Sunday, October 04, 2015

So You Went to A Storytelling Festival...Now What?

So, you have been to a storytelling festival. What now?

Storytelling festivals and major conferences come in all shapes and sizes.If you have had the fun of attending one, you might be wondering "what now?" I have some suggestions that I think might help you explore the art of oral storytelling just a bit more. Below the picture are some notes and then a few specific items that might apply to you as a future "pro," should you be interested in exploring that option.

You can also listen to this post by the link at the end of the article.

1. Open your mind. Every festival or event has its own flavor, lens or world-view

As the director of, I can usually tell when an event with a large attendance has completed and the audience has started to arrive home. How? I start to get Emails. Folks search the internet, find and want to learn more about storytelling. Many times the questions in the Email are a variation of "How come there isn't (more about some subject) on"

I've been a featured teller at many gatherings and festivals. I have produced both large and small events. I can tell you this for sure: every event has its unique flavor, its own unspoken (usually) way of understanding the world. No matter how intently the event bills itself as "international," "national" or "fill in the name of the state or region," the event you were just at was driven entirely by the audience that attended the event. Everything about the event was planned for that audience. The festival or conference served those people- and you were one of them. Fantastic! Thank you for supporting the art form!

There's nothing wrong with this audience-based focus. It creates an invitation for you: go to more events!  You just dove in, you took the plunge and you found something new and exciting. Now, go find more. Travel, listen, tune in to the many and undeniably diverse expressions of oral storytelling in gatherings large and small. Attend the events that gather professionals that you will sit and watch. Attend events where everyone gets to be the teller and you (yes, you!) might have a chance to tell. You will be amazed at how much you will learn about yourself and the world around you when you open your mind to the breadth of oral-storytelling events.

2. Explore the variety of tellers that make up the oral storytelling world.

Many other Emails I receive contain a thought that is something similar to, "Your site doesn't feature Teller XYZ on the front page, the greatest storyteller on the planet!"

While we at have featured many storytellers and have hundreds of articles, stories, podcasts and more from these tellers, it's important to remember that storytelling takes on many forms and sounds throughout the world. While one listener might believe that Teller XYZ is the source and summit of all things storytelling, there are thousands of other people who have not heard of Teller XYZ but yet are very much inspired by any of the other gifted and talented storytellers in their own city, state, region or country. The oral-storytelling world is still very much composed of many big fish in various little ponds.  You'll find that most of the big fish are actually very gracious and humble about their own work and would also encourage you to go about exploring other ponds. 

So, go do that. Dig around; find out just how much talent and craftsmanship there really is. Travel some distance in both mileage and philosophy. Be comforted and discomforted.  Take some risks; hear someone new across the city or across the country.

3. Support storytellers you like via events and products.

When you find storytellers you like, engage with them as much as you can. Join their newsletters, buy their books and CDs, and attend their workshops. It's not easy to make a living as an artist but yet you can give energy, love and support back to the artists you enjoy.  Visit their website, join their Email lists. Just engage. As an artist with many books, workshops and recordings, I am truly grateful for every bit of support given by my audience.  Please know that even just sending an encouraging Email (or posting an online review of their book or event) to the teller means much, too. You'll find that most oral storytellers are very accessible people, just like you.

However, maybe you have been inspired to pick up the mantle of "storyteller."  If you are looking to tell more stories in any setting, then here are a few more thoughts:

1. Read books and blogs. Go to workshops.

Immerse yourself in learning. Find the great books and training (if I say so myself) that can help you become a better storyteller. Here is a good start. Here is another. Here is a tips book. Here is another tips book.

Never stop learning. I've been at this art form since 1986. I still go to workshops and webinars, looking for at least one nugget of wisdom in each that will make me say, "That is why I came to this." Invariably, I find that nugget in every event. Imagine how much knowledge you can gain if you are just starting out!

2. Support other performers.

You will learn the most about storytelling at the events of other storytellers. Is there a local event happening and you aren't a performer?  Go to that event. Sit in the audience. Listen and enjoy. Be polite. Support the arts. If you are on the program at an event, stay for the entire program. Sit in the audience, don't hide backstage.

3. Gradually ramp into your professional status.

Good professional storytelling looks very easy to do. It's not. It's a craft and an art, perfected over time and practice. Before you launch into a new business of being a "professional" teller, be sure you have spent a good amount of time honing your craft in smaller events and venues. Get coaching- real coaching that gives you honest and clear feedback. Learn the Five B's of professional storytelling on any stage: Be prepared. Be good. Be heard. Be gracious. Be done.

