"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Generation Gap of Tellers: 3 Ways to Prove This Myth Wrong

By the way some storytellers sound, it seems that the 40+-year-American Storytelling Movement is coming to a close as more and more tellers are aging . . .and passing on.

At one time, I, too, had wondered about the generation gap.

Every time I attended a National Storytelling Conference, I was lucky to find 10 tellers within the 18-35-year-old range. Youth tellers, except for the Kids’ Koncert there, were practically nonexistent.

So we thought.

Then, after seeing the curious and excited looks of college students as I ran a booth on the art on their campus, I realized that the generation gap was only as looming as one made it to be.

Suddenly, I needed sunglasses to see the bright future.

Three Ways to Prove Generation Gap Myth Wrong:

  • Use Different Names for the Art and the Artist

  • Make Appearances on Campuses Beyond Performances

  • Promote Generational Participate at Events

Use Different Names for the Art and the Artist

We are attached to the name “storyteller”. The name has a long and cherished history with people of all ethnicities, tongues, and climes.

Then something changed.

People have their lists of what de-valued the status of storytellers: television, video games, Internet, falling family values, drugs, gangs, etc. Whatever the reason or reasons, the name “storyteller” does not have the power it once had with youth and college-aged students.

Although the term “storyteller” could still be used as a label or profession, we need to add other words to our daily vocabulary within and without the storytelling community.

Otherwise, we run the risk of having certain images evoked when saying “storyteller” such as the picture of an old lady reading stories to preschoolers. Yes, we do have storytellers that have talents in “story-reading” as well as connecting with preschoolers, but our art offers even more variety than this pre-conceived idea.

So how can we increase other storytelling images when youth or college-aged students think of our art?

We connect with other narrative-based art forms and use some of their words to invite others to our art form. Some terms to consider: humorist, slam artist, spoken word artist, sit-down comedian, solo performance artist, etc.

For new festivals or events, we can experiment of naming it a “story festival” rather than a “storytelling” festival. For example, out in Hawaii there is the Talk Story Festival. Director Jeff Gere said that the phrase “talk story” was slang used often on the islands and thus it was adopted as the event’s name.

Make Appearances on Campuses Beyond Performances

Imagine the chance to introduce storytelling as an art to pursue with 3,500 or more people. . .in one place. That is easy to do when you connect with a campus.

Weber State University has an annual tradition of booths, prizes, and food also known as the Wildcat Block Party each Fall Semester. I cheered when given approval to have a booth to promote the Weber State University Storytelling Festival there.

Since there would be over 100 booths, I knew our booth had to stand out. We had to have a drawing with many storytelling-related prizes and candy. We also had the basic email list, festival business cards, and fliers.

After about five hours, I earned some sunburns—red battle scars—that told me that the day was victorious.

The results: 98 people entered the drawing, 56 signed the email list, 70 cards were taken, and 30 applications to audition for the festival were taken.

Yes, I do understand how the numbers work. Though 30 applications to audition were taken, perhaps five actually make the effort.

Yet, if five new college tellers were gained per Fall Semester over the course of 20 years, then that would be 100 new artists to storytelling.

Consider now that this was done for Fall and Winter Semesters at 50 universities, with one per state, what would your number be?

That would be 500.

The current membership for the National Storytelling Network is about 2,000 people.

Though, this idea of booths is not limited to college campuses. Although the main place to find storytellers are in elementary, middle, and high schools, there could be booths dedicated to the art during events where these students could be found.

We could play with numbers all day—and this is all hypothetical—but you can imagine that the generation gap of tellers does not have to exist.

Promote Generational Participation at Events

Most storytelling events unintentionally ignore youth and college-aged students by the tellers they invite. Every event is entitled to figure out how they go about choosing their tellers, however, if concerned about the generation gap of tellers, the next step is to invite them to tell.

As mentioned earlier, the booth promoting the Weber State University Storytelling Festival had applications so that college students could audition with 8-minute-or-less stories.

When students approached the booth, we called out, “Are you a storyteller, a story appreciator, or both?” Regardless of their answer, we could either guide them more about storytelling events happening and/or share opportunities of how they could be storytellers . . .and get paid.

This way, we start each session with two 3-minute story slots for youth, one 8-minute story slot for college students and adults, and finally about a 25-minute slot for the featured teller.

Returning to the numbers game, what if every storytelling festival reserved 3-5 slots for college students and youth?

Perhaps you will no longer believe in the generation gap of tellers, too.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Performance Blog: http://familyfamine.blogspot.com/
Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/rachelfans
Other places to find me: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Professional Storyteller

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