A friend of mine in the UK just sent me an email that really caused me to stop and think. The email was a general catch up on things we had spoken about and then some additional comments on the state of storytelling in the UK. The statement was, and I paraphrase, ’Storytelling in oral form is a dead duck in the UK. The venues for the art are all but gone.’ Wow, I thought, how profoundly sad. What if storytelling in the UK disappeared as a public art all together and was left to exist in only an underground, behind closed doors environment?
Storytelling is a powerful medium, of course you already knew that, with the ability to challenge lives and motivate change in people and institutions. How can it "disappear" from public consumption? Doesn’t the public care? I fear that storytelling has been given the reputation as being a "neat" thing to see, by the general public. Maybe people have forgotten that history itself is carried on the backs of storytellers from one culture to another, one time to another. Storytellers have been an ongoing constant presence throughout all history and every culture. Storytellers teach the children of a culture who they are. Storytellers give the elderly the respect of honoring their lives and assuring them they will not be forgotten.
When I speak of storytelling, I am not merely speaking of oral tellers. Painters, musicians, writers, sculptors, and many other types of art fall within the definition of "storytelling." Artisans of many kinds seek to tell a story in their selected art. However, oral tradition is special as it is the most easily and commonly used method to convey information from one person to another. So, even though Storytelling can be interpreted as many things, oral tradition is very important since everyone does it, to some degree.
By having a public performance of storytelling, I think you encourage people to pay attention to what is going on around them. A storyteller brings to life the simple things in our lives and shows us the beauty, sadness, and humor that surrounds all of us. The end result is either laughter, challenge or even simply understanding. If we lose oral storytelling in any public arena for any length of time, what will happen to our ability to look around and notice our surroundings. How do we make others laugh without stories. How do we convey sadness without stories. How do we challenge?
So, look around you. Where is storytelling happening where you are? What are you doing to keep it alive and strengthen the art?
What is the ’state of storytelling’? Just notice it.
Michael T. Abrams is past president and co-founder of Storyteller.Net. He is a fulltime web developer and trainer. Please contact Mike with any web development quesitons or projects.