"Year of the Adopted Family" book release

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Word Wrestling: Narrative Production vs. Storytelling

I labeled "Family Famine: Hunger for Love" as a "narrative production" since August 2008 and it seemed like a hands-down win.

Then today Elizabeth Ellis, national storyteller and one of my Storytelling Masters professors at East Tennessee State University, asked, "Why?" in an email.

I called her in order to have help in this wrestle with words. None of my other storytelling friends had asked, "Why?"

Ellis was genuinely interested as to my reasons for "narrative production".

I found it hard to respond as she asked me questions so I could come up with my own answer.

Yet, this was the time to answer it because I was about to order postcards and posters. The wording could be changed, if necessary. "Narrative production" was used throughout the Internet, but the Internet could be easily edited for whatever term I chose to use.

Ellis continued, "I find it strange that so many people use the term 'storytelling' when those who call themselves 'storyteller' are afraid to use it." She felt not enough of us "raise the banner" in using the word "storytelling".

She was right. Filmmakers, authors, musicians, speakers, and many other performing artists use the word "storytelling" freely.

Guilt. More guilt.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a storytelling advocate. Of my "Voice--A Storyteller's Lifestyle" blog, Tim Ereneta proclaimed, "It's clear from her regular and varied postings that she is passionate not only about storytelling but about the storytelling movement."

Then my college education came to mind.

Since I studied Communications Marketing at Brigham Young University, I knew that if a certain word or phrase evoked images or formed connotations that did not match my message, then it was best to use another word or phrase that did meet my goal.

Usually when "storytelling" is mentioned, people think about an old lady reading a story to preschoolers.

I am not an old lady. . .yet. (I am only 29.)

I do not read when on stage. I read books for research.

This program has a minimum age of 8 yet geared to 12-year-olds+ due to the themes of child abuse, abandonment, and adoption.

Then I looked at what I currently labeled the event: a world premiere narrative production to be recorded live.

I wanted a more sophisticated sound, but did I go too far?

I called David Novak, another national storyteller and professor at ETSU.

He seemed to think that I could be more creative in how I expressed the program. He thought I might even invent a new word or phrase that could become my trademark.

I was glad for his confidence in me, though now I felt the pressure to be a genius.

He agreed that to reach teenagers and college students, perhaps a different label was needed than "storytelling".

As I brainstormed other phrases, I went on Facebook and instant messaged people who were online for opinions.

A lot of my cousins were online including Greg Wallendal. He directs plays at a high school and was more aware of the terms that may fit with what I had in mind.

Greg granted permission to share part of our conversation--

Rachel: I wanted advice on wording. . ."narrative production" versus "storytelling" or "story"-something.

Greg: Hmmm.

Rachel: It's geared for 12-year-olds and older. No one under 8 is admitted.

Greg: Give me the full sentence as it stands right now.

Rachel: World premiere narrative production to be recorded live

Greg: Are you moving around for your story telling or are you standing behind a podium?

Rachel: No podium. Never podium for storytelling. I have a guest guitarist and a guest singer. Storytelling is the main stage art.

Greg: Are you moving around creating different characters with body language, gesture, voice, etc.?

Rachel: Other arts blend with the storytelling. Telling in 3rd person though with dialogue with characters. I am all of them.

Greg: I'm leaning heavily toward "storytelling production". Do you have fancy lighting or special visuals going on with this, or anything? A set?

Rachel: I told another storytelling professor "storytelling production", and he thought I could be more clever. That's pressure! I do have technicians and I had planned on minor lighting like making it more blue when the boy is starving in the middle of winter for the Ojibwa tale. No sets though. Lights will be up on the audience slightly so there can be a little interaction.

Greg: Maybe add some tease to the title. Kind of a "Don't miss this event" tone to it.

Several ideas were tossed around, but what meant the most was when Greg said, "I'm here for you."

Eventually I thought of "a world premiere storytelling feast for the senses".

Besides positive feedback to my new phrase, I kept the following in mind for my decision: Other areas of the nation may not be as familiar with "storytelling" and what it all entails, but, for Utah, it was a word worth keeping.

Though the winners vary depending on the event and the intended audience, in this word wrestling round "storytelling" won.

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


Tim said...

One thought (which you may want to file away for future productions): in theatre circles, and fringe festivals, "solo performance" is a recognized catch phrase which applies here.

Professional Storyteller Rachel Hedman said...

Dear Tim:

"Solo performance" is a great word.

Yet, this program has evolved so that one story involves guitarist Joshua Payne and upright bass player Geoff Rayback. The final story involves a duet with Holly Robison.

What do you call something where storytelling is the key art but music and song are mixed in it? That is what I will need to discover some day.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman

Sean said...

"Narrative production" is right on target, imo. Storytelling has lost its definition. We had a chance to save it and we didn't back in the late 80's early 90's. We spent too much time arguing and setting up tents while the rest of world moved on.

In your new production, you owe nothing to the world. Get them in the doors first and then tell them that they are about to experience storytelling. You can catch more butterlies with nectar of understanding than with your guilt-flavored tacit approval of the storytelling ancestors.

I am willing to be that your use of "narrative production" will intrigue people.

Professional Storyteller Rachel Hedman said...

Dear Sean:

There are times I am immovable and stand up for something no matter what and then there are times I am heavily influenced by others.

The word "storytelling" worked for the Utah area, though I still printed the postcards and posters with "storytelling" despite the fact that they will be sent throughout the nation.

I sense the program will work for upper elementary to adult. Most of my initial mailings are to elementary, junior high, and high schools as well as libraries. "Storytelling" will probably work better for them.

However, I may keep "narrative production" or some other phrase for the college market. I could print off a different set after the premiere after I toss this around longer.

Thank you for your thoughts. They are always welcomed.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman

Sean said...

You've hit on something that few storytellers understand: targeting different markets. Same show, same quality, different ways of moving people into the funnel.

I do still contend that we have lost the use of the word storytelling for all but a small segment of the population.

You're doing great.