Eric James Wolf asked “If theater uses the word storytelling to sell really good theatrical performances… are you comfortable using the word theater to sell really good storytelling?” Let’s look at some of the answers he received. I’m grouping them by nature without directly quoting anyone:
Definitions are not important/ definitions are not important – reaching the required outcome is.
Yes, we are all believers aren’t we, what does it matter if I’m Jewish, you’re Muslim and he’s Christian, hey? We could switch anytime we want because definitions are not important! Aha…
Taking the more practical approach: this is what enables anyone in the last two years, especially if they are trying to market, sell, push, tempt or differentiate from competition, call what they are doing “storytelling” including iPad apps. Are you comfortable with being in the same pool with apps?
From my humble experience, definitions are highly important – both to speaker and listener. The first questions people ask when they meet are about collecting info that will help them define who they are talking to. They need that info for various reasons; most of them connected to deep behavioral mechanisms. We seek definitions by nature and if we don’t have them we are confused and too vulnerable.
Storytelling is a form of theatre/ theatre is a form of storytelling.
In this case, I wouldn’t go to Wikipedia for definitions because at least the storytelling page is wrong. I can’t say anything about the theatre page since I’m not part of that discipline. Yet by the means of simple logic I do know several things:
If they were not different things they wouldn’t have been given different names and those names were given many years ago when the previous phenomena (everybody into the pool) did not exist.
Homer wasn’t an actor. The definition “singer of tales” is proper when you check exactly what it is that he was doing. We also know that these people used a combined technique of singing, chanting and speaking – which exists until today in the west under the names Sprechgesang and Sprechstimme (spoken-song, spoken-voice). Other cultures have other names for it.
Trying to keep this ASAP (S for short) I don’t think many storytellers ever tried to track back the origins of even better the cause that gave birth to this form of expression. Maybe it is about time. That will also help reveal the borders of storytelling and stop the wild inflating process we are observing.
I have a simple rule of thumb for deciding what is the core and what is an application – the core is defined in a single word: theatre, dance, storytelling, art, music, photography.
Storytelling can be defined by what it does mechanically/by skill
So you get things like performance, art of the spoken word, theatre of imagination, speech art, one person show, narrative art, etc. What these names do is something very simple – they tap into what people already know, trying to bridge what they don’t know or understand fully – storytelling. They also have a certain charm to them which derives its power from the unique blend of words that creates possibilities, opening the known to new horizons.
The thing is that the more you go in this direction the more you draw away from the day people will know what storytelling really means until the day the word will disappear together with the discipline just like dying languages under the burden of globalization.
Look at Eric’s original question; it is about “to sell”.
Eric is spotting out a well known problem: storytelling does not sell as well as other art forms, especially theatre and cinema. It seems people will buy anything the latter two will offer even if it’s a total disaster and still, will not buy storytelling. On the other hand there are storytellers who fill halls but they are not many, some of them not necessarily storytellers.
I think it takes some real honesty and bravery to try and figure out why things are the way they are. Part of it has to do with the “feel good” culture the west is running after and if you’ll talk to theater producers they will complain about not being able to schedule only fine repertoire. Populist seems to rule. But part of the inquiry has to turn inwards, into the storytelling community and as long as people are afraid they will be hurt from such an undertaking, it will not happen – which harms the entire field.
This issue comes up once in a while and after the first round of “feel good and be nice” the silence that follows sounds like muteness. So word-crafters and masters of the spoken word, shall we start talking?