Why does a storyteller need all the fortune in the world?

One of the groups I work with is a storytelling peers group, looking into Jewish texts as a source of inspiration. After doing some Limmud (learning) each of us goes off exploring, composing, reading, thinking, trying to come up with tales, new stories, interpretations, and create something new.

Limmud in the Jewish tradition is performed in Hevruta – a circle of friend or people who have interest. We all have the text at hand; we read it together, but it’s mission impossible to read through directly. At every curve a question pops up, a thought, a memory, a story. Learning is done through conversation, especially debate, with no real intention of winning it, just going sharper and deeper into reasoning. The more controversial it gets, the more interesting, the more profound and rich.

This season, we are going to look into the role of the Darshan – the seeker, the interpreter – especially the kind of Darshan that looks into stories, not Jewish law. In ancient times, seeking was performed orally. In a way, it resembles the role of a storyteller seeking into a story told, questioning it, asking for clarifications and references, charging the narrative behind the plot to come up with sharper details, character motivations, grounding.

Here is the text we looked at during our last meeting:

After Rabbeinu (our Rabbi) of blessed memory said this speech he said plainly, “Today I have said three things contrary to what the world says:

1) The world says that telling stories induces sleep; but I said that by story tales we awaken people from their sleep.
2) The world says that from talking words no one conceives [a child]; but I said that by the Tzadik’s (righteous one) telling of words, through which he arouses people from their sleep, conception comes to barren women.
3) The world says that the true Tzadik of towering stature does not need much money, because why should he need money? But I said that there is such a contemplative understanding [of the Torah] for which one needs all the fortune of the world.”

[Copyist’s note:] I heard from one prominent follower of Rabbeinu, of blessed memory, that he heard from his holy mouth regarding his will being that they print the Story Tales also in the Yiddish language that we speak; and he said at that time that it can easily happen that a woman who is barren would read some story from them them and thereby conceive for goodly offspring and be privileged to have children; this is the extent of what I heard. [And there is support for this from what is explained in that aforementioned essay, that via these story tales a barren woman becomes impregnated.]

Source: Chayey Moharan Part 1: Conversations, Stories and Circumstances Surrounding All the Torahs and Stories, Pertaining to the Torahs 25, by Nathan of Breslov, the chief disciple and scribe of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.

The third thing the Rabbi said attracted my attention the most; especially because I was wondering why it appears in the same context with the first two. Changing the Tzadik to storyteller, the Rabbi’s idea reads:

The world says that the true storyteller of towering stature does not need much money, because why should he need money? But I said that there is such a contemplative understanding [of the Torah] for which one (a storyteller) needs all the fortune of the world.

You’re invited to stick your teeth into this. Just a friendly reminder – sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. This isn’t the case. Here, every word, description, title, idea, might be hiding or echoing something else. And… Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was an amazing storyteller. He knew something about our art.

Your turn.

We won’t have to talk. Jolly good?

“My father says that in ten years from now, we won’t have to talk anymore. Using special technologies, we’ll just have to think and things will happen.” Coming from a 14 years old gifted teenager, who said it during a storytelling session for young writers. All the other participants, aged 14 and gifted – nodded in approval. The idea seemed perfectly reasonable to them.

None of them stirred up the question, “but who will be operating and controlling that technology?” None of them came up with any second thoughts about what will happen to freedom of speech.

“The boy’s father told him grandma has died. That was of course sad,” said one of the boys while telling us a story. “Then the boy remembered the book she gave him when he was much younger, and found great significance in realizing he remembered the book, of all things, when his father told him the sad news. He understood the book was pretty important to him and that remembering it pointed at a significant connection between him and his grandmother.”


The group was ‘respectable’ and disengaged.

“You mean there is a ten years old boy sitting at the breakfast table – can you see him? Can you see his father? Can you see the kitchen, the food on the table?” I asked. “Yep, now I can,” he answered. “Now his father looks at him and says ‘grandma died last night’. What happened next?” “The boy felt something rising in his body, making its way fast into his throat. He pushed back the chair and ran up to his room, crying all the way. When he reached his room, he threw himself on the bed, still crying. Then he saw the book she gave him when he was five. He got up, grabbed it, and returned to the bed hugging the book, still crying over it. His mind was empty.”

The group was a little less ‘respectable’ and very engaged.

Bad news – kids’ brains have been messed up. Good news – it’s pretty easy to fix.

Taking leave for a couple of months


I finally realized I don’t have the time to write here so I’m officially hanging up the “will be back” sign.

In the meanwhile I’ll be busy with a business upgrade, a new long-story I want to work on, and a fabulously complex project that came in.

Wishing you a lovely summer, Limor.

An exercise in giving feedback


Sourse: Dreamstime

Just back from a storytelling training session with something I want to share:

When training, participants expect me to give them feedback, which I do. Often I can sense they are flabbergasted, “how does she know how to hit the nail on its head?” while on other occasions they’ll be wondering, “that’s what she chose to say when there are other, much greater evident issues?”

What I choose to say answers one specific thought: what do I need to tell this person, that will help him or her move with their storytelling one small step ahead?

One thing at a time, because that’s all a person can intake and really do something about. If I say more, I’ll confuse them.

I tend to push my students to give feedback – about their own work, about others’. Often, when I ask them to do so, they set off on an elaborate voyage, lacking real language to express what they see, where the gaps are. Out of fear to heart a fellow student or fear of retaliation, they eventually reside to “niceness”. It is often useless and grows elephants of various sizes that dwell in rooms. If they do say something useful they often get caught in preaching about the way they would do it – which is obviously better – in their eyes. This leaves the objective of their feedback feeling rather empty and patronized, if not hurt.

So this time I decided to tell them about the way I do it, paraphrasing it a little:

“What is the single thing I can see, that if would be done different, would make the storytelling of this particular story by this particular storyteller, a little more compelling – to me?”

The nice outcome of this exercise was – no more feedback with subtexts that sounded like, “look, to tell you the truth, I think you better go have plastic surgery.”

The good outcome of this exercise was – they were specific and to the point. What they said had a high level of usability. You understand where it needs to get to, but no one is forcing your choice of action about how to get there.

