"Become aware what is in you. Announce it, pronounce it, produce it and give birth to it." - Meister Eckhart

18 April 2015

Day 16 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge: P is for Planning the Performance

P is for Planning the Performance

There will come a time in your career when you have an opportunity to plan a storytelling performance -- not just your own, but a program consisting of storytellers and perhaps other artists.

I enjoyed this privilege a couple of years ago when I produced a show consisting of eight different storytellers -- men and women with different storytelling styles -- for one of Edinburgh's major festivals.

It helps if your show has a theme or topic around which to weave the stories. If so, it gives your performers something to guide them in their choice of story. But you still have decisions to make, like who goes first and who closes the show. Storytellers, like other performers, are not devoid of egos and you have to be prepared to deal with requests, pleadings, and demands. Fortunately, that was not the case in this instance, but I've experienced it elsewhere.

One useful concept which I was taught some years ago by one of my mentors is one I still use today. I think of the programme as a kind of banquet or feast. Like a chef, you want to consider the full palette of tastes and appetites. You want to offer an appetizer, a main course, and, of course, a dessert. So, here's my menu, imagining the response of the audience to the storytelling delights on offer --

"Ah" -- we begin with an appetizer, something to whet the appetite. I suggest short, light tales that are humorous -- something featuring a trickster figure work well. Include some audience participation or interaction. Short and tangy, and interesting . . . leaves them wanting more.

"Ha ha" -- we move into the first of our main courses so an amusing story that evokes laughter, something light and silly but not too heavy.

"Ah haa" -- our next course offers a more rich, thought-provoking tale, something deeper and more substantial -- a wisdom tale perhaps or something which causes the audience to have to consider a moral or ethical choice.

This is a good place for a break, to allow your audience to digest the richness of the previous course. Gives them time to reflect and talk over the tale with their neighbors over a drink.

"Argh" -- after the break, you want to ensure your audience doesn't fall asleep on the richness of the previous story. That calls for a new beginning, a challenging, provoking, even shocking tale presenting the unexpected -- a rare taste of something unusual though not disgusting.

"Amen" -- something sweeter and more wholesome, a blessing, a story of healing and profound thought, something to celebrate.

"Ah Yes" -- time for an appertif, an ending that is sweet and pleasant tasting like an after-dinner mint, a story that is harmonious, communal and celebratory -- finishing with a song usually works well too, something which everyone can join in on.

Planning a program can be as enjoyable as planning a menu for a feast . . . a storytelling feast. By considering the tastes and appetites of your audience, your menu of stories and songs will be sure to please. And when you impress upon your artists the importance of contributing to the overall menu, you're less likely to have storytellers who are only thinking of their particular story but rather they'll consider the overall experience of everyone involved -- performers and audience. Storytelling as a communal feast guarantees a cornucopia of stories with something to please every taste and appetite.

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"We have received only very positive reports of your workshop, and must thank you for being so flexible and responsive both before and in the course of implementing the workshop. It has been lovely to work with you. . . . We are hopeful this project will give rise to future storytelling endeavours, and would be very happy to work with you again if the opportunity arises!" Muireann Crowley, At Home in Scotland, University of Edinburgh, May 2014 ("Storytelling, Research and Public Engagement" workshop)

Michael Williams is a a storyteller of compelling skill. He is also a fine human being who engages in all situations and draws people into the warmth of communication and shared experience." Donald Smith, Director, Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh Scotland

"Michael's understanding of storytelling within a leadership and business context has helped us provide a great service in helping leaders determine their personal and organisational destiny and legacy. Working with Michael is inspiring and fun; and pulls you to be fully engaged from start to finish." Norton Bertram-Smith, Managing Director and Leadership Consultant for On Purpose.

Kamink: the little boy who grew into a giant of a man

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Creative Scotland

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