You've been to a storytelling festival. That is wonderful. Now, keep on growing!
The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach. Picture from Library of Congress.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Apples for the Princess (Children's Book Trailer)

Hello all! Here's the "official" trailer of our new *our first* book for kids! "Apples for the Princess" adapted from the Grimm's "The Griffin." We are very happy to finally get this out to you. Also known as, "why I have been so quiet lately." Come get your copy.

Promo: Explore the values of kindness and honesty with your kids. Featuring hand-cut collages from watercolor, acrylic, cloth and paper. Three brothers set out to help the princess, will any of them learn respect and manners? Enjoy our children's book trailer with some examples of the art work.

******The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Storytelling Practitioner: Toss Out Expired Stories

A story that was perfect for you once doesn't have to stay perfect for you forever.

Digging through my refrigerator and pantry the other day, I came upon some expired products. These finds are not a unique experience for most of us; there always seems to be that one thing in the back that we just forget about. While some products do well when they age for a bit, others really do become useless.

We store tales, anecdotes and story bits in our mind, too. Have you dug through your stories lately? Take a moment to clear out your own story-storage.

Do you have some stories that have expired? They could look like some of the following.

Do you have stories that you "borrowed" from other artists for which you intended to get permission to tell but never got around to it? Maybe when you started out in your storytelling career, you usurped borrowed these stories while you developed your own.  Now is the time to let go.  Don't eat the last remains in the crusty jar of home-made strawberry jam your friend gave you some time ago. Toss out that perished sweet and learn to make your own. It's not difficult to learn to make your own jam or stories.

You might have some stories you don’t really remember well. Some left-over meatloaf in your icebox can be used to create a fine sandwich, but when you have to ask yourself, "Wait, when did we make this?" it might be time to let go of the loaf. Most storytellers in any setting have bits and pieces of stories they may have told once or twice. Either make a feast with them (my book on that subject) or let them go and clear out some space in your mind. If you like the metaphysical aspect of discussions of storytelling: know that a story might choose you. It might choose to leave you, too. Don't hang on.

Do you have stories that (in a once-upon-a-time stage of your life) fit your lifestyle and beliefs but now when you tell them they just leave you uncomfortable? Like expired food in your fridge, do these old stories still pass the "sniff test?" Old chicken and old stories can both poison you.  Toss them if they aren't right. You can always get more poultry just as you will always get new stories.

Some other expired stories in your life might also include:

  • The personal stories (family or life-event stories) that you tell but yet you know (deep in your artist's soul) that the story really isn't a story.  You created the story just to fill time, perhaps, but in truth it is stilted and forced. It's probably expired, toss it. 
  • The stories about the lives and hijinks of your family members might also be expired if you tell them without the family member's permission.  Your stories of your cute kids might come back to bug you when those cute kids realize you've been yacking about them just to make a buck at a school show.
  • Any story that uses any type of cultural stereotype unless it is of your own cultural heritage and you are guiding the audience through to a better understanding of that culture. This includes, most likely, anything you have ever heard from a youth-leader who had a book of "101 Great Campfire Stories."
  • The stories in your life that manipulate your audience. Take the hint: that spoiled can of chicken soup you feed to your guests will make them retch after a while.
Stories do expire. Toss them out of the pantry of your repertoire. Don't tell every story you know.

et cetera: For more about "borrowed stories," see Lynn Ford's good article regarding permission at this link here. For more about salvaging cheesey personal stories (if you really want to save them), see my workshop/book here. Mark Goldman also has an interesting take on "leftovers" from his newsletter, too. For more in my "hardcore storytelling practitioner" series, click this link now.
The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Storytelling Slams: Cocktails, Canapes and Calliope

Like me, a calliope is sometimes full of hot air.
A bit of personal reflection: "Cocktails, Canapes and Calliope" is the new way that I am understanding the ongoing evolution of the Story Slam.

There's been, in my little circles, some discussion by the oral storytelling community (both online and offline) about story slams. I've been reflecting, mostly for myself, on my evolving image of the story slam.

Story slams, henceforth just called "slams," vary in style, quality, rules, and process but most are built around telling personal tales that are supposed to be true. The sharing of personal stories has probably already existed since people learned to speak. Really, aren't slams just the extension of gossiping with your neighbor over the backyard fence in olden times, like 1970 or some such date? Slams, if nothing else, create self-selected communities when we are too busy to know the people who actually live in the homes next to us.  If you need to know more about slams, I've written about them here and here and always-teaching here.