The great outcome of this exercise was – one of the students taking her words back to reconsider the feedback she just gave. She suddenly realized the feedback was something she would like to hear if she was making the same mistakes, not truthful to the request, “would make the storytelling of this particular story by this particular storyteller, a little more compelling – to me”.  “Me” being  – an audience member, not the storyteller herself.

One recommendation: for each participant, let up to three people give feedback. After the storyteller receives their input, collect the three ideas into one main issue that needs to be addressed, practiced and solved. As I’ve mentioned earlier – we can’t do very well with more than one issue to look into at a time.

To the storyteller yesterday is still here

Source: Wikimedia under fair use. Click the picture for details.

“When a day passes, it is no longer there. What remains of it? Nothing more than a story. If stories weren’t told or books weren’t written, humans would live like the beasts, only for the day.

Reb Zebulun said, “Today we live, but by tomorrow today will be a story. The whole world, all human life, is one long story.” Children are as puzzled by passing time as grownups. What happens to a day once it is gone? Where are all our yesterdays with their joys and sorrows? Literature helps us remember the past, with its many moods. To the storyteller yesterday is still here as are the years and the decades gone by.

In stories time does not vanish. Neither do people and animals. For the writer and his readers, all creatures go on living forever. What happened long ago is still present.”

–Isaac Bashevis Singer, Nobel laureate, from Zlateh the Goat

Avner Less , Frodo Baggins | Standing Witness to the Story of Evil

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. Last night, channel 2 aired ‘Lishka 06′. From IMDb:

“This is the dramatic story of Bureau 06, the team of police investigators formed for the sole purpose of investigating and preparing the grave charges brought by the Jewish people against Adolf Eichmann, during the trial that took place in Jerusalem, 1961…”

They saw their mission with clear focus – everything they would bring to trial had to be solid, legally acceptable evidence. Combine the huge amount of documents they had to go through delving in a horrible narrative, the testimonials they heard from survivors, the people wanting their stories to be heard, the professional demand, the emotional overload – it is hard to imagine how they managed to go through nine months of feverish work and stay sharp and human.

IMDb adds:

“Of special note is the story of Avner Less, Eichmann’s personal interrogator, who spent more than 275 hours with Eichmann, left Israel after the trial, and reclaimed his German identity card.”

In the film, Yoram Kaniuk is interviewed saying that in his eyes, Avner Less became somewhat like Eichmann. That giving Eichmann all these hours in the presence of an Israeli police officer was totally unnecessary and nothing Eichmann should have received for what he did and was involved with. That it did not influence the trial results and should not have happened.

Not the wisest thing Kaniuk said, to my opinion. His words stayed with Less as a deep wound, I’m sure.

When I heard Kaniuk on the film, a memory flashed. A memory about a person I heard in high school. He was talking about why all this happened in Germany – of all places. While listening to him I noticed that all his manners and behaviors seemed to me “German”. The next thought was almost obvious, “he himself behaves like a Nazi”. But a second later I  thought, “this is too easy and dangerous a conclusion to reach”. That early lesson stayed with me and Kaniuk’s words just helped surface it while watching yesterday’s film and the story of Avner Less.

275 hours of witnessing someone else’s story – that’s the amount of time Less sat in front of Eichmann. Can we imagine what was going on inside Less’s mind, heart, body? He wrote a diary about his experience, but I don’t think I need to read it to know. I know from my experience as a storyteller: Less stood witness to a horrible story. He gave it space and accommodated the possibility of this story being told. Being there, present, through all those hours, listening to a human tell in his human voice what he did, what he was involved with – isn’t there that famous saying about not being able to fight a man after you’ve heard his story? In his diary Less wrote, “I didn’t feel hatred. Only deep sadness.”

Eichmann was telling Less about his work and that work was exterminating Jews – Less’s people. Less was born in Germany – his people too. The story was told in German, in a small police facility in the Jewish state. Tell me your mind isn’t going Zig-Zag and inside out right now.

Comparing to the storytelling model, Eichmann was the messenger (storyteller), Less was the witness (listener) and the text that moved between them wasn’t a story. It was an interrogation or more of a questioning – to get the details, names, dates, events, facts. But there was a story and it lived in Less’s mind and imagination. Witnessing the talk of evil and storying in your mind for 275 hours – that will do something profound to any person. It will make you realize – this cannot be the entire story, there needs to be more. That’s why, I think, Less returned to Germany. To find the rest of the story and maybe manage to push parts of it into light.

And then I remembered Frodo Baggins who undertook the quest to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. Being for so long in the presence of pulsating evil didn’t change his core – it just changed his life.

I can only assume Avner Less was a unique human being who undertook a terrible quest we owe him, and all the other investigators in Bureau 06, much for.

This storytelling thing twists my brain..ainainainaiiiinnnn

Holon is a large city in center Israel, officially branded “the children’s city”. It’s cultural scene is rich in quantity of initiatives, quality and some unique investments not to be found elsewhere. One of these unique projects is “Story Gardens” – 30 public gardens named after renowned children’s books, most of them Israeli. Each garden hosts a work of environmental sculpturing, inspired by the original story.

The idea – if you can understand the lady speaking on the video down below – is to bring children closer to literature and enthuse reading through a concrete visual experiences.  Does it really do that? I can’t say I know it does or doesn’t. Sometimes these gardens host kindergartens with their teachers who read the stories to the kids, occasionally they host a storyteller. But most of the time they are just part of the environment, hosting families with kids who need a place to play outside, or by-passers seeking some shade and a bench.

Personal obligation – serving your fellow man and volunteering from young age

Personal obligation is a wide spread volunteering program most Israeli teens pick up at 9th or 10th grade. You give sixty hours of service to the community and receive an extra point in your matriculation exams total point count. Fact is, you receive much more through serving others. What’s really special about Holon to this matter, is that they have a seriously managed volunteering program for kids from K1 to K12 – you just need to want to serve others and many do even before reaching the age of “personal obligation”.

Back from the above aside – a group of teens decided they want to do their personal obligation in the Story Gardens. After assembling a yearlong training program about how to work with young kids and their families, play games, manage discipline, work outside, bring story to life through acting and mimic, they realized something more profound in the communication was missing. After a little head-scratching they got it – storytelling.

