Friday, June 29, 2012

A Bard's Lament

This is an imagined conversation that started with an actual, true-to-life statement.

"So you're a storyteller? That doesn't sound very difficult. You just get up there and tell stories, right?"

ME: "There's more to storytelling than just telling stories. A good storyteller makes it look easy, but there are many techniques being used to ensure a solid performance. You don't realize how difficult it can be until you get locked in a room with a bad storyteller."

THEM: "Doesn't sound that tough to me. I'm sure I could do it. How hard could it be to tell a couple of stories?"

== Freaky Dream Sequence Music ==

ME: "I guess you're right. It's like being a musician, right? All you need is to strum a guitar and anyone can be a musician, right? Money for nuthin' and the chicks are free, as the song goes."

THEM: "Well no... that's not true. It takes years of training, dedication, and practice to learn how to play guitar. And it's not enough to play guitar, you also need to learn specific guitar playing styles like jazz, folk, rock, etc. The guitar is a powerful instrument and not just anyone can just play it well. That's ridiculous."

ME: "Oh... sorry. Right. Learning an instrument is different. Okay... so it's like being a writer, right? Anyone can sit a write a novel and get it published. It doesn't take any special skill to write a book. Anyone can write an interesting story and get published, right?"

THEM: "That's crazy talk! To be a successful writer, you need to understand the components of literature, grammar, and style! And it takes an enormous amount of dedication and discipline to just finish a story that you start, and even more courage to actually commit yourself to developing an idea into a creative work of art! Just being able to write a grocery list, an email, or a post-it-note to buy more milk is a world away from being a true writer. Are you insane?"

ME: "Of course. How naive of me. It's not a good comparison. I guess it would be like being an actor, right? You just memorize a few lines, put on some fancy clothes, and enjoy the limelight of public adoration. How hard can it be to be an actor?"

THEM: "What?!? Being an actor is more than just memorizing lines! You have to understand body language, voice projection, and portray realistic emotion on cue! It takes years of study, training, and more than a little competitive drive to succeed as an actor. To truly appreciate the theatrical art-form, you need to understand props, lighting, pacing, projection, movement, and emotive inflection! Acting is a very complicated art-form!"

ME: "Okay... I've got it now. It's like being a public speaker, like a politician. To deliver a good speech, you just need to review your speech a few times and everyone will hang off your every word, right?"

THEM: "Where have you been living... Under a rock? It doesn't matter how well-written a speech is: a bad delivery of that speech will destroy it. A talented public speaker needs to connect to his audience by his presence, his use of eye-contact, the clarity of his voice, and his innate knowledge of the speech. Just reading a speech will bore an audience to sleep, but the speaker who knows his speech intimately can move his listeners to tears or to battle. Speeches have been made or broken by the person who delivered them."

ME: "Well geez... I don't know. I guess storytelling relies of aspects of all those disciplines. Being a storyteller takes dedication, training, an understanding of voice, stance, body language, pacing, and really understanding your story. There are different storytelling styles, depending on the audience, and the storyteller needs to study them completely to be able to craft and deliver his story in a way that is compelling and entertaining to his audience. Storytelling is an art-form as complex and rich as acting, music, dance, writing, and public speaking."

THEM: "What? No... You just get up and tell a story. What's so hard about that? It's easy and any idiot can do it."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Original vs Retellings

Actually, I had this odd conversation last night at the finals of the Slamtastiqe Slam Tellings. An audience member at the Slam Telling was curious to know which stories were original or retellings. "If I were a judge, that would definitely influence my scoring. I mean, original work has to count more than simply retelling someone else's story, right?"

The judges are asked to score the tellers as follows: 3 points for content, 3 points for delivery, 3 points for performance, and 1 point for awesomeness. The event isn't a Creative Writing class: Storytelling is a performance art, therefore how the teller embodies the story he/she is telling is what really matters.

Even if the story is being retold, it's being retold in the performance style of the teller. That means the teller should have exercised their creativity is making the story their own,  which often means rewrites and restructurings of the story. Timing, gestures, voice, and sheer presence is what carries the story to the six senses of the listener. How the story is told is just as important, if not more, than if the story is an original work or a retelling.

Sure, it's impressive when storytellers write their own stories, but because storytelling is a performance art, how it is crafted, told, and embodied determines the quality of the performance. Since every story is a variation of the 7 basic plot-lines, even if the storyteller writes it from scratch, it's going to reuse something that someone else has written.

Back on June 5th, when I performing with Concerto Della Donna, I had to rewrite sections of the classic Norwegian folktale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" so that it would work with the overall performance. A friend who was sitting in the audience, who has seen me tell stories for many years, was able to pick out certain aspects of the story as being my own additions because he recognized my style. And still, he was surprised at some other changes that were not part of the original story.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Montreal Fringe 2012

So it's official: TaelStrum (my storytelling band) will be in the Montreal Fringe Festival this year. Here are the dates:

June 8th, 8pm and 10pm
June 9th, 8pm and 10pm
June 12th, 8pm and 10pm
June 18th, 8pm
June 20th, 8pm and 10pm
June 21st, 8pm and 10pm
June 23rd, 8pm

Ame-Art: collectif des Artistes de la galerie Mile-End
5345, avenue du Parc
Montreal, QC H2V 4H9
Purchase tickets online

BTW, did you know that TaelStrum was named one of the Best Spoken Word Acts in the Best of Montreal 2012 survey?
Copyright© 2010 John David Hickey