Monday, April 8, 2013

Never tell'em that it's going to be funny . . .

I attended the latest Timp Tellers guild meeting last week.

ToriAnn did a wonderful job presenting, and she did the best thing ever, she got me thinking.

One of the comments she made, in regards to being a better storyteller, is that one should never--ever--preface a joke by saying, "Oh, this one is so funny . . ."

It's an instant joke killer. It's trying too hard. It's naked wannabe'ism.

This simple idea explains so much!

I've long noticed and wondered what it takes for a storyteller to gain a repertoire with their audience. Countless times I have watched as a fresh young faced storyteller--okay, so an old hatchet-face is possible, but I wanted to be kind--walks on the stage and then proceeds to alienate me as an audience member by prefacing their whole story. They tell me the whys and the wherefores and the whole dang history when all I want is the actual story. Stop giving me your didactic lesson before you ever give me what I came for--the story.

On the other hand, there are many a teller who turn me off by being too into "The Character", These are the tellers that stride and posture and vent in a very rigid and blocked out form while on stage. Blech. I want to feel that I am a part of the performance, I want to feel like I have made a personal connection with the presence that inhabits that stage. By not including me, I feel like you might as well be talking to a wall.

So where is the middle ground? How does one not let performance nerves loosen their tongue in a flood of 'why I'm up here and what I'm going to tell you tonight' word vomit? How does one keep a connection with the audience if you are portraying someone other than yourself in a story?

Most importantly, where is that elusive dividing line wherein a storyteller sets their audience at ease, enough that they will accept something as contrived as a character portrayal, and yet not be so familiar with the audience as to lose all creditability. In particular, how does one do this when you have a 'cold' audience, an audience who doesn't know you from Adam. How do you get an audience to accept the odd weird you that, if you let that character out, is a bit of a whirlwind. A whirligig of an oddball that is just dying to be let loose.

hmmm, am I warning my future audiences? I must say that one hit a little close to home.

The movie version of this is when you get a movie trailer that gives you the entire plot, along with every one of their jokes. You know the ones, the ones that reek of desperation, the ones that might as well just give us the truth by running credits along the bottom, " . . . we are so desperate--please watch our movie--we went way over budget--please give us your money--now we've got the final product we know we've messed up big--please donate now--Thank you, The Failed Film Fund of Tomorrow.

Of course, why am I pondering stage presence and live performance faux pas? I'm a writer more than a storyteller. What storytelling I do is to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers--hazards of being in the Children's department of the library--not that I'm complaining, I love that part of my job. I guess I've been too long involved with the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, have gone to the National Storytelling Festival too many times, and have seen too many local storytelling events, to not have the writer and the storyteller in me attempt a merger.

In the end, I think there's something to finding--and recognizing--hidden treasures. Stumbling upon a surprisingly superb storyteller; being wrapped up in a well portrayed, excellently executed movie; or just laughing until your guts hurt at an unexpected and well played joke.

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