THE ART & CRAFT OF STORYTELLING
We didn’t always have stories, or even speech. There is evidence that we didn’t develop words and speech until after we had developed the skill of lighting and using fire. There is even thought that we actually sang before we spoke. Many languages still use tones so that one word can be intoned with three or four sounds to specify three or four separate things. Other animals use voice in the same way. The Lemmas of Madagascar sing all their fears and demands. Human babies use the sounds of crying to demand what they want. After a few months, a new mother learns what the different crying tones actually mean. Sometimes it means “I want a clean nappy.” Usually it means I want something in my belly; or, “I’ve a belly full of something I want to burp up – right now! And if you don’t do something quicksmart, I’ll just lie here and scream blue-murder until you do!”
We understand language long before we can reproduce it in clear words. And not only words, but movement. We used gestures as babies and we still flail our heads and arms about to try and reinforce our spoken words. Some forms of communication, such as ballet and mime, are achieved only through movement. In storytelling we try to use anything and everything. But with caution; flailing hands distract from the story.
Storytelling is a distinct Craft. Thought about carefully and practised critically, Storytelling can achieve the status of High Art.
The craft is now re-enjoying a rise in popularity. For some years, storytelling suffered in the shadow of television as a performance and aimed mostly at well behaved, well dressed children on the library floor.
In Medieval times the Storyteller, stood in rank, next to the King. The Storyteller was the keeper of legends, the explainer of the origins of species and the spinner of dreams. Unfortunately, those cave men and women who crawled around the floor of the cave measuring rocks and drawings with pieces of vine and then working out the costs of things, rather than their value, progressed with their economic soundings, to wriggle their way into the palace and to eventually stand in rank next to the King. They became known as The Treasurer and their descendants are still there.
But whatever values we put on social history, storytelling, after movement became the major means of disseminating information and entertainment.
Over centuries in the cave, storytelling further developed to involve more than one teller. And rather than the storyteller, narrating the story, the story itself was acted out with multiple tellers pretending to be the monster, or the sacred tree, or the various members of a family in conflict. In this way the human race developed Drama.
Drama became the most popular form of public entertainment. But the pure form of Storytelling continued to survive; usually as a one-man show. While it survived in Australia via the recitations of the performance poet and the stand-up comedian, it has flourished even more in its original form.
With literacy and the advent of printing, came the book. It came in the form of verse and prose in the disciplines of the short-story, the long documentary and the novel. All of these forms are based on the techniques of the ancient storyteller. The printed book threatened storytelling, but not for long. In 2011, book readership declined by some six per cent, whereas audio-book sales increased by more than forty per cent.
So, Storytelling is alive and well and as an added incentive to those drawn to this ancient craft, the average storyteller (for a few economic reasons) earns more money than the average actor. So, regardless of whether you are drawn to storytelling for the extraordinary pleasure it brings or, the prospect of earning a living until you can no longer walk, or talk, be prepared to find your own voice and your own field of insight.
Storytellers, such as Brian, don’t describe their story characters, other than by gender and approximate age. They tell the actions of the story, while the audience sits quietly, often eyes shut, as they see their own characters, or themselves, in their own version of the story, told by the teller.
The storyteller sits at the camp fire, café theatre or dinner table and builds a raft of words. He quickly pushes it into the water and sets sail down river. The teller, more or less, steers the raft, but out in mid-stream, individuals in the audience, drag in furniture, safety rails, various cabins, shelters, ropes and lifeboats. They introduce many more passengers who hide their fears of water and their not-knowing where the journey might end. For some the voyage might never end, but it will be – a course-changing journey.