One of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome when I started MouseMuse productions Storytelling was the fact that I didn't understand why certain storytellers who were very polished and proficient, including my then company partner who was Julliard trained distanced me from listening and relating rather than engaged me.
While my background is not in theater, I come from a long line of very entertaining people. My father was labor union mediator. It is said that his ability to tell a story was what kept New York City's building and construction trade unions from warring with one another to the point of crippling the City. My father would tell me stories of how strikes would be averted by severing underground power lines so that the electricians contracts would be ratified and the City would get back to work. Same with almost every service needed.
My father was not dramatic. He was more like an Irish storyteller when he did speak. He always got to the point, but he took you there visually and emotionally.
My mother, on the other hand, was a torch singer with Big Bands and it was only when she was on the stage that she communicated with others. Her elocution alone made you say, "Actress." She never told stories. She recited things. She let my father do the casual storytelling. All of my father's brothers and sisters were hilarious, characters whose roustabout lives or memories of the past were shared at the Sunday family table. As is often the case in families, I considered myself much closer to my father's family. I knew who they were from their stories. With professional actors I never know who they really are, only what they are delivering to me in a form that is meant for stage.
The first storytelling I ever attended was Stoop Storytelling in Baltimore. Seven Storytellers for seven minutes. The ladies who ran the program shared some of their secrets with me. Neither one of them had a theater background. They were both published authors and one was a newspaper editor and lifestyle writer. The caveat I learned from attending Stoop Storytelling was "Watch out for the standup comics, and watch out for the actors, and more than anything , watch out for the writers who memorize. They will take seven minutes that feel like seven hours." That was what I learned, but didn't always practice. I had no confidence in what I was doing. In my Insider Arts columns for www.westportnow.com I never take an academic approach because I am everyman's audience. I have never studied drama and cannot dissect a play other than to say how I felt. I did take two three day workshops with Robert McKee at the Directors Guild. McKee is the foremost storyteller in the world. He is also someone that playwrights, screenplay writers and fiction writers flock to. Susan Granger, the film critic, told me if I was going to study that form there was no one better than McKee to study with. He made me a better prose writer. I understood character, story, connection. I didn't write a play.
What I didn't understand in my own producing beginnings was I was bored hearing a story that had been told and polished up so many times that there seemed to be an insincerity.
One of the things we do at MouseMuse is coach. For free, for our show. What's the difference between rehearsal and coaching? In less than 30 minutes after you tell us your story extemporaneously, you will receive written road map of where we got on your "highway" of words. Your vibe. And where we got off because you went astray or stepped out of your story.
We give you that road map on a piece of paper. Almost all of our storytellers now spend less than 15 minutes with us. They learn how to be their own GPS system in storytelling. We'll only need to spend 10 minutes with you and your ten minute or less story. No one on our troupe has serious expectations of doing this for a living, or evening earning a few bucks. It's the love of story that brings them together. There are no actors on our troupe, though we are open to hearing them all of my alarm bells go up when someone says, "I've been on stage a lot." That means they've been on script. Getting out of that pattern is tough.
We choose six storytellers each time. We usually have a dozen to choose from for each themes. We like to have three new ones, and three seasoned ones at each show. That way the audience will feel the new voices, the textures of human emotion as new storytellers go further out of their comfort zone, and old hands at the format meet prior expectations.
MouseMuse has grown so much that we separating our Flagship Storytelling program that takes place in large venues and uses one common theme for the six storytellers, ten minutes, no scripts, into a second program during the summer months.
Our new "Storymaster's Jam " will have four of our best storytellers appearing in a unique pub setting with a stage and pizza and bar and cajun food: Two Boots of Bridgeport. Just like a speakeasy, the atmosphere matters.
There, our well-travelled storytellers, will have playoffs for merchant donated prizes. That will begin on June 12th. You will find all of the necessary information soon on our newly designed pages (I hope they'll be done by the end of this week.:)
What is the difference between storytelling, acting, standup comics and writers who memorize? You'll know it when you hear it. Actors often think they don't need coaching from non-actors, standup comics have a hard time keeping the narrative together because they need to deliver the one two punch as they've been trained, and, when you come to our studio, if you bring writing, I'll take it away from you. That's the deal. Previous experience doesn't matter. That's my great divide.