Happy October!

I promised more pictures of Bulgaria in this post, but those will have to wait until I go back for the Fulbright in February. I'm currently preparing for four weeks of storytelling to kids who are learning English in Colombia. Look for pictures from that South American tour in the next posts.

Yesterday I had a fantastic time in Clay Center and Wakefield, KS doing three performances for elementary school students. The kids in the first two schools had never seen me, but the fourth and fifth graders (9-10 year olds) remembered me from three years ago. No, not true. They didn't necessarily remember me, but when I pulled Trixie out of the bag, they knew her, and when I reminded them of The Ghost with the One Black Eye, they cheered. If there is one story for which I'm known, this is it. It works all year, not just in October, but as long as we're in the lead-up to Halloween, here it is, yet again.

And if you're interested in how to tell funny-scary campfire tales, check out this blog post from 2009 (on my old blog). 

Happy October!

Storytelling at FISI

I didn't intend to tell stories at the Fulbright International Summer Institute in Pravets, Bulgaria. True, I'm always ready to tell stories, but I didn't go with that idea. I took a couple of puppets, on the chance I might need them, but that's something I do whenever I travel. Hmm, now this sounds like a case of "I just happened to have brought my sheet music..." 

On the first evening, a couple of the American students who had heard me introduce myself waved me over to their dinner table. "Would you tell some stories?"  I promised a performance outside the next evening. We began to spread the word. 

I found a little tower as a backdrop, with a wall for seats. By the end of the performance, there were around 20 listeners. I told a mix of stories, from the old favorite Ghost with the One Black Eye to The Twist-Mouth Family to Blood (a piece of personal fiction with an embedded Bulgarian folktale). It seems this last was the siren song for the mosquitoes, as they chased us inside. 

The response to the stories was good, but because many people hadn't heard about the performance, I got more requests. For the second show, I chose Sunday morning at 11.

There were around fifteen listeners. I mixed it up, with the South African folktale Unanana and the Elephant, The Crooked Little Finger by Philippa Pearce, The Portraits (another piece of personal fiction) and Marina, a story I wrote in the voice of a Bulgarian woman in 1986 in NYC. I was nervous about it, anxious that the Bulgarian listeners understand that I tell it with great respect for Bulgaria and Bulgarians.

On Sunday evening, there were new arrivals to FISI. Some of these asked if I would do another performance. I set up a Thursday evening show, after supper, which had another twenty or so listeners. We were indoors, in a lounge a floor above the lobby. It was loud and a little challenging to perform in the space, but fun.

Because there were three listeners who specifically wanted to hear stories for young children, I began with The Gunniwolf, but then shifted gears to the gruesome Bluebeard variant, Mr. Fox. I also told The Great Sharp Scissors by Philippa Pearce and a few others. Some of the University of Michigan undergrads were there, at first doubtful and then completely engaged. Two of them afterwards asked for tips on doing presentations. 

I thought that was it. On Friday, people kept apologizing that they hadn't been able to come, as they were finishing projects for the last day of classes. I offered to tell one story at the final party, but there wasn't a good time or place for that. The music was playing and it was time to dance. Afterwards, back at the hotel, I was asked again. I told a short one, The Porcelain Man, a love story by Richard Kennedy. 

There were a couple of other times I performed: I went into the Bulgarian class for beginners twice, once with my puppets and once to tell a Bulgarian folktale. I practiced it in advance with Stefka, the teacher, to get the tenses right. (This picture is of that class. The baby showed up for the photo, asking for her "biba," also known as her binky.)

So I didn't intend to perform at FISI and did only in response to requests. All the same, I had a good time sharing the stories in my head. 

Thanks to Megan Lueneberg, Kalina Georgieva and Rada Kaneva for pictures.

Disclaimer: This is not an official Fulbright Program publication. The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations. 

Storytelling house concerts

Picture this: seventeen or eighteen grownups and older kids sitting comfortably in a living room, some on sofas, some in armchairs, some on kitchen chairs, a few relaxing on cushions on the floor, all listening to stories, then chatting about their own stories or about how the art of storytelling is not lost. A dog or two snore nearby. Every now and then somebody gets up quietly to graze at the table of goodies in the kitchen or to fill a glass. Maybe there's a break in the stories for snacks or maybe the performance runs for an hour or even more with no break. Maybe there are two or three storytellers tag-teaming. When the guests leave, they linger at the door to talk more about the evening and the connections that were made. They ask to be kept on the list for the next house concert.

That's the flavor of a storytelling house concert, in my experience. 

Here are some other considerations when planning a house concert, whether you're the storyteller or the host.

  • Find a place for the storyteller to stand or sit where the sight lines are best.
  • If guests have hearing issues, use a sound system. I know, it's a living room, but of course you want everyone to be able to hear.
  • Invite more guests than you think will come, at least the first time, as some adults think they might not like storytelling. The second time, they are sure they do like storytelling and they talk it up everywhere. 
  • Be clear in the invitations about the age range of listeners (that is, if young kids are welcome).
  • Send out invitations about three weeks in advance, with a reminder the week before. Facebook works well for invitations.
  • If the storyteller is performing near the front door, provide an alternate entry for guests who arrive late. At my house, I ran Christmas lights from the front door to the back, with a sign requesting late-comers to follow the lights, in order to avoid interruptions.
  • If the house concert is really a garden concert or a campfire concert, discuss this with the storyteller. 
  • Let guests know in advance if they will be expected to pay or contribute in some way. You may have a set fee, you may pass the hat, or the program might be free. The performer and host will arrange this in advance.
  • Potluck? Perhaps. Unless the house concert is at my own house, I don't provide the food or drinks, just the stories. One good friend had the house concert catered. Yum!
  • Have fun.