A unique set of challenges

Training teens to become storytellers is something that was never really done here before, but we’re managing this challenge pretty well. What really works is being truthful with them and understanding your role as a supportive adult.

The other unique challenges are derived from the actual work they will have to do, and it seems some of these questions are interesting for all storytellers to look at:

  • How do you lead a storytelling event where the environment in the story (imagination) and the environment in the garden (urban reality) look totally different?
  • How do you lead a story-plot in an environment where (1) characters are introduced in a different order than they are introduced in the story (2) you can see all characters at once (3) some characters are not there – in the garden?
  • How do you invite young kids’ imagination to kick into action when some visuals from the story are right in front of them in the real world, might block imagination, overtake it with a powerful image or just frighten them?
  • How do you interlace a plot with real-world action without losing or dimming the plot?
  • How do you use the environment to bring the kids into a story using a different path than plot chronology, while keeping the plot in order?

These questions and others are the fuel of our young counterparts’ interest. We play a lot of imagination games and tricks, expanding their perceptions. Two meetings ago one of them grasped his head and said, “Limor, this storytelling thing twists my brain.. ainainainaiiiinnnn”, which made us all giggle.

Yes, storytelling twists your brain but it’s a healthy twist because you can go only as far as your own imagination can go. That is – if you don’t let others force their images into your brain.

Come hear it at THE GRAPEVINE! April 3

The Grapevine

An exciting new storytelling performance series for adults and teens in Takoma Park, MD, co-hosted by Noa Baum and Tim Livengood. You’re all invited to come and celebrate the timeless art of the bards with stories of all kinds. Truths and myths and everything in between!

Sponsored by the City of Takoma Park Arts & Humanities Commission

First Thursday of each month 7:30-8:30PM

Takoma Park Community Center 7500 Maple Ave., Takoma Park, MD 20912

$10 suggested donation at the door


March 6 – Featuring: Geraldine Buckley and Noa Baum (rumor is it was a lovely event)

April 3 – Featuring: Limor Shiponi (special guest from Israel) and Walter Jones

May 1 – Featuring: Laura J. Bobrow, Gary Lloyd, and Janice Curtis Greene

June 5 – Featuring: Susan Gordon, Adam Booth, and Tim Livengood

And if by any chance you are around on April 3rd, you now know where and when we have a chance to meet :-)

For details: Takoma Park Arts & Humanities

What’s with the TRUE story?

BgdLXTOIgAAoTHwLast night I told stories to kids in 4th to 6th grade. One of them, sitting right in front of me, was constantly asking, “is that a true story?”. After the first time she asked I replied, “it’s truly a story. Whether it actually happened or not, whether it did but in a different way, I can’t really tell. What is it that you want to know?” she shrugged, smiled, but didn’t have an answer. I continued and after some time she asked, “is that a true story?”. Another kid said, “it’s a story. Some things in it are not exactly like they would happen to us. I don’t think I’ll ever meet a talking owl, but what’s the problem?”. The kid with the question looked puzzled by her own question. Later she asked again, “is that a true story?”. “And what if it is?” asked I. “I don’t know, I just want to know if that’s a true story”. “Ok,” I added, “it is. How does that feel? still have a question?” she didn’t know. During the next story I paused and said, “by the way, this isn’t a true story.” She laughed out loud. “Well?” I wanted to know, “are you ok with the stories?” “Yep,” she said smiling, “I just need to know if that’s a true story. I don’t know why, it’s just a question I have.” Like the answer I had, I suppose. But now I have a question:

What’s with the TRUE story thing?

P.S. before I walked in, I overheard this –

Well, I did, but with a wink in the eye which I owe to the boy I overheard. I love the way an audience can move a storyteller to a new place.

How will the craft of storytelling change in the future?

The question was posted on Quora, inviting a wealth of answers. Here’s mine (invited to vote up if you think it’s worth being more visible):

The simple answer is – it won’t, since it has no reason to. If people are suggesting there needs to be a change, first check why they are making such a suggestion and if the root of their suggestion is actually connected to a need within the art, or the people practicing it. Reading most of the answers here, these suggestions are related to various techniques used to deliver, share and craft a story, but they don’t derive from the core of storytelling.

The word ‘craft’ sends the question down a misleading road. So does the division between ‘story’ and ‘telling’ when related to ‘storytelling’. Storytelling is a single word, not a combination of two. Therefore, if you really understand what storytelling is, you’ll realize the storyteller holds only a third of a dynamic partnership, sharing it with an uttered story-text and a listener. In this partnership and during a storytelling event, everything changes constantly, in real time. What the question and the answers relate to as ‘craft’ is in the hands of all partners which practice mutual influence constantly. One story-text is not like another for every event, even if you’re telling the same text; the storyteller is constantly influences by both text and listener – in real time – which effects the way he storytells on the spot; the listener is not passive in any way and we don’t use a craft to influence only him – the story and the storyteller are constantly influenced by the listeners, the storyteller being one of them himself.

I know that in a world busy with “owning” every bit of information and skill the above ideas are difficult to accept, but not if you realize that storytelling emerged in the oral culture where it reached the level of high practice. We’re just enjoying the fact people who lived way before we do have brought it there. Sustaining for so many thousands of years, still highly effective as it will be in the future, storytelling for what it really is has no need for change in ‘craft’. It’s at top performance. The only change required is having more outstanding storytellers than there are right now.

Instantly Applied Storytelling | How to become rich and famous and young and beautiful in 30 days or less

Limor Shiponi StorytellingYesterday I conducted yet another workshop for HRs who wanted to learn how to apply some storytelling principles into their work. I can’t remember how many “applied storytelling” workshops I’ve conducted through the past fifteen years, nor can I tell how many customizations for various professional domains I was requested to perform. It always happens that at some point the people requesting the workshop or the participants themselves, get so worked-up about dissecting what I present into bits and pieces trying to compare them to what they do, that all the happiness disappears. No mind-body-spirit connection, no community or communion – only intellectualization.

