Defining and achieving storytelling excellence

By Limor Shiponi

I’m just back home from the National Storytelling Network annual conference which took place in St. Louis this year. On the way back I decided to start a blog in English and I feel sharing part of my presentation there was a good way to start. Since storytelling and excellence seem to keep the storytelling world busy lately here is my input on this subject:

My definition for excellence in the arts is to feel one and whole. The same can be said for religion or spirituality. This way we can fly through realms of beauty and sharing of joy. In order to do so as artist we need to master our instruments and understand what we are doing.

Most arts have created structured methodologies and standards for training and practicing the art as part of a continuous effort to proceed and improve performance. Standards serve artistic communities in variable ways, to mention a few: They help create a common language that can be used by trainers, mentors and coaches; they give the critique tools for evaluating and challenging the artists and thereby helping them and the art-form proceed and flourish; they allow organizers of events understand what they are looking for; they reflect the needs of audiences; they create a language by which supporting institutions can evaluate their ability to cooperate with artists; they give tools to the student and novice to self-evaluate their efforts and the mature artist understanding for continuous growth, and a way to give back to the art through their own contributions to the understanding and fine-tuning of standards.

Everyone can tell stories but not everyone can be or is a storyteller. I know many like to use that phrase but it is a misconception to my opinion. Being a fine storyteller requires much more than the ability to speak and a story to tell. With all the joy of people sharing their experiences or stories they like, most of this activity does not resonate with the deeper needs storytelling has been created to ease. Storytellers find themselves too often standing on the same line with actors, stand-up comedians, teachers, psychologists, organizational consultants, writers and many other professionals. For them storytelling is a tool, for storytellers – the essence, an organizing principle.

They all come from disciplines that have taken the responsibility and created standards for training and practice. Storytellers, masters of words and expression, are still hesitant with creating their own language. This language existed once and the knowledge is still there, it hasn’t been lost. All we need to do is bring it up to the surface and mould it to a form that is usable today, a training tunnel if you like, a methodology and experience.

In order to proceed and aquire excellence, degrees need to be set. Not to the outcome but to the training. Not to people but to levels of skill. It is the responsibility of excellent tellers to create this experience for others so many more can be very good storytellers. It has been like that in the past and I see no reason why it can’t be like that now and in the future.

2 thoughts on “Defining and achieving storytelling excellence”

  1. Limor,
    can you share an example of another art form that has a clearly defined path where excellence is recognized? Perhaps in music or dance?

    I think one of the difficulties in convincing the storytelling community of the need for standards of excellence is the lack of a clear image of what this would look like. Did you use any analogies in your workshop?

  2. Hi Tim,

    Yes, in my workshop I used the first few minutes to tell how I came to the conclusion that the fear from determining excellence is connected to the perspective of superiority, when what excellence in the arts really brings is joy and freedom.

    In music excellence is determined as important to achieve joy and freedom, because only when you reach that stage can you truly free the composer’s intention from the written page or feel in unison with music-self-instrument. There is a lot of joy and freedom in the process anyway but you can really feel the difference when you become good.

    All the hard work towards excellence is aimed to a simple possibility – to be able to express your intention fully. If part of this expression goes through technical virtuosity so you work to get there as a step towards expression. Technical virtuosity is not an artistic expression it is only a tool.

    If I’m looking at the example of good technique in music, excellence means you are physically free to do as you choose. Once you’ve got there you are excellent in technique.

    In order to achieve this stage clear and graded methodologies were and still are created. So, every time you go up a step, you have achieved excellence in the previous step. This way you know where you are heading and what you have to do on the way, what it will take. You also feel very awarded each time you manage to master a step, by yourself and by others, because there is a clear language around these issues.

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