In my work as a storyteller, I have performed in many different settings and conditions. In fact, if you would like to undertake this work, flexibility and a willingness to roll with the punches will serve you well. I have performed on state-of-the art stages, in cozy library children’s rooms, and in cavernous school cafeterias. But some of the more interesting and/or challenging places I have performed include:
- Atop a flat-bed truck (where my biggest worry was not that I would be able to tell the story, but that no one participating would fall off!)
- In a Ghanaian classroom, packed to the gills with over one hundred 4th and 5th graders (strangely enough, when I showed up, the teacher decided to take a walk around the building!)
- Under a canopy of trees in Haiti (where students were using tents for classrooms in the aftermath of the earthquake)
- In a wide open field under the hot sun (The patrons sat in the shade while I performed in the sun, sweating profusely. Despite the tough conditions, this is still a place I enjoy visiting.)
- On a dirt floor in front of an outdoor pavilion stage which upon arrival was covered with bird poop and a dead bird! (Needless to say last minute adjustments on my part were made in order to keep my props from becoming contaminated!)
While the performance venue can be a surprise, so too can the audience. To rephrase Forrest Gump’s famous quote, “Audiences are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” Some are quiet and reserved, others wild and raucous. For me, this is some of the fun of it. Yet it can also pose a challenge.
Recently, my husband accompanied me to a performance for toddlers. While the toddlers sat on the floor during the presentation, their parents sat at tables. And instead of modeling good listening behavior for their children, quite a few of them talked throughout the performance. The children were wide-eyed and excited, and on a few occasions disruptive, but very few parents got involved to correct their behavior. While this is not the norm, it happens more than it should; often enough that it no longer phases me.
Well as soon as I had finished the program and we got in the car to leave, my husband sat there staring at me for a good minute, his eyes as round as saucers. “Wow!” he said. “I don’t know how you do it! That was amazing.”
I think he was referring to my ability to not become phased by all of the external factors at play in the room, many of which had made him want to creep into a corner and disappear. He was surprised that I could stay engaged with the story and engaged with
the children despite the number of distractions. And perhaps most of all he was surprised that given the above factors I could actually enjoy myself doing it!
Now my husband has always supported my storytelling work, but that was one of those moments where I knew that he had a genuine respect, even awe, for my work and the flexibility that it requires. Sometimes it’s easy to get wrapped up in all of the difficult circumstances surrounding a performance, and when there is a good opportunity to change the scenario, I will try to do so. But mostly I try to keep myself focused on why I’m there. And despite any adverse conditions that might exist, I remind myself that someone there needs that story, and I am there to tell it to them.
What difficult circumstances have you encountered in your own line of work?
How do you overcome and/or stay focused in the midst of them?