Once they think they’ve “got it” – which they haven’t, since storytelling is long gone into ashes under deconstruction and adaptation of irrelevant fragments – they label what they’ve grabbed “storytelling” and from that moment on, they declare they know and do storytelling. Some say they see themselves as storytellers – although when you check their CVs and blurbs, the word “storyteller” is mysteriously absent…

If they want to consult more about storytelling they look for a “storytelling guru” of their own professional kin – or someone rich, famous, even better – connected to a renown organization or brand riding the storytelling hype, that will tell them what they really want to hear: that by doing storytelling (whatever that means by now), they will win friends and influence people and become rich and famous and young and beautiful in 30 days or less.

Now, if that was to be true – how come there is no storyteller leading a life-style that looks like the above promise? that should make people think. But they don’t; instead, they intellectualize. When you do that, you drift away from the real context of things and might land on some cloud, thinking it’s a safe haven, when the only thing actually holding you up is the intellectualization balloon, full of hot air.

Up on that cloud you might think, “those people who call themselves ‘storytellers’ really don’t know how to adapt to modernity. We are the 21st century revolutionaries of storytelling, and they are so behind.”

Yeah, sure, just watch that balloon…

A storyteller’s daily routine III and call to adventure

Collecting thoughts about artists’ daily routine, it is pretty clear to me that most of these routines are the outcome of an educational framework. I’m not using the term “formal education” since it might be interpreted as ‘academic’. Art education starts much earlier and in many cultures and along many centuries didn’t pass through academies as we know them today. Did artists lack in skill and knowledge because of that? no, they didn’t.

What is clear about those educational frameworks is that they were a stable, well paced, guided, long paths. If you wanted to become a storyteller, you knew in advance it will take years to become one – in your masters’ eyes, in the eyes of your community and in your own eyes too. Knowing that, if you were really passionate about it, you would give your consent to walk the long path and do whatever needs to be done. Through the journey you acquired habits of the art, and those habits turned eventually into your daily routine. Same as “formal education”.

Missing: an educational framework for storytellers

Some of today’s storytellers were lucky enough to receive their storytelling education as part of their families tradition. Some were blessed by the elders in their community to carry the tradition. Some were not ‘officially appointed’ but were burning with such desire and devotion, they eventually received full recognition.

Most of today’s storytellers picked-up storytelling somewhere along the road and continued from there: with the help of peers, workshops, training, performing, coaching, attending conferences, traveling, reading and so forth. Each of us accumulated experience and knowledge until they integrated to a certain level – for better or less. Before the question “says who?” kicks in, I’ll repeat – an educational framework for storytelling is missing. If it was in place, storytellers wouldn’t become so touchy about rating the outcome and discerning storytelling for what it is and what it is not.

Call to action (to adventure in our language)

A year ago, The Storytelling Company’s team decided to address the issue seriously. We’ve accumulated a full curriculum in order to see for once and all what the mysterious creature might look like. We use this body of knowledge when training in various settings and are slowly establishing the rout towards a collaboration with a cultural center that is willing to help carry such an initiative through – the storytelling way.

We are not the first group to do so. Pop over to The Crick Crack Club and see what can be done when you take it seriously and work to find the right partners. There are more of those groups out there.

Thing is – the artform sees more lower moments than bright ones. We need to unite our power in some way so people can see a path in front of their eyes. Locally, there is a lot of good going on. Still, something is lacking and I think that those who have managed to establish a “disciple’s path”, should meet and work out this issue for the benefit of all and especially the artform. True, we can manage very well keeping to our personal success but I feel we have a greater responsibility.

When there is a will, there is a way. Is there a will? I don’t know, I’ll be happy to know more.

Hinting about a possible daily routine

Hinting – mainly because there is no agreed educational framework I can point at. Anyway, you might want to consider this advice:

Attend other storytellers’ performances as audience – on a regular basis.

Read stories, listen to stories and craft stories just for practice. Do it with stories from genres you don’t usually tell in. Take stories apart and reassemble them to understand their structure, what dramatic patterns they use, what performance patterns hide within them.

Do vocal work, movement awareness, expand your vocal and kinesthetic repertoire so you have many possibilities; so you can let characters in story and audience pass and live through you without having to fix and judge them to be your size.

Engage in some sort of physical and mental practice that enhances focus, mindfulness, being present. A storyteller’s brain is a busy place, you can become very tense for many reasons. If your being is taken care of, your doing flows with ease. You get to choose every single second.

Perform research and not only about the stories you want to tell. Find a detail or a challenge about storytelling that keeps you curious and dig in. Trying to understand what this art is made of teaches you a lot. Teach others too.

Research the path between folklore and art. Research the other way round.

Improvise massively. Send yourself into less convenient situations and do some storytelling there. Find the way. Hitting rock bottom in storytelling is a good way to learn and practice. The inner debate you’ll experience is something no one can teach you and it will make you dense. Dense is good in storytelling (aware of slang – that kind of dense too).

Try and find whatever you can about our predecessors – ancient and not so ancient storytellers and storytelling traditions.

Sing, learn to play something. Music and storytelling both use patterns that exist IN TIME. Texts are coded situations. If you want to decode them and make them live in time, you need to know the patterns. Music can help a lot with this issue.

If you’re involved is some sort of storytelling application – storytelling in education, in business, in training, in coaching, whatever – take a break for a while and focus on storytelling in storytelling. If you teach others on a regular basis – take time off, be the artist you need to be.

Perform massively, tell the same stories again and again, find them audiences.

And finally for now – travel. Go visit the places in your tales, meet storytellers from other cultures and sit with them for a while. It’s not for your daily routine but try and keep it annual.

I think we have enough here to initiate a daily routine…

Q: Seems you’re the Joan of Arc of Storytelling. Any special reason?

I’ve received this question by mail. Answer:

I’m not the Joan of Arc of Storytelling, that’s not what I stand for – purist storytelling. In addition, I’ll never agree or want to know I’ve become a martyr – it contradicts my faith and my personal preferences. Glorifying life is way more crucial, to my opinion.

What do I stand for? for what photographer Jimmy Nelson labeled “their absolute proudest” referring to the tribes he photographed, before they inevitably disappear under the wheels of modernity. We deserve to be at our absolute proudest, we are amazing creatures.

