Storytelling Arts' mission is to preserve, promote and impart the art of storytelling to develop literacy, strengthen communities and nurture the human spirit.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Fitting the Story to the Audience

  by Julie Pasqual     

   Here’s a riddle: What do stories, warm muscles, taffy, and rubber bands have in common?  Answer: They stretch!
Julie Pasqual during her recent China storytelling tour.
          While that has always been my experience with the marvelous things known as folktales, never have I found that more true than on my recent storytelling tour in China, where I found myself telling tales to children as young as 3 and as old as 17, with various degrees of English language skills.
          Being as this is my third tour of a foreign country, I have come to know, a little bit at least, what to expect.  At the international and bilingual schools I visit, the academic standards are SKY HIGH, the teachers EXTREMEMLY committed, and the kids sweet, excited, and very receptive.  For the most part the language level is almost always like the same as a native speaker – what I tell to a six year old here, I can tell to a six year old there.  But, from time to time there are groups, or parts of groups, where the language level is not so high, when, for instance, a group of 12 year olds have English skills that are more like a 7 year olds (which, I have to say is better than ANY skills I have in any language – including, on MANY days, my own mother tongue!!).  It’s times like these where the elasticity of stories comes into play.

          In a situation like that, the challenge is: how does one tell, in simple language, a story that wouldn’t talk down to a 12 year old – and age when it is all about proving you are no longer a “little kid”?  That’s where the elasticity of the folktale comes into play.   Because stories don’t belong to ANYONE, they belong to EVERYONE, so characters that might have a sweet innocent personality when telling for a 7 year old, can become sassy and “over it” for a tween ager.  Instead of describing, say a princess as being “lovely and fair”, I might say, “She looked like a movie star!”, and strut about a bit, so they could see, rather than just hear what I meant.  Working in moments to give them a chance to choose something in the story is a great tool as well, because it puts them in the driver’s seat a little bit – like in the story I tell of Juan Bobo.  I take a few moments for them to help me decide what color dress Juan should put on the pig – it’s silly, fun, they understand the question, and have the vocabulary to answer the question, all the while it’s something kids that age all around the world are into – FASHION!!

          Working in things I see on their tee shirts, or backpacks into the story always elicits smiles and engagement, as they begin to see, whether they understand every word out of my mouth or not, that storytelling is about us both – teller and listener together – we’re both in this together, stretching this story to include the actual plot, who they are, and their level of comprehension. 
          Really “taking it to the audience”, so to speak, is ALWAYS one of my favorite techniques with younger audiences, and when they don’t understand many words, what they do understand are facial expression and tone.  “Reading” what my emotions are, and what my body gestures “say” – is learning to read as well, and as these youngest children make a connection between the sounds coming out of my mouth, and the way my body is moving, they are learning language.  Maybe the story didn’t have the prefect beginning, middle, and end – but it was a “telling”, a narrative of the smallest kind.

          Stories stretch – better than a yogi in a heated room – they can expand to take in what is actually happening in that moment, in that place.  That is what allows storytellers to be able to reach audiences of all ages, in all countries, and can make each telling a custom made fit for the listeners at hand!

"Storytelling is about us both -- teller and listener together"

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