Bottom line: I’m starting to realize those are the wrong questions. The real ones are “who is a storyteller?” or “what is a storyteller?” or “what is storytelling?”
In today’s world, when the professional Modus Vivendi has become, “I say who and what I am, and who are you to say I’m not”, it’s pretty obvious people get confused with their professional identity.
Now, I’m not going to try and solve the nonexistent “we are all storytellers” issue around people in marketing, gaming, leadership, science, continue the list as far as you want. First, they don’t introduce themselves as storytellers, although they claim to ‘do’ storytelling. It doesn’t say ‘storyteller’ on their business cards and even more – if you ask someone else about what those people do they will say, “ah, she’s into marketing”. So they know who they are, everybody else does, good for them, matter solved.
The real problem is within the storytelling domain – us, storytellers. Because of the great desire to be inclusive (which for some reason is interpreted as kindness although to me it feels like running away from responsibility), many of us reflect “anything goes”. Well, almost. Still, as humans, we need a clear identity and differentiators so we can know who and where we are, where we want to go, and if we are proceeding in that direction. That’s perfectly normal, and as long as those differentiators arise naturally from the core of the art and what it means to be a storyteller, we’ll be ok.
‘Professional’ isn’t an organic storytelling positioning differentiator. Neither is ‘Master’, although it sounds more holistic and therefore as-if closer to storytelling. But do these titles actually mean something substantial?
Let’s look at ‘professional’ and leave storytelling aside. Let’s go for ‘professional musician’.
Professional musicians are people who:
- Can perform on any requested level, any part of the musical narrative they were trained in and preferably beyond.
- Who’s main agenda, the thing they are busy with most of their productive hours, is music.
- Who expect to receive compensation for their musical ability and practice, since it is what society gains from their choice of occupation, and its own need for what these people can provide.
- Who can conduct their matters in what is considered at least basic to professionalism – arriving on time and prepared for your part, participating to the best of your ability, taking part in all discussions about performance practices and interpretation (musicianship), respecting the rules of the ensemble you are part of.
- Who take care of their continuous professional development, so they don’t turn stale and gain more flexibility and possibilities.
If I’ve forgot something you’re invited to add to this list, but basically – that’s it. Going back to my question – does ‘professional’ mean something substantial? in music it sure does. Only the first point “can perform on any requested level, any part of the musical narrative they were trained in and preferably beyond” means about ten years of methodological training in playing an instrument, voice, practicing solfege, theory, basic composition, playing with various ensembles, attending concerts, attending camps and intensives, singing in a choir and if you’re really into it, even way more than that.
Quite obviously, this is not a description of your neighbor’s 18 years old son playing electric guitar or the trumpet in their garage; even he knows that.
So why is it so difficult to define “professional storyteller?” I’m leaving the pondering to you. I’ll just add that once upon a time, thousands of years ago, storytellers were storytellers. They were never bothered with the “professional” part because if they didn’t reach a certain degree of ability they wouldn’t see themselves as “storyteller” and neither would society; maybe a disciple or a teller to be. In that framework, the word ‘master’ suddenly does mean something substantial, doesn’t it?