As writing this, I too can hear the little virtuous voice in my head sounding “pride is not a good virtue”.  I don’t believe that to be true. I think our humanity, beauty, feelings, thoughts, truthfulness – are trampled all the time, almost everywhere. We’ve lost our dignity; we are not in our proudest. We lie constantly, mainly to ourselves. We are losing the ability to handle real life. We’re designing it all the time and telling ourselves it’s life – it’s not.

From everything I’ve been involved in, storytelling is the activity that is the best at reminding us of our dignity.

(Not the things people today call storytelling like – marketing, trans-media, social media, content marketing, photography, visuals, info-graphics, UX, design, science-talk, data analysis, training, coaching, lecturing, presenting, gaming, screenplay writing, authoring, storyboarding, advertising, re-labeling storytelling, calling it names without knowing what it is, and speaking on TED.)


Storytelling – a face to face situation, that “I can smell your breath” kind of an event. Only that. The more I can contribute to storytelling and helping young and not so young storytellers remember and keep their pride – that’s what I want to do. Through us, humanity remembers it’s soul, it’s absolute proudest. Professionally, I stand for having more of us.


Thank you – the person who asked the question. I’ve finally found my “artist statement”.


Social media helps tyrants proceed with their atrocities

How many graphic images have you seen this week? on how many of them did you click ‘like’, quickly commenting that ‘like’ or ‘favorite’ might not be the accurate words to express your feelings, but that’s what there is to click? in any case, your clicks, comments and shares are registered as ‘engagement’ and in most cases – that’s that. The parallel universe labeled ‘social media’ gives you the tools to share and engage with what’s going on – within itself. It keeps the energy you have reserved for social involvement within the system.

Does that help the people in the graphic images or those next to them still alive? no. Ask people subjected to vicious crimes anywhere in the world and they’ll tell you – you’re not helping a bit. On the contrary – if they get the chance to observe all this social media prattle, it’s frustrating you don’t see the connection; the connection between their situation and what needs to be done in reality, keeping them alive and well in the most basic ways.

The ‘media wash’ is overwhelming. It makes one want to shut down the noise and chill-out. It numbs the senses. It exposes children to visuals of a level of violence they cannot digest. All they can do is pass on to another picture and another until it becomes boring. Get it? the human condition is boring, especially if it doesn’t look that great. Let’s go watch the latest tidbits about a celebrity instead.

Social media was supposed to help circulate critical information arriving from people, bypassing tyrants held infrastructures so we will know what’s really going on and act upon this knowledge. But from what we can see, the minute the information hits the media, it is quickly labeled by media outlets “unofficial” or “unverifiable”, thus degrading it’s reliability, as if media outlets are more reliable. The more we see under this label, the number to it we get, the less we demand action from our leaders or act ourselves. Did we actually have to wait for the latest “smoking gun” pictures from Syria to know that the Assad regime is performing war-crimes against Syrians? what is really going to happen now that these pictures have appeared? if something worthwhile is going to happen, why didn’t it happen before, saving many lives?

All this happy-go-lucky facebook page opening for social change and justice, is worth nothing. Change happens on the ground with actions performed on the ground. The message social media is currently broadcasting to tyrants is – pass on with what you’re doing, just make sure to release some graphic images once in a while to keep us busy with social (media) activism.

A storyteller’s daily routine II

Searching for a daily routine I went snooping around to check out what’s happening with our neighbors. Being a professional musician for many years, a musician’s routine is known to me so I’ll start there.


Depending on what part of the musicianship ecosystem you are situated in, you’d be practicing your instrument or learning scores, attending rehearsals, practicing new repertoire, attending concerts, listening to recorded music, performing in live events or recordings. If you’re on the more theoretical side you’ll be composing and arranging music, conducting, researching, teaching and training others. You might also be a critique or a lecturer, where you’ll be reviewing, researching, attending concerts, working on your next presentation or class. You might get to be a musical director or producer, where again – you’ll be attending concerts, listening to recordings, meeting with performers, traveling, researching, reviewing, etc.

Even if you are an independent musician, there is a system you are connected to. That system may provide an infrastructure, administration, artistic management, connections, opportunities and everything you need to bring your art in front of an audience.


If you’re a professional dancer you’re most probably part of a troupe or a group. You’ll be on your feet between 10-12 hours a day, moving between warm-up sessions to rehearsals for various choreographies, visiting the physiotherapist occasionally, doing some choreography, dressing and performing. You’ll also attend others’ performances, mingle with musicians and occasionally with other stage artists. If you are a choreographer, you’ll be researching for a concept, listening to music, and working with dancers. Again, if you are on the more theoretical part of the ecosystem, you’ll be researching, preparing lectures and presentations, attending performances and reviewing. Here too – you are connected to a system.

Skill expands artistic possibilities and opportunities

But how did all these people become part of the system or even better – how did the system emerge? the system emerged because skill is involved. Skill expands artistic possibilities and opportunities. This creates demand for more musicians that can match-up. Trying to reach top performance on your own is a possibility, though you might get there and you might not. If you want to make sure that every performer walking into a rehearsal can actually do what is required – you’ll need a system that prepares them to do so and a system that will employ them or provide opportunities. The path is long but if you want to be part of the ecosystem, you’ll walk it. It’s the reasonable way.

Does everybody achieve top performance? no. Everybody can achieve their own top performance but that might not be enough to meet any position in the system. Musicians know from young age they might not become a solo player, a composer or a conductor. Even if they do, they know they might not be the best. Still, there is enough room for everyone and you can find your best place. In light of these understandings, the ecosystem creates a methodology. This helps people proceed to a good level or beyond and helps them find a way to match their aspirations – if they want to do the work. It also helps them make a living.

Moving to the lonely planet

You might think, “ok, but musicians and dancers work in groups. Playing or dancing solo recitals isn’t common practice for most of them. Storytellers work alone.” True, but we don’t grow alone from thin air.

Authors & Painters

These artists are closer to storytellers if we’re looking at the “loneliness” aspect. They might even be self made, like most storytellers. Still, no person is an island – there are influencers and mentors, there’s history and critique. Both arts can be learned via formal education and if you’re looking for skill and even a methodology – you can find them in more than one place. There is another common denominator between storytelling, authoring and painting: “they are a matter of taste, no?” maybe, but the outcome of our work does have to pass a certain level if it wants to be considered worth anyone’s while.