I love performing at house concerts! If you're in the Kansas City area and would like to host one, let me know. If you're a storyteller who gives house concerts, feel free to leave your tips in the comments section. 


Five steps for successful school assemblies


A few years ago, I wrote about how to hire a storyteller. This one is for performers as well as for principals, librarians, teachers, PTA/PTO members—anybody who books performers. (In the arts world, these are called "presenters," but that confuses people, so I'm using "bookers.") These suggestions come from my 25+ years as a working storyteller.

Notice that the steps on the list apply to life as well!

1. Connect and communicate. Essential!

Performers: Answer e-mails and phone messages promptly, be clear about what you do (and what you don't do—don't promise what you don't enjoy), ask about audience size, venue and special circumstances, explain rates and other fees, sign and send contracts in a timely manner and be available for follow-up questions.
Bookers: Answer e-mails and phone messages promptly, be clear about what you want, give information about the audience size, venue and special circumstances, sign and send contracts in a timely manner and be available for follow-up questions.

2. Be prepared. Not just for Scouts.

Performers: Tell the booker about any pre- or post-performance materials you have available, know how long it takes to get to the venue and allow extra time, arrive early, know your material inside and out.
Bookers: Make sure the teachers and other staff know about the performance and schedule, provide pre-performance materials or links, make sure the venue is set up appropriately, contact the performer in the week before the assembly.

3. Be flexible and be kind. Things happen: road construction, bad weather, electrical outages. If need be, go back to step one. 

Performers: Remember that school staff work very long days. Bring what you need, including sound system, if possible.  If the room isn't set up as you wish, work together to try to make it right. If there's something you need, ask politely. Respect time limits, school resources and audience needs.
Bookers: Realize that the performer has visited many, many schools, and has good reasons for the set-up requests. Know that the performer may never have traveled to your site before. Show the performer where the restroom is and offer water. If there's a long gap between performances, let the performer rest in the staff room.

4. Expect the best. Good will and good expectations go a long way toward an excellent show.

Performers: As storyteller Carol Birch says, "The best people want you to succeed, and your audience is made up of the best people." Before I begin a show, I silently bless the audience. It should go without saying that you should be excellent at your craft (go back to step 2 if you're unsure). 
Bookers: You've chosen a wonderful event for your venue. As you introduce the performer, let the audience know this. 

5. Enjoy the show! Assemblies should be fun as well as educational.

Performers: Love your work and let it show! 
Bookers: Stay for the assembly if you can and be a good model for the listeners (including other grownups).

Have more suggestions? I'd love to hear your ideas! Use the comments section below.  Want this in a .pdf? Send me an e-mail. 

©Priscilla Howe 2013

Crooked fingers, one more time

I know, I've written about crooked fingers a few times now. I can't seem to help myself. In the US, maybe once a year, kids in the audience will notice my crooked little fingers, and once in a while, there will be an audience member with clinodactyly. In Argentina last year, I was startled to see about five pairs. This year, in Chile, I think I saw twelve pairs! First, here's mine in the foreground as the audience and I did Shaking Hands.

Here are a few of the others I saw:

That's my finger on the left and a young boy's on the right.

Here are two more pairs. The girl in the last picture was quite excited to have her fingers photographed, so it's a bit blurry.

In Chile, I told the audience about my fingers at the beginning of the sessions. I explained that if I didn't, somebody would notice, and then that kid would tell the next kid who would tell another until nobody was listening to the stories. I also explained that my father had them and six out of seven kids in my family have them.

I have never minded having unusual fingers. I guess I've never minded being a nonconformist in many ways. I tell the students about this genetic mutation partly to tell them that it's okay to be different. These differences make the world a more interesting place. 

The Chile tour continues

It has been a while since I've written about how the performances are going. So far, fairly well. I've done forty-eight sessions, with only twenty left. The third week of a four-week tour can be one of the hardest in terms of energy. I continue to take naps every afternoon after the work is done, as we get up early every morning to go to school. I keep hydrated. I hum and sing and make funny noises to warm up my voice. I try to remember to have a good time and to be grateful that I am here in Chile, as well as in this life and on this planet. 

Here are a few more pictures to give you a flavor of the performances. The first few were from a set taken by a photographer at Colegios Padre Hurtado y Juanita de los Andes (two schools, one for boys and one for girls). My tour manager Sofi took the other excellent photos. I'll show scenic pictures in the next post.  

Notice that the children and teachers wear uniforms. The little girls wear smocks and the boys wear tan lab coats. The teachers wear dark blue coats or blue checked smocks, quite often. 

I always think it's a sign of a good school when both the teachers and the children enjoy the performances.

This was at the only workshop of the tour. The teachers are playing a game called "Magic Box."

I've enjoyed most of the groups of kids. Here are some of the teenagers, who usually don't expect to enjoy the stories as much as they do. They were so fun to work with!