Friday, October 2, 2020

 

                        Monsters, and Things That Go Bump in the Night                                                                                          By Mitchell O'Rear

The campfire is radiating a warm glow as dusk falls, listeners are huddled close (ok… pre-covid), a teller, dressed all in  black, stands before the group and makes a quick survey of the audience – not a child in sight.  Time to bring out the most blood curdling, bone chilling, spine tingling tale the teller knows.  And why?  Because many adults love being scared – really love it (myself included). Is it a throwback to childhood when we believed that monsters were hiding in the closet, or, even worse, under the bed? Is it a safe and fun way to escape the harsh realities of the real world? Or, is it a chance to let the imagination run with wild abandonment into the realm of the mysterious filled with creepy crawlers, boogey men, and horrifying sounds?  For me, it’s all of the above!

 

There is nothing more satisfying than to besitting in the dark and taken down the path of the unknown by a skilled storyteller who has the precision to take us there.  It’s all about the tone. It has to be perfect from the moment the teller takes the stage. They know something wicked this way comes, but they aren’t going to let us know until the right moment.  Their posture tells us that nothing good is going to come of this story. No, the people in the story are not going to be ok. Bad is coming…really bad. And the attitude of the teller.  The twinkle in their eye, and the slight rise in the eyebrow…they seem know what is about to happen, but very carefully conceal the upcoming horror and dread to themselves until that one moment when…Boo! They get us really good…or bad.  And, despite the ghastly, ghoulish tale we have just the shared with the rest of audience we all have understanding that we’re going to be ok. Listening to a scary story gives us permission to play out our worst fears imagined in a safe and secure setting. 

 

We can share the fear and dread with the other listeners all the while knowing that as soon as the story ends we can walk back to our cars, drive home and lock the door safely behind us.  Of course we might take an extra look in the hallway closet before going to bed…just to make sure our winter coat is still there (even though it’s July) Or we may check to see if our golfing shoes are still under the bed (even though we don’t golf). And of course we will chuckle at how silly we are being.  Of course the monsters didn’t follow us home?  They didn’t did they? …I think I’ll check one more time under the bed just to make sure.

Yes, scary stories are fun to listen to, the reasons are personal and individual, but when shared with a collective group there is nothing more satisfying. “It was a dark and stormy night…”  BOO!

 


Mitchell O'Rear has been telling professionally since 1987, although if you ask his mom she will tell you he has been telling stories all of his life.

Since 1993 Mitchell has been directing and producing "Ghosts in the Gardens" at Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando, Florida with an annual audience upward of 1,800 attendees. Oh, and he loves scaring people!!  

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Encounters Make the Stories


by Josh Campbell

 

I went golfing today. I pulled up to my local municipal 9-hole course located in Overton Park not too far from my home in Memphis, Tn. As I unloaded my bag of clubs to begin one of my usual four rounds of golf a year, I was approached by the course ranger. He rode up in his cart wearing a course polo and a Marine Corps veteran hat.  

“Playing with us today?” he asked.

“I don’t know if you call what I do playing.” Thankfully, my teenage son had refused to come along with me today, or he would have died of embarrassment. He has heard me make that same joke four times a year every year of his life. 

“You walking or riding?” Because of Covid, the golf carts had been shelved from March to July. They only recently had allowed them to be used again. 

“I was hoping to ride.” Not a problem was his reply. 

“You waiting on someone or you on your own?” 

My son had cancelled my father- son time; I usually don't like embarrassing anyone else with my golf game, so I told him, “It’ll just be me.” 

“Are you a Gemini?” 

“Yeah, June 1st.” Why I felt the need to tell him my actual birthday, I don’t know.

“Well, that means there will be two of you out there,” he said, and with that, he rode away. I stood there slightly puzzled, and then walked to the clubhouse to pay my greens fee. I bought two beers. One for both the people in my party. 

There are questions that people ask storytellers all the time. What makes a good story? Where do you find your stories? How do I tell my story? You may be thinking to yourself, “If this guy thinks his golf story is a good one, he might not be the best person to answer these questions.” And, you might be right. 

What does a storyteller do in the time of an international pandemic? What is a storyteller without his audience? In my workshops, I tell people that storytelling is a dialogue with only one person speaking. Storytelling without a live audience is just not the same. The virtual events that I have done have been fun, and I have heard some amazing stories. I just don't know if I have told good stories. Without my audience, I am left only guessing. 

There is one other element that is missing during this time, and that is the small encounters that I have as a person that inspire my stories. My encounter with my Marine veteran astrology expert is just the type of interaction that inspires me to think about a story. It is the prompt that we all need to get us thinking about what is a story and what is not. That encounter got me thinking about stories. Golf stories, stories about being alone, stories about strange encounters, stories about my apparent split personality disorder. After my nine holes, I left the course full of ideas. A bad day for golf but a good day for stories. 