“Mirror mirror on the wall”

I’m writing this past midnight, back from a storytelling lesson. The participants are what you might call – advanced students; that’s what the system they are in calls them. I’ve never trained any of them or met them before this course. One thing I can say – advanced in storytelling they are not. Advanced in this case is just a phase-name given by the system’s administration, with no artistic justification. It’s supposed to make them feel good but it gives me cramps. On the other hand, if there are no rules there is no ruler. How should they be able to decide about the level of a student?

One of the participants lingered long after the session was over to talk with me. She couldn’t realize how I didn’t think her telling was awesome. As she was unraveling her thoughts about why I didn’t “get” what she was expressing I heard a little voice in my head reciting, “mirror mirror on the wall”. She couldn’t see anything besides what she wanted to look at – you can guess what that was. The guidance she received until we’ve met gave her no tools to evaluate what she was doing beyond, “I felt I was really expressing myself” “I liked the dramatic touch I gave the story” “didn’t you think that little dance in the middle was pretty cute?” the latter I would agree with – it was cute – but it wasn’t storytelling.

“You seem to have some sort of theory,” she said, “what is it good for?” “knowing where I am on the map of artistic skills required for being a fine storyteller, so I can develop, for one. So I can help you develop, is another,” I replied. She found it very difficult to agree with the fact there is a path there. “But what about you? what about what you want to express?” she asked. “What about individualism you mean?” her eyes lit up, I was finally “getting it”. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that question from storytellers. Never heard it from a musician though. Do you think musicians lack individualism?” it was my turn to do the questioning.

She seemed to have not met such a person – a professional musician worried about their individualism. “You might have met someone 17 wondering but not a professional. I’ll tell you why – all this deconstruction, theory and practice eventually re-combines into the ability to perform well upon demand. From that moment on, you can choose to fly wherever your wings take you. It can’t happen without a solid framework or else you’ll be constantly worried about the frame. If you seek freedom you need a frame.” That was a little too much to swallow I suppose. “I’ll have to think about it,” she added. I hope she does.

What disturbed me even more was the fact participants were complimenting each other in a false way. I’ve seen it in many other places and from my point of view it’s a bad habit leading people nowhere better than they are, just a little more numb. Is that where we want to be?

Mentioning numb, I need to get some sleep, so… to be continued.

A storyteller’s daily routine I

I started my voyage in the arts from classical music. Meaning – I’ve been sentenced to practice for life. Practice was always there – practice my instrument (oboe), practice the piano (ambivalent relationship here), new manuscripts, solfeggio, harmony, counterpoint, singing, orchestration, composition, chamber music, playing in an orchestra, conducting an orchestra, practice-practice-practice. No matter how much more there is to add to this list, it will always go hand in hand with – practice. During ten of those years I was also a ballerina (you’ll have to stretch your imagination a little…) and it was the same thing – practice.

Then I arrived to storytelling. We were asked to prepare, but practice?! Eventually I found practice and realized it’s a very subjective issue among storytellers, highly dependent on what we wish for ourselves – artistically. How come many manage without stable practice? How come most storytellers don’t have a daily routine like other performers?

Observing the daily lives of musicians and dancers, I came up with two main differentiators that effect everything else:

#1 When you start learning music, the little pieces you play are handpicked by your teacher, keeping her eyes on the methodological and artistic arcs of becoming a musician while closely observing you. When you manage to handle those pieces, the teacher pushes up the bar and does so continuously. If you want to enjoy your music, you’ll have to practice. Same with ballet. Knowing they don’t want to “break” the students, ballet teachers will allow some time for free-style during each lesson, but that you’ll enjoy anyway.

#2 Musicians, dancers and many actors – learn, perform and grow within an artistic ecosystem. There are academies and institutions, theaters and orchestras, ballet troupes and groups, there are halls and stable audiences, composers, choreographers, writers, directors, trainers and many others, all rotating within the system. If you want to be part of the artistic ecosystem, you’ll have to practice and keep to a daily routine.

What about storytellers?

Once upon a time, there were artistic storytelling ecosystems you could be part of; very little of that still exists today, so most of the time we have to do it solo. After some contemplation I see a storyteller’s routine situated somewhere between performance arts routines and those followed by authors and painters. More about it in another post.

In the meanwhile, I found something that might not be suitable to all storytellers, maybe to some… at least in the frameworks of “applied storytelling”…

Being a storyteller in the era of ‘storytelling’ side hustles and generalization

Some time ago I crossed roads with someone in the marketing automation business. “Great!” he exclaimed upon recognizing me, “we’re both storytellers!”. Hell not. But as storytellers know, right now we’re told again and again “everybody is a storyteller”. Can you argue the opposite when huge media forces, journalists, corporate CEOs, data analysts, scientists, business consultants, advertizing agencies, app developers, authors, educators, designers, photographers, Pixar and Coca Cola say so?

Yes, you can. But you’d be wasting your time and energy. It’s enough that a few of us are doing it occasionally. Those forces don’t really want to know the truth and there are too many false promises and dollars involved. As we well know – this too shall pass. Storytelling was never about big bucks anyway.

What we need to look at

I think we need to look at storytelling. No external applications, only becoming better in storytelling as it really is. The good news are that people recognize storytelling for what it really is when they meet it. The bad news are there is not enough of the good stuff to go around.

I know we all come from different backgrounds, arrived to storytelling for different reasons, with varying ideas about what we want to make out of it. But eventually we stayed for a long time and made storytelling an important part of our agenda. Some of us are full-time storytellers, some part time; we all take it seriously. Sticking with storytelling you find out there is no other way but being serious about it – as much as life allows you to be.

A warning

If you’re looking into learning those tech, media and marketing “applications”, look at it as a side hustle or your full-time business, not as part of your storytelling. A lot of what you know as a storyteller will help you become good with those occupations and storytelling will go with you everywhere, but don’t think you’ll be storytelling in a different way or appreciated/compensated for what you know about storytelling. On the contrary, you’ll have to find a way to keep your storytelling fresh and sound, untouched by those influences. If you don’t, you’re going to damage your art and this is from experience: I realized it the day some generalizing words and jargon got into my telling. It was a clear warning that made me back-off and relook the way I want to lead the double strand – being a storyteller and being in business.

