Tips & Tricks

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How do you get people involved with folktales?

Many people who come to storytelling tend to want to tell personal stories or literary material. It seems to them more relevant than folktales and relevancy is a very important component of storytelling. But starting with folktales is important just like starting with classical music or classical dance – it is both the basics and the top. You walk in the footsteps of giants and you learn a lot.

Folktales are like diamonds – they are pure material, refined through thousands of tellings, sheer combination of form and content. So, how do you turn it relevant? here is an exercise I presented at the annual conference of NSN in St. Louis:

Instant folktale crystallization

Stage One – 5 min. – ask everyone to write down a list of all the houses they have lived in. Places that felt like house or home.

Stage two – 2 min. – ask them to separate into couples. Each person, with their eyes turned away from the papers has to choose in random a house from the list of the person sitting in front of them. No peeping! The house that came up randomly will be the subject of the exercise for the list owner.

Stage three – 8 min. – each of the participants will tell their partner a 4 min. story about something they have learned in this house. Now, some might say that specific house brings up problematic memories or nothing special but you can insist – something has been learned.

Stage Four – 8 min. – ask everyone to switch partners. Wait until they have found one and settled. Now ask them to tell the story they have heard in the third person. Yes, the story they have heard.

Stage Five – 8 min. – ask them to switch partners again. This time ask them to tell the story they have heard on stage four but as if it has happened in an ancient culture – “6,000 years ago in the great empire of China…” or “Years ago, when the mists of Ireland were…” – you get the idea. Ask them to choose a culture they have some knowledge about so they can change the visuals, tasks, habits and names in the stories to be as they were years ago.

Stage six – 4 min. – ask someone to volunteer to tell the story they have just told.

Stage seven – 4 min. – find the original ‘owner’ of the personal story and ask them to tell what they told on stage three. Take care – sometimes the original storyteller does not feel comfortable sharing their story for personal reasons. Always respect their choice. In most cases it will be ok, especially if the participants are not closely acquainted.

Character Developmentsparrow_nc_lm27.jpg

There are many ways to help storytellers develop characters in stories. Most of those ways involve using characteristics – physical, vocal, props, costumes. What I search for within a character is its character – as in true nature. The true nature of a character is not determined only by its characteristics but through revealing the way the character meets a crisis, a surprise, a difficulty, overwhelming joy – any kind of event within the story that is not usual to the character’s everyday life when the story begins, a challenge.

Challenge the characters and you will find the way to perform them without having to become a character. This way characters pass through the storyteller in a split second by means of attitude and it is easier to shift between characters without needing to move an inch. Just find and carry the characters nature. They will appear through you but you will not need to become one.

From folktale to personal story and personal style in performing a folktaleclare_island.jpg

This exercise continues the Instant folktale crystallization exercise that appears on top of this page.

Stage one – 2 min. – tell a very short folktale. Try and keep it plain, without too much direction or interpretation.

Stage two – 2 min. – ask people to give the story a headline. One to two words, a proverb but no more. Ask them for headlines that convey what the story is about to their opinion. Collect those titles on a board so everyone can see them.

Stage three – 9 min. – ask them to separate into couples. Each person tells the other a personal anecdote, something that happened to them or to someone they know that could carry one of the titles. Their anecdote does not have to connect to the original folktale, just to the title, the headline they have chosen.

Stage four – 9 min. – ask them to change partners and tell their story again to the new person. You will notice the stories change a little. They are more significant – less anecdote, more story-like.

Stage five – depending on the size of the group, if it is small, give everybody time to tell their story. If it is large, ask for two or three stories. You now have an outcome but there is more to this process.

Stage six – ask the tellers to tell the original folktale using their personal story’s attitude. Same pace, color of voice, posture, characterization etc. You can even insist on them keeping the text intact (give them copies). You will get diverse performances of the same folktale.

Plot without wordslabyrinth.jpg

Right now I’m leading an extended workshop for the Petah-Tikva Museums staff – most of them guides. There is an art museum, historical museum and a memorial house. They have various educational programs and the guide team is very well developed. I was asked to bring in elements of storytelling into their work and make it even better.

One of the exercises I’ve used I call “plot without words.” I wanted them to re-look at the spaces they are so familiar with and find new ways to walk through them. Usually, walking through a museum is exhibit centered, I wanted them to think about plot and plot their way through. So I gave them three choices – follow an emotional plot, a physical plot or a cognitive plot. What would be the next natural action the visitors can take according to each plot? what do you want them to experience that is not directly connected to moving around the exhibition? how can you re-look at the space and the facilities? what about the exterior?

They were to prepare a plot-walk for the next meeting but there was one extra strict condition – no words or sounds produced by them. They were to lead us with jesture, expression and manipulation of natural behavior – emotional, physical or cognitive. The outcomes were fabulous. Except from rediscovering the space they realized there is so much they can do before they engage text.

Try it and let me know!

About place, characters and interaction – or in other words – can any story happen anywhere?


Have you ever seen the book Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino?

Find it, read through and then pick one city. Ask the people you are working with to create a character that lives in that city – it’s characterizations and character, it’s true self. After they do it – and it will take about 30 min. ask the characters questions so the participants get a sense of the way their character speaks and responds. Then, make them meet around a situation or create one in the city you started from.

How do place, space, view influence people? the way they move? the way they speak? the way they create connections? can any story happen anywhere? try it.

Proverb generated story


Choose a proverb. Say – ’dead men tell no tales’ – and ask your group to generate stories with the proverb embedded in them. The only rules are:

It has to be a full story – beginning, developed middle section, end.

The proverb cannot be the first sentence.

Prompting exercise

Sit in couples. Ask participants to write down 5 story prompts. For example:

Childhood, character from the past I’m still curious about, home, place, parents.

One person measures the time – 1 minute per subject. The other tells. Order of subjects is not important but going for 1 minute and no more – is. After one person is done – allow 2 minutes for reflection:

What am I captured by in those mini- stories? How about my telling in this situation and the connection with the listner? write those down just for youtself.

What is this good for?

  • Coaching your ability to allow stories to float to the surface without thinking to much.
  • Practicing decision making.
  • Fast adaptation to your present audience.
  • One of those mini-stories can reveal some good material worth observing and creating a new story from.
  • Self observation.
  • A great warm-up.
  • Some of this stuff will turn into ‘fillers’.

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