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Articles About Storytelling

Energy of Space
By: Priscilla Howe

Iíve come to understand that much of my work is about energy management. While telling the stories I love, in order to be effective, I have to manage my own energy, the energy of the audience, the energy of the story, and the energy of the space. Am I pushing too hard in this place? Am I losing that kid in the third row? Does this story need a pause here? Have I set up the space so that everyone can listen easily? I imagine it is like being a conductor, or maybe like playing a pipe organ, paying attention to everything all at once. I like it. Itís also why a day of four performances can be totally exhausting. Fun, but tiring.

Iíve learned how to do this through the years. A few weeks ago I had an example of how the wrong setup of the space can sabotage all the other aspects. I was at a library that uses a former school gym for performance space. I walked in and saw that it was set up so I was in the middle of the room, and the kids were to be on the bleachers.

I explained to the librarian that Iíd prefer to have the audience on the floor, with me at the narrow end of the room under the basketball hoop.

She said no, she wanted to be consistent with what they always do.

I explained that when Iím in the middle of the room like that, and the kids are spread the width of the room, they canít pay attention. The energy of the story seems to go into the air behind me, and the kids donít focus. Itís better to have something behind me to define the space and hold the energy in. (This is also why outdoor storytelling can be a challenge.)

She said no, she wanted to be consistent with what they always do. Theyíd tried it the other way once and it didnít work.

I tried again.

She said no, she wanted to be consistent with what they always do.

I was getting angry, something that rarely happens. Iíve never been a prima donna storyteller, I donít think, but I explained that Iíve been doing this for twelve years full time (didnít mention the five years part time before that) and that this is something I do understand. She went away to ask her supervisor.

By the time she came back (without the supervisor), I had calmed down and decided that Iíd rather not fight. I agreed to do it her way. I resisted quoting Emerson, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, adored by petty statesmen, philosophers and divines."

Did I mention that this room had no air conditioning, just big fans on the floor, on one of the hottest days of the summer? I did know that in advance, so I was prepared. I wasnít prepared for the librarian to give the children, mostly preschoolers, paper fans. Preschoolers and paper fans, imagine it. About 150 of them. On bleachers. Heat rises.

I did my best, but it wasnít very good. There were a few kids in the middle who seemed to be paying attention, but many were unaware of what I was doing or saying. I felt set up for failure. The librarianís comment at the end? "Thanks, they loved it!" Huh.

Thank goodness every other performance since then, including one later that day at another library, has been great fun, with the kids listening attentively and all of us having a good time. In fact, of the more than 60 performances since June 1, only two or three were less than optimal. Thatís pretty good.

Author Information:
Name: Priscilla Howe
The contents expressed in any article on are solely the opinion of author.

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