Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kentucky Storytellers Talk About Storytelling

Kentucky Storytellers share their views
on the art and craft of storytelling.
By Paschal Baute.

Eight Kentucky storytellers, both professional and experienced Spellbinder storytellers were invited to participate in research about them to talk about their experience and the way of the storyteller, four men and four women. One woman and three men responded. The interview with Cynthia Changaris is reported separately.

Charlie Eyer, Charlie Hardy (Spellbinders) and Thomas Freese. (Author of four books on stories and Editor of the Kentucky Storytelling Association Newsletter) report their experience here. Their views on the art and craft of storytelling are of interest to other storytellers and Spellbinders. This is published to enhance and enlarge our understanding of the art and craft of storytelling in Kentucky. Brief bios of the three will be found at the end.

1. Paschal: Why are we so ready to be captured by story?

Charlie Eyer: Curiosity is one of the strongest driving forces in the mind of homo sapiens, running a close third place after survival and sex. When we are presented with an enigmatic situation, there is an immediate blossoming within us of a powerful compulsion to seek a resolution. This means that we are "hooked" until we can see "how it turns out".

Charlie Hardy: At first it was the thrill of my dad telling us stories. I am told, by teachers, that the children are looking at me hanging on the words. The excitement, for them, must be one of the many reasons. The excitement for me is telling them a good story; one that they will like and pass on. I always try to tell a story that someone else can "have" to pass on to some one else. As one of my favorite tellers, Tim Tingle, ends his stories (spelled phonetically as I do not know the correct spelling), "Cha ta hapia hokay." Which is Choctaw for, "Now the story is yours."

Thomas Freese: I think we are hard-wired to learn from the experiences of others. Narrative communication is a special delivery to our mind and heart.

2. Paschal: What makes a story a "well told tale"?

Charlie Eyer: Many factors are involved here. The language, characters, actions and motivations must be understood by the listeners. The "curiosity bump" must be stimulated, the desire or need to find out what happens next. There should be no loose ends in the story, everyone and everything mentioned over the course of the story should be accounted for by the time the conclusion unfolds.

Charles Hardy: Of course, it is different for different people. It is what is of interest and, hopefully the teller can make it interesting for the listener. I have a background in education, so I like stories that teach a lesson. This is not for everyone. I also like stories that I think children will enjoy, smile about, hold another’s hand, laugh at, and touch a memory chord. I hope that a "well told tale" is one that is memorable and one that will spark an interest within. With adults, I hope a "well told tale" will spark a memory and a smile.

Thomas Freese: I believe a “well told tale” is a story which is given in a clear and concise way. That is, the narrative or the main message is precisely presented to the listeners

3. Paschal: What, in your opinion, are "tricks of the trade" ways to "prime the pump," to get your audience attentive and engaged?

Charlie Eyer: I find a short ice-breaking session helpful. Answer questions about who you are, why you are there, where you came from. If no questions are forthcoming, volunteer the information in order to establish some rapport with the listeners.

Charlie Hardy: Again, it is different for different audiences. For children, it might be to spark a memory or something previously learned. For adults it might be the same thing and a bit of humor added. I have seen so many wonderful tellers do so many different things to engage an audience. Some do it with facial expressions; making it a "whopper" from the very beginning; with music; with a catch phrase; building on a previous story from another teller; establishing a setting of the story; voice or accent;

Thomas Freese: Ideally audience preparation is a collaborative effort. The organizer helps greatly to set up an expectation of an intense, positive experience in the listeners

4. Paschal: When you have your audience "caught," spellbound or entranced, what is happening? Both to them and to you and between you and them?

Charlie Eyer: Storytelling is a performing art and the storyteller requires an audience to be able to perform effectively. There is definitely feedback occurring between audience and teller, mostly expressions and body language. This feedback strongly influences the tellers ability to perform.

Charlie Hardy: For me, it is pure enjoyment that I am giving them a story that they enjoy. For them, as for me when I am listening, a wonder of what will happen next, how wonderful this teller is (for reasons that touch me on a personal level, just as they might touch another listener in another way), the wonderment of a smile or a laugh (and I LOVE to laugh!!).

Thomas Freese: To fully reach an audience a storyteller uses their voice and body to help the listener visualize the events happening to them. The storyteller projects the emotions of the character into the here and now.

5. Paschal: More than entertaining, what are the outcomes, in your opinion, that you are aiming for when you are really "in sync" with your audience. In other words what do you want them to leave with?

Charlie Eyer: I want them to leave with the story uppermost in their minds. extracting every nuance from the story, discussing and dissecting it. Hopefully there will have been something sufficiently novel in the story to have piqued their interest, warranting further investigation.

