Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Recently I've been asked to do a number of storytelling workshops. Short ones time wise, about a BIG SUBJECT: Storytelling. With only an hour and a half or so to take on this ancient art that I love, I have been wondering what to focus on? Do I chose the amazing material of the stories themselves - these gems packed with everything from wisdom to mystery to fun, these tales that are so often the basis for so much of the literature we have read and heard through out the ages?? Or do I speak on "the technique" of how I work on a story - the way I chose what I want to tell, and how I try, to the best of my ability, to honor the story I have chosen? Maybe people would want to hear about how to use improvisation, movement, American Sign Language in their tales? Maybe they'd like to know how to adapt stories for a modern audience, or find a way to take one story and make it appropriate for different age groups? Or maybe they'd just like me to tell them a good story, and call it a day?? But the other day, as I was reading an article on storytelling and clowning (two things near and dear to my heart) I saw the words LISTEN DYNAMICALLY. Eureka - I found my topic!! Like many things we do all the time - breathing, for one, we sort of take listening for granted. We assume that we are listening because we hear something - noise, a voice, music - but hearing, isn't listening. Listening, is way, way deeper and harder. Listening doesn't just happen with the ears, it happens with all the senses. For a storyteller it takes place in your heart, and in your gut as you read story after story, searching for the ONE, that is calling to you to tell, to bring it to life. Listening is what transpires, when you choose that tale, and you begin to know what parts to emphasize, what bits to shorten, how one character talks or walks, what you want your audience to walk away with. Listening is knowing watching the audience as they arrive, and sensing their mood, feeling out whether to go "fast and funny", or "long and deep". Searching for the shy kid, who might welcome attention, if I stray into the audience, and the one little person, who might freak out if the strange lady telling the story gets too close. It's changing any "game plan" you had a moments notice, because it would not suit the audience that is in front of you. Listening is being vigilant, not checking out, being present - being sure that what you are doing at the time, is THE BEST way possible to serve the people who have been kind enough to take time out of their lives to see you. Listening is being responsive, responsible, and I would say - respectful - audiences "tell" you what they are all about, and if you listen closely enough - dynamically enough to quote the article I saw, you can hear it. Sometimes, just like you don't hear a word quite right, you can misread a signal when you're listening, but the only way to correct the situation is to listen even harder, so you can bring your ship back on course. People often ask me if the three things I do with my professional life - storytelling, clowning in hospitals, and teaching yoga, have anything in common. And they do - listening. My work in the hospitals is one long listening exercise - what does that child who is in pain, need?? Quiet music, or rowdy slapstick - only when I listen to what they have to offer do I know. In a yoga class, are my students understanding the alignment and philosophical points I am making? I will only know if I am present and listening. Listening goes well beyond anything I do in my professional life, it is what I must do to be the best wife, friend, person, I can be. To quote this article, which was written by a woman named Annabelle Morgan, who works with children through both storytelling and clown in Africa "Dynamic Listening is about engaging in a game with the universe - you listen to the empty nothingness, the universe delivers, you respond, the universe listens and so on. A cosmic ordering system, both playful and terrifying!"