Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters: On the wing

Last week I ended with the thought – or is it more of an observation? – that, in storytelling, you as the storyteller are your own prop. This applies whether you’re a professional doing your storytelling from a stage or in a group, with adults or with children, or whether you’re telling your stories informally. What you have in your repertoire is not only your stories but yourself, your voice, actions, sound-effects, expressions.

Promptly last week came a comment from a reader in New Zealand (Pamela, this is you). She and her family had just attended a storytelling session being given by Tanya Batt, a New Zealander whom, as it happens, I remember meeting years ago in North Wales. As well as the stories and how Tanya was dressed, what had made an enormous impact was her great range of sound-effects and actions.

Yes, sound-effects and actions. But there’s something else too which can enormously help a storyteller. It’s developing a range of little add-ins (and I’m calling them add-ins as opposed to add-ons). The sort of add-ins I mean can include all kinds of things that, over time, become a staple, but not inevitable, part of your repertoire. They’re things you can throw in, perhaps in the earlier part of a session when you’re introducing yourself and getting going. Or even later, perhaps between stories or even in the middle of one, a kind of throw-away that can recapture attention. So what do I mean by add-ins?

1. A good riddle that past experience has taught you always beguiles:

My favourite – it’s appeared in my blog before – is the one I heard from Taffy Thomas.

Question: What’s in the eye of a man who is holding a bee in the palm of his hand?

Answer: beauty. Because beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. (Bee-holder, get it?)

2. A little riff that involves your audience (especially good when children are present):

You declare that you haven’t brought any books (because of course you’ve been introduced as a storyteller and even if they’re adults, they’re quite likely expecting you to read from a book). ‘No. My stories are in my head. That’s where I keep them. When I want to tell one, it comes out of my head through my mouth – bzzz – and then it goes looking for a listening ear to go into.’

Now get up, look around for listening ears, approach a likely-looking one (all eyes are now upon you) and, with a little hand-gesture and that sound – bzzz, bzzz – make the story go into that ear. Of course, one listening ear is not enough. Move on to one or two more and by now all eyes are with you, all ears waiting for more.

3. A joke (good for all ages but especially useful for those cynical 11 and 12 year olds):

I know I’ve told it here before. But it’s the one about the chicken that goes into her local library (if of course she can find one these days). ‘Book-book-book’ she says (and please practise this lots beforehand). The librarian is extremely helpful. She goes off to find a good book for a chicken. (Chance for suggestions from the audience of what the book might be.)

Back comes the librarian with just the right thing, stamps it and tucks it under the chicken’s wing. Off goes the chicken, out of the library and down the road. Down the road she meets a frog. ‘Book-book-book’ she says. The frog promptly replies, ‘Redd-it.’ Get it? Frogs usually say Ribbick. But what this frog says is of course heard by your audience as ‘I’ve read that one.’ So again you must practise your sound-effects. But watch it. I always like to say that good frog noises come from your belly. Don’t ruin your throat.

4. A small, personal story:

Something that has happened to you? Something that people can connect with? Or that may surprise them? Let them know you’re a human being too?

For instance, literally just a few minutes ago, even as I was writing that chicken story above, I heard a great crashing noise which I was sure was inside this house. It sounded like glass or steel. Perhaps it was something falling? I went round the house, surveyed every room. Nothing. As I went round again and once again into our bedroom, I heard our French neighbours talking outside on their back patio. The wife distinctly said the word ‘oiseau’. It made me think and that’s when I saw that the upper left pane of our bedroom window was completely smashed, pieces of glass all over the floor, splinters scattered on the bed. I looked again. On the right hand pane was a great big smudge mark. One bird? Two birds?

Then the door-bell rang. Our neighbour. ‘Are you alright?’ They’d heard the crash and seen a bird flying away. Was there a bird in our house? Well, there’s not a bird in the bedroom as far as I can see and fortunately the bedroom door was closed. But I must go and check again, then think about when to tell Paul (he’s off having a singing lesson), also think about taping up the window (it’s a very cold day), finding a window-repairer and whether we’ll move to our spare bedroom tonight.

Ah! That’s the way with stories. Sometimes they’ve been in your repertoire a very long time, sometimes they come out of the blue!

PS: Since there are birds in this blog (and also, it seems, at my window), I have two bird photos this week. I can’t remember where the first one came from. The second, a cormorant drying its wings, was taken not long ago at Walthamstow Wetlands. Plus, of course, there’s the bee, not as in real life but in an old stock photo.

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One Response to “Storytelling Starters: On the wing”

  1. Pam Says:

    Hi Mary, oh what fun to be mentioned in despatches! And thank you for sharing these great resources.

    Cheers from hot Brisbane,

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