Charlie Hardy: I want them to leave having been entertained and enlightened. I want them to want to tell that story to someone else. There are many stories that I have heard and read and when I get a "powerful" story, I want to tell it. I hope, now-and-then, I affect someone that way with my stories. I know it does not happen all the time, but I hope it does happen at times.

Thomas Freese: I choose stories that provide lessons related to social awareness, the cause and effect of actions over time and tales which weave multiple threads of meaning.

6. Paschal: Is there, in your opinion, a spiritual dimensions to a story well told. If yes, please Explain...Define spiritual in your own way.

Charlie Eyer: Spiritual in a very broad sense equates to moral. My God requires of me that I possess the qualities of love, compassion and empathy. None of these can exist without understanding and UNDERSTANDING is what a well-told story engenders.

Charlie Hardy: Very difficult for me to define in "my spiritual way" as I am still on my "spiritual" journey and it is difficult for me to explain that to others.

Thomas Freese: Spirit perhaps connects with the core of our life purpose. To touch upon spiritual themes in storytelling would be to ask how we deal with difficult events, what happens when people are selfish or destructive, and how karma plays out over time.

7. Paschal: What is it that is happening in a story well told between the teller and the engaged listener?

Charlie Eyer: I will restrict my answer to apply only to listeners who are age ten or below because different dynamics apply in the case of adult listeners. Whether the teller wills it or not, the teller becomes, to a limited extent, a role model for the younger ages. This means that the teller must pay attention to voice, grammar, expression, dress and personal hygiene, the whole ball of wax.. Basically however, what happens is that the teller and engaged listeners become temporarily enveloped in a cocoon of their own making and are for a brief time separated from the rest of the world for the duration of the story.

Charlie Hardy: Very much like the answer to #4.

Thomas Freese: To me, storytelling involves an intimacy which draws together seemingly separate minds and hearts.

8. Paschal: Where do you find your inspiration?

Charlie Eyer: If by this question you mean why do I do it, the inspiration arises from the beautiful, inspirational reactions of the children themselves. What more could one ask?

Charlie Hardy: My first inspiration was my father. I love to listen to other tellers and read stories to find one that might interest me. ...BUT, I am inspired by children who say, "Tell it again." That's why I think elementary school children (and school children of all ages) are wonderful audiences.
I know this may take some time and reflection but it seems entirely worthwhile to dare to request it from your busy lives. Since you love telling and love children, and therefore the process, you might find the reflection intriguing and rewarding.

Thomas Freese: I think the greatest stories give evidence of healing through change of attitude. I find inspiration from tales of love and friendship operating beyond apparent limits of mortal circumstances.

9. Paschal: Tell us how you came by your love of story and storytelling?

Charlie Eyer: My mother taught me to read when I was about three years old. By the time I was four, I could read adult novels. When I started school at age five, I was speed reading. Every day, as soon as I got home from school, Mother patiently listened as I described all the wonderful things I had learned that day. I never stopped.

Charlie Hardy: I am, by nature, a lover of children and have felt fortunate to have been blessed with their company for 28+ years. Having been a teacher and administrator of elementary school children has been one of the most wonderful blessings of my life. I love telling them stories and smile when they ask, like I did when I was their age, "Please tell it again!" I came by my love of telling stories from my father.

My father gave me my primary love of storytelling. He would come in to tuck us in bed, sit on the end of my bed and my brothers and sister would join us. He would make up stories and tell some of the old standards. Jack and the Beanstalk, is my earliest memory of a standard story that he would tell. True to form, we would ask for it over and over and he would tell it differently each time. The truly special memories are of stories of his childhood. He grew up in a family of 11 and he was smack-dab in the middle. He told us of how he and his brothers and sisters went to work to make money for the family. They each gave to the household so that they could have food and the things a family needed just to get along in the world. He and his siblings grew up during The Depression and those values of saving, not wasting, working for the good of the group, sharing with those who were less fortunate, and hoping for the best were handed down to us through story. I treasure those memories and those stories, which I have passed to my children, nephews, and nieces.

Thomas Freese: To share a story is to approach intimacy with another. It is a creative and natural act which often offers vulnerability so links can be formed. I have known others through the stories they tell and in this way we become closer.

Ghost stories, my special interest, point the way to our true essence as non-physical beings and teach us that death for the body is not the end of our existence. Ghosts often communicate in the most natural and efficient method of telepathy.

Paschal: thank you, Charlie Eyer, Charlie Hardy and Thomas Freese for helping us understand the Way of the Storyteller and your views of your art and the craft of storytelling.

Brief Bio follow:
Charlie Eyer

Charlie Hardy

Thomas Freese


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