"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Invite from the Timp Tellers: Playing with Story

Thanks to the Timp Tellers of the Utah Storytelling Guild for granting permission to share their comments and to post these pictures from December 4, 2008.

During the annual Utah Storytelling Guild Story Swap, April Johnson invited me to come to the December meeting of the Timp Tellers.

I would have a chance to practice 30-45 minutes with a larger group on the "Family Famine: Hunger for Love" narrative production. I was thrilled at the offer.

Currently I attend two different chapters of the Utah Storytelling Guild: Olympus of Salt Lake County and Ben Lomond of Davis/Weber Counties. I would also regularly attend the Timp Tellers of Utah County, but it is always a Cub Scouts night. More specifically, it is a Roundtable Training for Leaders. Rarely do I miss.

This premiere is to such level that I need any chance I can get to practice. I told my Wolf Assistant Leader to cover for me at the training and bring back the great activity ideas. This way I did not feel as guilty missing Roundtable.

Since the whole premiere would last one and a half hours, I knew I had to choose one story to present to the Timp Tellers. I chose "The Gardener's Wife", mainly as it would be my most complicated piece. Even so, I expected the story in its polished form to be about 35-40 minutes. I decided I would tell a portion of the story, pause at a certain moment, and then "play" with the story by exploring scenes and dialogue that may or may not make it to the actual performance.

Last night on The Art of Storytelling with Children Podcast, Elizabeth Ellis shared that rather than rehearsing a story, it is better to dwell in a story. That was my plan with the Timp Tellers.

I displayed the drawn outline of the story and said I may glance at it as I switched some parts around so that the Gardener's Wife is more prominent rather than in the original story where it starts with the three sisters. That was the only "cheat sheet" I had, though I do not remember looking at it except before I started the story.

I came to about a quarter through the story and said, "Pause. Now it is time to play. What scenes would you like to explore?"

One person wondered "Why do the two older sisters turn so quickly against their youngest sister and replace her baby with a dog?"

At this point, I had two volunteers come to the stage with me and be those two older sisters. I became the youngest one. I would talk about all the wonderful foods at the palace since I married the king. Then I would create an excuse to "leave" the stage--though still in earshot--and the two sisters would complain, especially as one married the king's baker and the other married the king's steward. Finally, I would return and hear a word or two of their "private" conversation and interpret it into another wonderful blessing I had for being married to the king. I "left" the stage about three to four times.

I called on another person for a different scene to explore. A lady wanted her "heart strings to be pulled" and wanted to see a moment when the Gardener's Wife is with her newly adopted son.

I held my arms as if I held a baby and the first words I said were "You are so much cuter than a squash!" This referenced the beginning of the story when the Gardener's Wife looks out into her garden and thinks she sees a child, but it only the squash. As the Gardener's Wife, I continued to tell this imaginary child how it was like without him and seeing all the villagers march past my home with children and I not having any. This time I could march behind my son as he took on great adventures. I ended by singing the lullaby.

This exploration triggered Janet Low to ask what the Gardener's Wife told the other villagers on how this child came to them.

"I had not thought about that," I responded.

As the Gardener's Wife, I spoke to Janet, who was one of the villagers, on how my husband had gone out to the garden. We had fertilized the land so well that--Pop!--a little boy came out of the ground.

"I see you do not believe me," I commented.

I told Janet the actual story of the wooden box floating down the river with the baby in it. Again, I followed this story with "I see you do not believe me on that one either."

Finally, I said, "All this time I was pregnant but I did not show it. And so now we have this little boy."

After playing with the story, the Timp Tellers gave appreciations. Many commented on how lovely the lullaby was and that they loved it the more I sang it. Several enjoyed the dialogue between the Gardener and his wife at the beginning of the story.

Luckily, this session was recorded so that I can listen and see how the story may evolve as a result.

Thank you, Timp Tellers!

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman
Professional Storyteller
Former Co-Chair of Youth, Educators, and Storytellers Alliance (2005-2008)
Tel: (801) 870-5799
Email: info@rachelhedman.com
Performance Blog: http://familyfamine.blogspot.com
Other places to find me: Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Professional Storyteller

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