In the most popular cases, these storytelling events usually are almost always held with food and drink (hence, "cocktails and canapes") for the audience. It seems, from my experience, that the best-attended slam events have these two elements. I'm wondering if this is unique to this version of storytelling (as a performing art) as I can't imagine that most folks go the ballet with a table of highballs and mixed nuts.

New Words
Lately, I am seeing some positive shift in the quality of these events.  I know that "quality" is subjective and personal, as for some people every word uttered on the slam stage should be applauded while others shun the entire reality of slams. However, balance is important.

I used to describe slams as "karaoke storytelling".  "Karaoke" was once the cocktails-and-canapes version of "everybody's-a-performer" event before slams started to take over. For many of the events I saw at the beginning of the story-slam trend (1998?), "Karaoke storytelling" was the right description in my mind. People readily understood the model: get up and talk (usually in anecdotes and not really in stories) about one of the big-three subjects of sex, drinking or nakedness (with a smattering of  "how crazy my family is") and you could get an ovation. Much like karaoke singing an off key-version of "Midnight Train to Georgia," you would at least get applause for your efforts and (important) your telling would embolden others to share their voices.

However, in the last year or so, I am seeing a positive shift in the quality storytelling at some slams. I'm replacing my use of the word "karaoke" with "calliope/Calliope."

first, it's a calliope
Let's start with the calliope with the small-c. A calliope is a loud, offkey, hot-air driven musical device that is used at circuses and state fairs. It's blustery, attention-seeking and, for a few moments, can be fun to watch. They are a novelty for music; they are not something I want to listen to all the time. Sadly, there is still some calliope-style storytelling going on at slams. While you can get a "ringer" who truly understands how to tell a story, there are still some storytellers who are new and loud. Worse yet is the storyteller who is not new, just lazy (untaught?) in story-crafting. This happens often in "draw the contestants' names from a hat" shows. These are the calliope storytellers. You will have some fun, but you will get tired of listening to these tellers after a while. There is much noise and distraction coming from these calliope tellers.  In fairness, we could say that there is some serious butchering of world-tale story in the traditional presentations, too.

Choose Your Muse.
Calliope drops knowledge on Orpheus
Choose Your Muse: Calliope
Importantly, we also have the capital-C Calliope. She is The Muse of Eloquence and Epic Poetry.  With the slams that insist on coaching or curating the presenters, there is often better personal storytelling going on as well as the sets of inspired, touching, relevant and eloquent tales. Seemingly touched by Calliope herself, some of the storytellers in these slams create a wonder to hear and feel.  These Calliope[1] storytellers elicit a room-wide guttural sound of agreement or appropriate laughter from the audience immediately before they begin applauding. These good tellers are now the ones who inspire others to share their voices.

Take Some Action
Thinking that you want to be more on the Calliope side of things? Here are four actions you can take for improving your storytelling. First, get better coaching or (as a producer) offer coaching at your slams. Then, be more intentional about the stories you are telling. Also, be sure you have rehearsed your story with others who will actually give you authentic feedback.  Finally, explore some more options and educate yourself about how stories are actually crafted and created.

While the forms of both traditional and slam storytelling have their mixes of calliope and Calliope, I am happy to say that I think that more slams are evolving to the Calliope stage.

[1]Or...go ahead and blow my alliteration by using the name of her son Orpheus should you need something more masculine.
Photo Cred:
calliope: By Neochichiri11 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Calliope: Alexandre-Auguste Hirsch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Storytelling Practitioner: What Does 'Show, Don't Tell' Mean?

Storytellers use too many words...sometimes.

In this next "Hard-Core Storytelling Practitioner" post, I am talking the concept of "Show, Don't Tell" (written as Show or Tell in this article) that is prevalent in the "sacred" texts (giggle) of many who practice oral storytelling.

This is all Show. You would need some
Tell to understand this pic, huh?
I've been noticing lately in the audio recordings of our storytelling events that some of my stories might seem to be "missing" parts when listened to. However, I am not too concerned since the parts that are missing are the parts that I am "Showing" the audience the story rather than "Telling" the audience the story.

Adding to my reflection this week came Cassandra Cushing, who serendipitously asked on Twitter, "Storytellers, what does 'show, don't tell' mean to you? Do you like this phrase/concept?"

You can see most of the friendly conversation between Cassie, Tim Ereneta and me in this link here. In the debate for meaning and its application for oral storytelling, the "Tell" part of the phrase is easy: Words. Storytellers use words intentionally, judiciously and musically. But, don't use too many words, Show some words instead. Use too many words and, like extra salt in a soup, the experience of storytelling is spoiled. With not enough words, the story can feel flat just as soup would be when lacking salt.

So, for me, the question comes down to this: what does "Show" mean?