I am working on a story about these little interactions. It is one I hope to debut soon and perfect for the Florida Storytelling festival in January. A story that is a collection of vignettes that show that stories are swirling around us all the time. The stories include my encounters with a would-be drug dealer at a gas station, a bus driver who is a big fan of the movie Mulan, a mechanic who shares my love of the Ford Focus, and a rental agent who changed my outlook as a teacher while renting van. All of these people are stories, and I hope by telling their stories, I can encourage others to see the stories around them.  

That is the real plight of the storyteller in quarantine. We are shut off from our audience and shut off from the source of the very stories that are our lifeblood. Storytelling is a dialogue with only one person talking. Boy, am I ready to get the conversation going again.

 

                                    


Josh Campbell lives in Memphis, where he thrives on storytelling. Golf is a good                  close second. He is the creative director of SpillitMemphis, an organization that                       produces lively personal narrative events. Josh will be a featured storyteller at the 2021 Florida Storytelling Festival, January 28-31, 2021.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Telling in Isolation

by Madeline Pots

 

When it comes to storytelling, I have a free wielding spirit.  I tell personal narrative. From kitchen stories to bedroom tales to the drama of a big family living-room, I’ve enjoyed spilling the beans.

The result of letting the listener into my life is, I gain the comfort of knowing I am not alone. No matter how unique my situation may be, a thread of common experience always binds the audience and me together.  For example, one of my favorite stories is about the gift of a two hundred year old bread dough culture whose survival was foisted upon me. I’ve told the story at small gatherings as well as in a tent packed with 1200 listeners. After every show,  people will come up and tell me about their involvements with unsought responsibilities. And just like that, we are connected. That is the reward of storytelling. Connection.

Our art form faces new challenges during this pandemic and the isolation it has inflicted on us.  Storytelling is an interactive experience.  We tellers depend on audience reaction.  It tempers our performance . We can lean into what is being well received. How then, do we deal with telling into a dispassionate and impersonal camera, iPhone or computer screen?  How can we know if we are connecting?  

Soul searching and heart are the prerequisites for good storytelling, particularly when it comes to personal narrative. And so my message is simple. Listen to your heart and be brave enough to be honest with yourself and the audience, be it live or virtual. A tale that has the ring of truth, will always be well received because in some ways, one story is everyone’s story.




Madeline L. Pots is a former New Yorker who has made a wonderful life for herself in Florida. Whether telling folktales, or personal stories about growing up Brooklyn, she holds listeners in the palm of her hand. Madeline is also a potter and musician. You can learn more about her here http://www.madelinelpots.com

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Storytelling in Times of Fragmentation


Connection in Times of Fragmentation

By Linda Schuyler Ford

It started with Sandy Hook.

That tragedy shook the entire country, but had a personal impact on
the cluster of villages and small towns around Sandy Hook, Connecticut -Bethel, Brookfield, Danbury, Ridgefield-form the community of Northern Fairfield County.                

One community.

What happened to one of us happened to all of us.

In the weeks that followed, Rev. Laura Westby, pastor at First Congregational Church of Bethel, along with local officials and school leaders planned “A Place for Healing Through Art". Two days of storytelling, painting, dance, music, counseling, and listening at an area conference center.

I was honored to be the storyteller.

And uncomfortable.
Though I believe in the power of Story, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of this massacre. What kind of hope and healing could I possibly impart?

 

What I could do, with conviction, was open paths to deep listening, to empathy.

Through Story, I could help begin the work of shoring up walls of normalcy. Through Story, I could widen the lens of perception to see beyond trauma and fear, to include hope, strength, empowerment, even humor.

Dan Keding graciously gave me permission to tell his story, The Dragon’s Tear. Listeners made up a short song that that shepherd boy played. 

Unity. 

Collaboration.

Laughter.

I added a silly, interactive version of Tipingee to lightheartedly bring awareness to the power of friendship. That created an opportunity for parents to talk about layers of protection, of community. A delicate and honest sense of safety was slowly being restored. Children began to identify people who made them feel safe.

Stories opened conversation, and those initial healing conversations enabled families to fully participate in other healing activities over the weekend. And that led to more conversation. More stories.

Now, as in 2012, our world seems to crack open with hateful disparity, anger, and unanswered questions. In these times of fragmentation, what we need, more than anything, is genuine listening with the intent to understand.

Story creates a safe cushion of comfort from which we can hear with open hearts. It dislodges the myopic view, the focus on woundedness, and reminds us that the world is still turning, life is unfolding, and we are still part of the grand scheme. Sharing the Stories that alleviate paralyzing fear enables clearer thinking. It enables us to gather up wisdom and take action.

Action, too, is part of healing. And of Story.

Expanding our world view while still stinging is, perhaps, the most perfect and tender place to begin. Again.

 Tell those Stories.

 


Linda Schuyler Ford grew up in Sleepy Hollow, NY, and now divides her time between Florida and Connecticut. Much of her repertoire revolves around  Peace, Women’s stories, and  Hudson Valley Folktales. She is particularly  fond of the works of Washington Irving.

In addition to performance, her Story work includes applied  storytelling in health care, Elder care, and bereavement.  Linda can be reached at StoriesHeal@gmail.com

 

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