Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Storytelling: A Guest Post by Constance Vidor

This post comes to you from Constance Vidor, the Director of Library Services at Friends Seminary.

It took a few decades, but finally, this year, I got up the courage to try storytelling. I signed up to do a story concert at a Lower School assembly and spent the next 2 months wondering if I had gone crazy.

I picked three stories, all funny folk tales, two short and one long. All three have opportunities for action, gesture, and audience participation.
"The Hungry Wolf " from Folktales Aloud by Janice Del Negro
"The King Has Hairy Goat Ears" adapted by me from The King Has Horns, and retold by Richard Pevears
"The Stubborn Old Woman" from Noodlehead Stories by Martha Hamilton
I memorized the stories by telling them to my bedroom window many times over. When I knew the stories well enough not to need the text I practiced whispering them aloud on my subway commute. Just another crazy lady on the metro!

My assembly went amazingly well! The biggest glitch was with the microphones. I had rehearsed with a lavalier microphone (the kind that is strapped to a belt) a few weeks ahead of time with a member of the technology department, and all had gone well then. Just before the performance the person running the AV offered me a different kind of microphone, which she (and I) thought might work better because it attached to my head—like the ones you see people using on TED Talks, except this one was cheaper and turned out not to work very well.

Lesson learned: only perform with a microphone you have used before, don't go with the "new" or "better" microphone unless you have rehearsed with it. And if you use a lot of movement in your storytelling, don't use the head-attached microphones unless they are TED Talk quality!

While this blog is not the place for unseemly gloating, the point of this post is to encourage librarians to try storytelling, and the message would not be complete without saying that I have never in my career experienced the almost adulatory appreciation that both students and teachers expressed for the storytelling. Try it, I think you will like it!

There are some great resources for finding tellable stories and learning the skills. The National Storytelling Network runs a blog, an annual conference, and publishes an excellent magazine. This year's conference is July 24-27th in Phoenix, Arizona and includes performers and storytelling teachers from throughout the country. 

Closer to home, The Connecticut Storytelling Festival and Conference takes place April 25-26.

To find "just the right" story for the occasion and your particular storytelling strengths, The East Asian Story Finder and The Jewish Story Finder by our own HVLA colleague Sharon Elswit are superlative compendia of information about folktales. These books contain summaries of hundreds of folktale retellings in both print and media formats with complete publication information and indexes by theme and geography.

Finally, did you know that a series of premier, nationally known storytellers perform every Saturday all summer long at the Hans Christian Andersen statue in Central Park? Take a look at the website to see the range of awe-inspiring tellers. These performances are free, and can give us all a university level education in the art of storytelling. Tell your students!

Editor's Note: Great, live storytelling can also be found in NYC courtesy of The Moth, a not-for-profit organization committed to the art of storytelling. The Moth hosts many events throughout the year and all around the country, including performances, competitions, and classes. They also produce a great podcast, which features performances from various Moth events.


  1. This is fantastic, Constance! Thanks for sharing. I've been thinking a lot about storytelling recently and how it might be an interesting meeting topic for next year.

  2. Good for you, Constance. Trying new things in front of an audience is always a bit scary. I have done some storytelling on a small scale, but would like to do it for a bigger group. Perhaps I will volunteer for one of our assemblies next year!

  3. I hope you try it! You really can't go wrong with a folk tale!

  4. Well done, Constance! On to the next story now!! I had hoped to be at the CT Festival but will be telling stories that weekend at an Irish festival in NJ. I've been telling professionally for over twenty years and would love to contribute if HVLA devotes a meeting to Storytelling next year! I've kept my Brunswick MS boys entranced with tales of Fionn mac Cumhail and am preparing now for a storytelling concert in my home town in Ireland this June.