Keep away from storytelling generalizations. If by explaining exactly what storytelling is you’re excluding someone – so be it. Being kind to everybody but not to yourself and what you’ve worked so hard to achieve won’t get you very far as a professional. You’ll just become a me-too-every-body-is-a-storyteller, you know, in general as if?

In general is where all the powers I’ve mentioned on top are gathering. Fighting your way there is close to impossible because when it comes to being hired under “storyteller” they’ll be asking for your “other” credentials, not for storytelling as we know it. For some reason they don’t appreciate “people” as a good clients list.

Remembering there is always another bend in the road

Learn how to get critical about your storytelling ability, in detail. It will help you map your skills and decide how you want to proceed with improving on them.

Get as many gigs as you can afford to handle. Paid or not, practice makes better and better is the best way to market.

Decide what kind of storyteller you want to be (this list of applications can help you think) and take your path over there. Be in the suitable ‘zone’ for your preferences, the audiences you want to meet, resources and skills.

Enlarge your repertoire with stories of rich substance. Develop your own taste for stories and don’t overlook fairytales, legends and folktales; telling them is walking in the footsteps of giants.

Tell to kids, not only to adults. I know there are places where storytelling is treated as “kids stuff” but there are places where it’s exactly the opposite. Not telling to kids is like trying to fly with one wing.

Bon Voyage.

I’m a storyteller. What do I need to improve on? | Agora 2014 resolution

The real question, posed by a someone who arrived to “check out” the possibility of joining an intermediate storytelling course, sounded slightly different –

I’m a storyteller. What do I need to improve on?!!!

I had a bold answer which I didn’t speak-up. Instead, I used my Jewish birth-right to answer a question with another question, “are you a good storyteller?” I asked. “Yyyyesss…,” came the suddenly not-so-sure-of-itself answer as the person uttering it looked around at the other attendees, hoping to grab some collective assurance, “I’m pretty good”.

“How do you know?” I asked. “People tell me my stories are entertaining and that I’m a captivating performer. My friends always ask me to tell a story when we meet. That means I’m good, don’t you think so?”

“Does that mean YOU know you’re a good storyteller?” I asked another, which brought back thin silence. The protagonist was looking more humble, as was the collective. I walked to the board and placed the original question at the top:

“I’m a storyteller. What do I need to improve on?”

I invited answers and wrote down everything they had to say. As the answers accumulated I realized how much they could say which was connected to performance, literature and theater, and how little they could say which was directly connected to the core of the art of storytelling. We had a good discussion and learning that evening, but on my way home I couldn’t stop thinking about the gaps they had and what those gaps mean – concerning the art, the practice and the state of storytelling and storytellers in general. It really bothered me.

When I arrived home I hit the blog to find a research paper I wrote during 2007. ‘Accumulative wisdom and the Golden Fleece of Storytelling’ was a huge survey conducted among experienced storytellers. (If you fancy, scroll to the bottom of the post and you’ll find a link to the research paper download). One of the questions I was most curious about was “components important for a storyteller” – you’ll see the list in the post.

Reading the list, it makes sense to me. At the same time, it is only an appetizer for someone asking “what do I need to improve on?” which is instantly followed with “but how?” for each one of the issues appearing on the list. In addition, many of the issues are too broad to answer as is, they need a storytelling related focus.

After some head scratching I realized it’s about time to put fingers to keyboard and create a body of knowledge that will help answer the question, “I’m a storyteller. What do I need to improve on?” and add enough about the “but how?”

So I’ve decided that’s going to be the Agora’s content plan for 2014. It’s not that I’m not going to kick some empty alleged-storytelling cans, or contribute to the better understanding of story and storytelling related business applications and B2B marketing; but the main focus is going to be – the way of the storytelling artist.

Since I know there is great wisdom out there, I’m inviting it over here. Any contribution will be warmly welcomed.

Agora – the best of 2013

Well… this was an interesting year, wasn’t it? reviewing the Agora posts brought back memories about moments of revelation, breakthroughs, harsh discussions and many virtual hand-shakes. I thank everyone who invested time in reading, commenting, sharing, mentioning, re-tweeting, both here and in other virtual spaces.

The posts listed here were not selected via analytics. They are here because I find them either helpful, mind provoking or worth a second thought.

I wish us all an interesting, prosperous and a little more sane and peaceful 2014.



Storytelling is not a combination of two words. Here’s why…
Journeying away from ‘Professional Storyteller’
From the mouth of ‘babies’ to the ears of media and marketing ‘professionals’
Characters, Script and Orality
Two anecdotes about the physical element of storytelling

Business Story, Strategy & Marketing

The day I came up with the Content Requirements Document (CRD)
My stories of failure and how they turned into a Business Plan
John Hagel: dropping story in favor of narrative is dangerous advice
Coca Cola Journey Enfolds The Sad Story of Content Marketing Storytelling Hype
The state of B2B Marketing – Summing up 2013

Culture, Politics & Society

Good morning class – today we’re going to play Nazis
Never again?
“The kids have no imagination!”

And in case you’re a storyteller bumping into this space for the first time, don’t forget to visit the page ‘How to become a better storyteller’.

“folktales are really clever…”

Our current storytelling beginners’ course is a wagon full of marvels. Last time it was the guy in marketing who came up with a profound insight, this time it’s a lady about my age with a brilliant spin-off that left us all in awe.

One of the exercises I use in training, leads participants through a process that transforms a personal story into a folktale. During the various phases of this exercise participants are requested to shift partners, so eventually no one knows who the original story-owner was, what it sounded like or what it was about. An hour later, we have a room full of new-born folktales…

In a small village in Romania, lived a woman who had an only child – a beautiful, loving young girl. The mother and her daughter had very little by means of property and finance, but they had one another. The mother took close care – to tell her child the most beautiful stories, sing songs with her, dance, walked in nature, and visit friends as often as possible. The mother wanted to give her daughter a life of beauty and joy, of wisdom and friendship. They were happy with each other and with what they had for many years.

One day, a distant relative came to visit. She was from a far-away land over the great oceans. This woman was very elegant and she had a lovely smell of perfume. The girl thought to herself, “She looks like a queen”; the girl was very curious about that woman and the things she brought with her.

