Recreating The Art Of Storytelling
(Reprinted from the Princeton Outlook, July 2005)
There was a time when the storyteller traveled from town to town, carrying tales, entertaining people. Years ago, people sat together and told stories at the general store or on the front porch. Today, most of our stories come from books, television, the inter-net....
Because many of the stories we have today come from the mass media, our own stories often become undervalued. While not every person who tells stories is a professional storyteller, everyone is a storyteller. We talk about what we’ve done, what has happened in our lives, we talk about our hopes and our fears. We are all storytellers.
The stories that we hear as children help to form our perceptions of our world. They tell us what life is about and offer ways to react to our experiences. The stories that we tell reflect what we are about and define who we are. When we, as a culture, lose awareness of the stories we are being told, and when we do not consider the intention of the storyteller, we are in trouble. When the television the children’s main storyteller, we are lost.
Most families have a person who is the storyteller - the person who remembers the family history and can tell of past events. Family dinner time and special occasions can be rich with storytelling. This type of storytelling is the glue that keeps families together. It reminds us of who we are and what we’ve been through. These stories honor past accomplishments and heal past wounds. We tell stories about what is important to us.
There are as many kinds of storytellers are there are kinds of stories. Some children are fortunate to have a storyteller-teacher. Clergy and attorneys are storytellers. Therapists may use stories and storytelling. And, of course, politicians can be skilled storytellers.
Seasoned professional storytellers develop their own creative process, and each story may require variations in the creative process. Crafting a story for performance requires hours, weeks, sometimes years of work from the careful teller: researching the history, comparing similar stories, refining the story, practicing, and a lot of good coaching.
Everyone needs stories every day; oral stories and written stories too. Reading aloud is a wonderful way for adults and families to spend an evening and share interests. Don’t stop reading books to your children because they’ve learned how to read! But, don’t overlook the importance of storytelling.
Tell your own stories; made up ones and real life stories too. As a child, I listened to Gramma and Papa Joe tell me stories on the porch in Meadowview, Virginia. When I was tucked into bed, my mother or father read me two stories: one from the Children’s Bible, and one of my storybooks. My mother always "storied" my day. She named the things I had done that day, and told me about tomorrow. I think that the storying of my day was one of the greatest gifts my mother gave to me.
In the best of possible worlds, each child would end the day with a story. Adults would gather in the center of town and share stories with each other. I think in the 1950's, there was a pot bellied stove in the old general store that was behind the former post office in Princeton Center, or is that my imagination at work?