. She taught me to read with phonics. She also taught me a few things about working in public.
Across the decades, and many miles, the story came full circle! At 5 years old, Josephine told me I’d someday work with kids and animals.
What are the chances of this young man appearing at one of my story events with his mother, and connecting the circle of my 1st grade teacher!
It remains one of the greatest moments of my career.
(Today, Bubba has gone to “Lion Heaven”. He was considered a one in a million lion).
What are your strengths and weaknesses for storytelling?
Drinking one too many cups of Hazelnut coffee before I go onstage. Also, my ADHD causes me to lose track as I tell. I have developed a technique to get through these moments.
When did you join VASA and why?
I officially joined in early 2016 because of my friendship with Gayle Turner, Producer at the Story Channel.
I joined to learn more about expectations and realities of storytelling in the national trend toward storytelling as an art in the mind of the public.
How has VASA served you?
VASA has introduced me to a new circle of colleagues and venues.
I am working on a goal of including VASA members in festival-type events that I produce. Hopefully this will increase the family atmosphere of VASA and lead to storytelling opportunities for many of us.
Jim Lavender has been entertaining and speaking to audiences since he was 18 years old. Born in the Luxapalila Swamp country of Mississippi, his parents owned a wholesale candy business and his uncle and grandfather had feed and farm stores plus operating the Fairgrounds. His early years accompanying his uncle to the Fairgrounds fostered a love for animals that has grown over the years. He would sit for hours as a youngster talking to the circus animals appearing at the Fairgrounds, while bringing home orphaned wild animals to take care of as well.
Jim’s life changed when he was recruited to play the role of Lil Abner for Dogpatch USA, Inc./Capp Enterprises, for the legendary cartoon artist, Al Capp, whose Lil Abner comic strip was a national hit for the United Feature Syndicate. Nearing the end of a career as Lil Abner, and several other entertainment ventures, Jim received a call to the ministry, and became a United Methodist pastor where he served as founding pastor of a successful suburban church for 33 years.
Jim Lavender’s storybook life is heart-warming and hilarious. Today, Jim is a professional storyteller, motivational and keynote speaker.