A day after, the guest said to the girl, “I have a present for you”. She opened a special-looking box, gently pulled out a round, shiny object, and offered it to the girl. “What is it?” asked the girl. “It’s a crystal ball,” answered the guest, “and it’s only for you to use. If you look into it you will see the most beautiful, exciting and interesting things. If you look through it at anything, you’ll learn very fast what’s worth looking at and what isn’t. Take it, keep it and enjoy.”

The girl took the ball and ran outside to look into it and all around. She was fascinated by the sights and sounds in the ball. She was excited to look at things around her through the ball. Some of them looked nice and interesting, some were plain and boring, so she decided not to look at them anymore. She was happy with the beautiful, exciting and interesting things in the ball; They were endless, and every day there were new things in the ball to explore. Gradually she looked more into the ball than around here, spellbound by the magnificent, out of this world sights.

After some time, she came into the tiny house where her mother was working in the kitchen. “Hey mom!” she called, “look at my present!” The girl lifted up the ball to show it to her mother, but as she did, she saw her mother through it and thought, “My mother looks empty. She isn’t very interesting.”

From that day on, the girl drifted away from her mother and clutched to the crystal ball. Her mother tried to call her – to eat together, to tell stories, to walk outside – but nothing would bring her child back. Although she had a lovely daughter whom she loved dearly, she was very much alone.

As the woman telling the story spoke this last sentence, another woman in the class clutched her head between her hands. It seemed she was about to break into tears. The teller fell into silence looking at her. “That’s my story,” said the distressed listener, “it’s about me, my daughter and what happened after she received an iPhone as a present”. “How is it, to hear your story told as a folktale?” I asked. “It’s even more distressful than I thought reality is, but it is truly how I feel.” “Would you like to hear the rest of it?” I asked. “Yes” was the answer. The teller continued with a glint in her eye and brought the story to a surprising twist and conclusion. It was surprising because her story had a solution for the distressed mother in it.

The story-owner smiled, “I like that and I’m going to follow the story’s advice”. Then she added, “folktales are really clever” which made us all break into laughter.

At the end of the lesson she asked the teller, “how did you come up with such a great solution and folk version for my story?” which upon the other student replied, “well, I have three daughters with iPhones. I know what it feels like…”

6 storyteller training questions

“The kids have no imagination!”

This statement, made by a very close peer of mine, might look somewhat extreme to you yet it carries more than a seed of truth. Made by someone who has over 25 years experience in performing with people of all ages, she experiences the shift in audiences perception and attention – and she’s not alone.

Some kids can no longer listen to stories, they need to be shown something.

Some kids can no longer look at drawings but light-up when shown the same image on screen.

Some kids can no longer look at photorealistic images – they need a cartoon or an icon.

Some kids look deaf if you don’t shout at them or over animate every word you say.

Some adults can no longer listen to stories not about the present or the close past.

Some adults can no longer listen to stories not about themselves.

Some adults can no longer listen to stories not told by them.

They find folktales irrelevant, not utilitarian enough.

The power of the spoken word hasn’t disappeared and it never will. But with the enormous forces applied by hardware, software, advertising and media corporations – to consume, consume and consume some more – kids brains are being rewired. What to? pretty simple – to consume media. Lately becoming a synonym to advertising.

The implications of this reality are devastating. If, on the other hand, you think this ‘media wash’ is pretty cool and innovative, consider Coca Cola for your ministry of education.

Maybe not (yet).

P.S. Just before releasing this post I noticed Daniel Pink tweeting this post.


Two anecdotes about the physical element of storytelling

The physical element of storytelling, that which is connected to the body, differentiates storytelling from any other story based art-form or work. Our natural limitations bring us closer – where intimacy, truthfulness and kindness can thrive;  the more amplification and magnification we add, the more we drift apart – clearing the way for corrections, masking and a need for ownership, a grip.

Every storyteller has tales of the physical in storytelling. I’m sharing two anecdotes I really like because they are both gentle and profound:

M is a storyteller I mentor for quite a while now. She chose to work with very young children who are under the risk of various kinds of abuse. She has the great gift of being able to feel and show love to the most hurting young people. This quality works the other way round too – she feels their pain – and she had to learn how to contain it so she can help them in her gentle ways through storytelling.

One day she called to tell me about what she named “a peculiar experience”. The facility she visited that week would not arrange the room where they were holding the storytelling session in a reasonable way. Furniture was cluttered to the wall, leaving very little space for her and the kids. “I managed to seat them but the space I had left for myself to move in was tiny. I felt trapped – the kids were too close and I couldn’t animate the way I usually do.”

Being very self-aware and listening closely to what was going on inside her, M realized that a couple of minutes down the road the feeling of being trapped will make her loose contact with the kids – she was about to go into a defense state. “And then I thought ‘they are your partners, look at them, what do their bodies show you they need? what can you receive from them to make this work?’ what I received was ‘we need the feeling of life, of movement, but not from your body, it’s too close’ so I moved everything I had by means of movement-intention into my voice, and the situation ‘clicked’. I could continue and so could they. In fact, it was a very magical session.”

The second event happened during a large festival. We were a troop of about fifteen tellers and we told stories in shifts through four days and nights, in a small, round tent. The noise around us was enormous since the festival hosted about 30,000 visitors. We sat in a circle, the audience sat around us in two circles, some of them receiving some of our backs. We were given an amplification system but after a very short while we found out that telling without it, elicited better attention from both tellers and listeners, so we left it aside.

At one point, one of the tellers joining the shift walked in with an impressive tall hat, and sat in the circle on his knees. The telling continued and after a couple of minutes I could see him take the hat off. After a few more he shifted from his knees and met the ground like everybody else in the tent – on his butt. Finally, he was at eye-level, both physically, mentally and emotionally. Only then could he join in and tell a story.

I think these anecdotes are important to share among storytellers. Often I receive hesitant questions from storytellers who go through these “peculiar” physical experiences and it takes them quite a while to decide they want to share the experience with someone – afraid they will be misunderstood or looked at with a bad eye. Nothing wrong, it’s part of what it means to be in storytelling.