Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The process of choosing

Anytime a teller gets a new booking, the program planning process kicks in almost within moments of hanging up the phone. What stories do I already know to fit the theme? How can I re-imagine some stories to work with this audience of listeners? Is this a group that will need more visual input, will I need to practice with the bodhran, do I need to pull out that old dusty tale...?

The questions clamor for attention in my very small brain, and sometimes so much so, all I can do is walk away from them altogether. Read a book, go birding, ride my bike, work in the garden. Anything but think about the program I just accepted! It's almost easier when I decide I want to develop a new program or workshop, as I have total control over that. The one geared for women's groups, especially Red Hat groups; that's easy. Stories that make the woman look smart, which is not hard, since there are so many like this. Just don't look to the fairy tales. Most of those young women needed princes and dwarves to keep them from certain death! Stories about life experience, or stories with just a touch of naughtiness, my favorite being one from Japan, called "The Telltale." In this one, the man is actually the smart one, having caught his wife inflagrante with the local pawnbroker, but developing a clever scheme to let her off the hook. It's funny, but I like it because unlike so much of popular culture in the United States, it celebrates fidelity and second chances, rather than throwaway relationships.

But back to planning programs for clients. Once I run away from the task and immerse myself in something unrelated, the ideas seem to trickle into my consciouness unbidden. I was asked to do pulpit supply this past Sunday, and I will start a sermon with a story that is chosen to reflect the Scripture in some fashion. I chose "The Pedlar of Balleghadereen," an Irish tale of dreams, also found in other forms from other parts of the world, including a version in the Apocrypha. It's a standard tale for many storytellers, but I hadn't told it before. I tried it out at our Bluff Country Talespinners guild meeting on Thursday, and it went well. Although I was tied to the pulpit due to microphone issues, unable to move about as I would during a performance, it went well during church, too. One gentleman told me afterward, "You even got that accent down really well!" I didn't think I'd done the accent! If I did, I'm thankful it was good, not bad. Chalk it up to the Murphy blood that flows diluted through my veins.

It seems that much of program planning is like this. Walk away, forget about it, then listen to the voices of storyteller's wisdom that creep into your consciouness. Then, before the program but after all the research for different versions, tell, tell and tell some more. Listen to the unspoken critique of your audience for refinements in your telling. Then try it again. And again. I'll have the chance to try some more in a few days. Along with two other tellers, I'll be telling stories at the "Sand on the Riverfront" event in LaCrosse, while sand sculptor Mike Martino works his magic on a mountain of sand. I'm still listening for the voices of storyteller's wisdom to guide me.


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