My Understanding
In the debate for meaning of "show, don't tell" and its application for oral storytelling, the "Tell" part of the phrase is easy for me: Words. Storytellers use words intentionally, judiciously and musically. They also need to do so in front of a live (present with them) audience. Because of that unique requirement of audience presence, the storyteller is free to Show the story through simple gesture and characterization.

I have a choice. I can Tell you a description of every character and how they are reacting to the world around them or I can Show how they are feeling and reacting in their story world.

Use too many words and, like excess salt in a soup, the experience of storytelling is spoiled. With not enough words, the story can feel flat just as soup would be when lacking salt. Tell the story, give enough narrative, walk with the audience towards the full realization of the story you are Telling. Use Show much more liberally. Watch your audience as you are storytelling, trust them to "get it." If they don't, maybe they need more salt in their soup?

Let's look at one character in one story, as an example of Show. When I tell one of the original Grimm versions of "Cinderella," the step-mother is clearly unhappy with Cinderella's ability to outsmart her. As she speaks in my story, demanding even more dried peas be picked from the ashes, I see her in my mind's eye. I Show that to my audience: my body straightens, her speech becomes clipped and she does the "plastic smile" at Cinderella. Her gestures become staccato and she unconsciously picks at her fingers, rubbing thumb to side of finger as she holds one hand in front of her. I am Showing the character to the audience. Step-mom's persona lives in me in these subtle ways.

Each character has their own "way of being" that is Shown in my way of bringing the character to life. This is so much a part of my telling that, in order to write this for you, I had to briefly tell the story to myself, so that I could remember the nuances of the character. I had to figure out how to tell you all those words to describe Step-mom in this article. Whew! Thank goodness I don't do that for actually storytelling.

Some Ways to Show
As a storyteller, you have a full pallet of ways to Show a character. You will be using hand gestures, facial expressions, gaze, and body posture and body position. Your tone of voice might change between characters. You will be being giving attention to your pacing, pauses and your eye contact. Incorporate the character into your being, Show the characters to your audience.

I am aware that for some audiences that may be visually challenged you may need to add more words to your story, using Tell more liberally. Also, for audience members on the Autism spectrum or others who have trouble with interpreting social cues, a more direct approach to "The Step-mom was angry, trying to control her voice…she sounded like this," might be a better choice. As storytellers, we always put our audience first. What do they need?

 But what about oral recordings?
These concepts of Show and/or Tell have different rules in a recording, particularly in an audio recording such as a CD, mp3, radio or podcast. Storytelling performances recorded in audio (or video) are not storytelling. They are records of a storytelling event, no matter how entertaining they may be. For example, my current version of the Rumpelstiltskin tale is of a tiny man of few words, but with a very expressive face, head gestures and lingering eye contact. That Showing simply does not translate well to an audio recording. To record it formally, I would have to change the balance and techniques of Show and Tell.

A story designed for recordings (audio) is closer to "voiceover" than storytelling.

Tl;dr or My Conclusion
Here is what I am practicing and using these days: Showing and Telling are both important parts of oral storytelling. Showing in a story is the whole body, subtle and nuanced, expression of a character or place in live storytelling. Telling is where the narrative takes over the story or the characters speaking things that move the narrative forward. I prefer that storytellers; Show me nuances of the character.

Edit April 10: Cassie Cushing has posted more on this subject on her blog linked here

The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach. Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Journeyman Storyteller: Ready for the Next Step?

Journeyman 1: The Oral Storytelling Realities

I've written a post that has a very specific audience: for those that are making some part of their livelihood as a working artist. Since it is more "insider" than other posts on this blog, I have published the entire article over at

Here is an excerpt from the long article. Please come take a look if it is of interest to you. Thanks. 

"There is a space in the arc of the careers of all performing artists where one transitions from wide-eyed beginner to being an effective, talented Master.  In between those two stages is the important step of Journeyman. . .

This article is very specific to the oral-storytelling journeyman. You have passed through those first apprentice-based stages, taken some of the good myths and standards of the art. Now you are stepping up into the day-to-day realities of making some of your income as an artist.

Here are a few of the myths (both implicitly and explicitly taught) that many next-level storytelling artists have found they have to work through:

1. Everyone is a storyteller!

2. Stories choose the storyteller.

3. Your storytelling should always make you feel good about yourself.

4. Do what you love and the money will follow.

5. If only X would happen, then I would be successful!

Finally. . .

As I write about these five very popular myths, I am more aware of one thing. . ."

I've also recorded this post as an audio file. Visit the page linked above to hear it. 

The is the official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.