When the sun sets the light returns to the lamp

The title of this entry is a quote from a four-year-old boy. Because he is my grandson, I allow myself to call him ‘Mr. Little’ and he agrees. He has another one, “There’s water in the ice and they come out of the holes.” It joins another his mother said when she was his age, “My mother waves her baton and a song comes out.” What caught my attention in these three charming statements is the initiative to give a tangible container to something that does not exactly hold form, and it is not entirely clear where it comes from – light, water, music.

I recalled these quotes during a discussion we had recently, in a group of community storytellers. The discussion dealt with the four sons of the Haggadah and what we can learn from there about how to treat different people in a circle of learners. A Midrash appears immediately after the part about the four sons:

One may think that [the discussion of the exodus] must be from the first of the month. The Talmud says, `On that day.’ `On that day,’ however, could mean ‘while it is yet daytime’; the Talmud says, `It is because of this.’ The expression `because of this’ can only be said when matzah and maror are placed before you.

Meaning: there is an order to remember the Exodus from Egypt every day. The reminder appears in the daily Morning Prayer. There is another order – to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt. It is a big story, which we are ordered to tell once a year in a family gathering titled the night of the Seder.

According to the Midrash, someone asked if it was possible to begin the telling and discussion from the beginning of the month of Nissan, and not only on the Seder night. It is said – only on the day of the holiday. So maybe we can start the day before or in the morning? It is said – except when there is matzah and bitter herbs in front of you, which is only on Seder night.

Only when there is something concrete in front of you, from which you can start explaining and telling stories about things you do not know enough about to even ask relevant questions. Again, this matter of giving a concrete container to something that does not exactly hold shape, and it is not entirely clear where it comes from.

Which reminded me of a small event with a Jewish-Ethiopian woman whom I helped find her exodus story; she had a story, she managed to get it out. In one of our later exercises, we recorded turning points in the story onto small notes. When we finished the documentation, she looked at the set of notes and said, “Now I have a story.” As far as I was concerned, she had a story before; she felt it as real only when its skeleton was recorded on the notes – another expression of the need for a tangible container.

The “story stick” was mentioned as a common practice in storytelling events, were an ornate stick passes from hand to hand. The person who holds it is the person who gets the permission to tell a story. Anyone who demands it for himself knows that he has a story to tell and that it’s time.

Another practice is using a large stone that passes from hand to hand. Whoever holds it agrees with all those present that it is his turn to speak. Or a sub-example from the storyteller Arik Schmeidler of blessed memory – a carved stick from which he “pulled” his stories, and to the contrary, perhaps the stories carved through him the stick to tell them. Who knows…

From there we continued to one of the familiar issues of storytellers, the matter of the “costume.” I’m not relating here to the out-of-place phenomenon we see in Israel in recent years: parents do not buy tickets for a storytelling event if the storyteller does not come with costumes and accessories. The group’s discussion revolved around the need of storytellers to help them make the transition to their own storyteller character. There are beautiful and interesting examples. Yet the truth needs to be told – they are not necessary. A storyteller can come up with nothing but his own skills and engage an audience for a long time.

Yet, there is an internal need. It relates to the idea that runs along this entry – the need to give a tangible container to something that does not exactly hold form and it is not entirely clear where it comes from – like being a storyteller – the need to illustrate this part of your identity. A storyteller is a “uniform-less” occupation – until the narrator opens his mouth. In a world that has so many uniforms, symbols, tangible representations of identities, occupations and roles, it is hard to hold on to a uniform-less profession.

And there is another need related to the same matter: the need to make the transition to that “place”. It’s a little different from being your “normal”. It’s not another character; it’s more of an internal movement towards a place within me from which I am directed to tell stories; to communicate with people, to listen deeply, to clear all the noise outside the court of storytelling. There are those who solve the transition using a clothing accessory such as a hat, or a certain garment that is not exactly an outfit but a “working” garment. There are those who use a vocal warmup for passage, there are those who need seclusion or silence before an act and some like me who just switch. In any case, there is a transition there and this passage has a very concrete expression, even if it is not visible.

Methodology for teaching storytelling – quest concluded

A methodology for teaching storytelling - quest concluded

A couple of weeks ago, my long quest to create a methodology for teaching storytelling arrived conclusion. Like in music, there is a clear and structured path to help students reach a fine level of artistry – if they wish so and are willing to do the work.

The quest started during the second year of a bi-annual storytelling course I attended 24 years ago. I was looking for an answer to a bothering question:

How come, that after almost two years of weekly lessons, this fine group of adults is not even close to reaching the level of performance 17 years olds’ reach in classical music? Reach as in one after another?

As time passed, as the number of my students rose, curiosity joined hands with a sense of mission.

