Storytelling: No Stage Required

You may recall that over the past few months I have made a few posts about how teens still love (and need!) stories. So I couldn’t resist sharing two other little instances where this point was driven home for me again.

During my time in New York teaching at the TAM Conservatory, we made a trip into the city to see the Broadway show Newsies. The traffic was terrible, and what was supposed to be a 45 minute trip ended up taking closer to an hour and a half. I was sitting toward the front of the bus, trying to sleep, but I could still hear the chatter coming from the back of bus, including one of the teenage girls behind me who was moaning and complaining about how bored she was. Then all of a sudden I heard her say, “Lindsay, tell us a story! Please!

I sat up and perched on my knees so that I could see her, two rows behind me. Not only was she waiting in anticipation — so too was her seat-mate as well as the girls in the row in front of her and those in the row beside. I launched into a story from East Asia, and each of them sat there, spell-bound, staring at me, hanging on every word. Their facial expressions were not really any different than those of younger children for whom I have told the same story. A few of the girls actually had their mouths wide open as I told! And when I had finished it was as if they had completely forgotten their previous boredom.

On the long van-ride home from New York, a similar request came. This time from a 21-year old male. As we started on the seventh hour of our trip, he too asked for a story. This time I chose an African tale about why giraffe has a long neck. He and the other young adults loved it and couldn’t stop smiling and talking about what a great story it was.

A few years ago I attended a workshop where famed storyteller Baba Jabal Koram said something along the lines of, “You’re not a storyteller unless the kids on your block know you are.” I have never forgotten those words. I think what he meant is that it’s a wonderful thing to be a professional storyteller and earn your living that way, but being a storyteller is much more elemental than that. It’s something that flows naturally. It’s part of who we are. It means we have a story at the ready even in the most mundane of situations, not just when we’re standing on-stage in front of a large crowd. It means that a front porch stoop, a backyard barbeque, or in my case, a bus seat are all the stage you need.

Story listeners are everywhere; the only question is: Will you be ready when they say, “Tell us a story!”?

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