It wasn’t a rosy journey. This level of interrogation makes many feel uncomfortable with what might come up. With no ill intentions in most cases, I received everything between ‘the Joan of Arc of storytelling’ to ‘a pain in the ass’, from ‘technocrat’ to ‘arrogant’. There were many supporting voices along the way.

I owe thanks to many people for excellent conversations, challenging questions, debates and searches. Here I wish to pay my deep gratitude to two particular circles and one grand master:

My professional colleagues at ‘The Storytelling Company’ whom I call ‘the wise circle’; Their willingness to go into long, free-style discussions and dreaming sessions, enabled me to dive into great depths and soar through imagination. So did their openness to share thoughts after every teaching session and performance we ever did together.

The small group of students I’ve worked with through the past three years. They agreed to walk into a unique offer: that while I was working on finalizing the methodology, they will be the test cases, aka experimental guinea pigs. What they chose to do with our learnings is the moving part. I see their work as acts of giving back and healing – communities, people’s lives and storytelling.

World-class sculptor and teacher David Zundelovich, who allowed me to join his class although I have never studied the fine arts; David has a methodology for teaching sculpting, that as he says “presents art in a much less mysterious light than many would prefer to believe.” Studying with David was coming full circle with the notion that there is a way. That’s besides everything else I’ve learned with and from him.

What happens next?

I’ll be sharing my work with some colleagues, face to face, no rush. I’m not going to share on the web.

For now it’s a small and quiet smile. It feels a little sad. I guess that getting to the end of what turned a monumental quest can feel that way.

Love you all. To life.

What happens when we tell stories and why it is so powerful

The first time I experienced storytelling, I cried. It was during the second year of the storytelling course I attended. For a long time I thought the tears appeared because we started telling personal stories. Many people believe a personal story is more moving, real, what they call “authentic”.

Today, I understand the tears were more about storytelling than stories. It was during the second year of a biannual course. We, the participants, already shed shields and fears. We’ve reached the stage we were able to tell a story, listen to a story, in simple.

In simple you feel a vibe, attention, intimacy. A colleague of mine, Alon Raz, calls it kindheartedness. We crave these feelings to pass between us. We also feel these days they don’t; at least most of the time.

When we tell a story and listen to a story in simple, kindheartedness passes between us. Our cravings receive a drop of nourishment, it’s a little startling, hence the tears. We call them “good tears”. Good, it turns out, is so powerful.

Trying to hack storytelling is another way of avoiding storytelling

After observing the buzz through the past years, reading everything between the tacky copy-paste “tell a story” and elaborate dissecting concepts, I have a few simple conclusions:

  • It’s about trying to force existentialism into the scientific method and it’s not working.
  • It’s all a colossal waste of time.
  • It’s simply another way of avoiding storytelling.

Which tells me something about how you regard this art. That’s besides you being in the very wrong direction – if your intent has anything to do with storytelling.

Storytelling performance indicators | Two feedback questions that help us realize what we can improve on

storytelling performance indicators | Limor Shiponi

By Limor Shiponi

Storytellers often shy away from giving feedback to each other in public. Between “spellbinding” and “moving” we’re not helping each other too much. This becomes a real problem if you’re at the beginning of the journey. The absence of knowledge about storytelling performance indicators makes it difficult to evaluate skill. Even before that, it makes it difficult knowing what to evaluate. “Maybe you should try a different kind of voice” doesn’t help anyone move forward.

Finding good feedback questions

I’ve been trying various feedback eliciting techniques for years. What I’ve been looking for lately are simple feedback questions, suitable for beginners. I’m trying to help develop critical evaluation skills. After some experimentation, I find the next two questions effective in revealing storytelling performance indicators:

Do you feel the storyteller has a good grip on the steering wheel? Is she or he navigating the storytelling event ship or not?

Whatever the answer, what is doing that in your opinion?

These questions train storytellers to be present; pay attention to our sensory impressions. They also train storytellers to check performance from the impact end. The first question frames the feedback process to a performance indicator: the level of grip a storyteller has during a storytelling event. It seems a simple question and it is. At the same time it contains many other possible questions about performance indicators. What are they? That’s what the second question is for.

Revealing storytelling performance indicators

The second question helps explore storytelling performance indicators. A good way to go is encourage students to find indicators on their own. Try not to provide them with a prepared list. Ask both questions several times, looking at different parts of the event: the entire telling, a section, a paragraph, a sentence, a prologue, an epilogue, a link section. The more rounds you take, the more performance indicators you find. The list accumulates in front of the students’ eyes. It will receive more attention and trust than a pre-dictated list.

After exploring and revealing performance indicators, it’s easier to understand how to evaluate your work. It’s also easier to evaluate others’ work, what they need to improve on and to what degree. We can plan our progress, set objectives and milestones, and seek the help we need on various skills.

“Spellbinding” is nice, better is to know the mix of ingredients that make up fairy-dust.