One of the questions I am asked frequently is, “How did you get started in Storytelling?” Although it’s hard to say for sure, I can tell you the day I think I really began my storytelling journey.
It all came down to desperation.
I was working some twenty years ago in a Roman Catholic school with a group of urban eighth graders. Eighth grade is typically students around 13 or 14 years of age. This class was a group of kids that I worked with once or twice a week- in essence covering for the teacher who had another assignment for those class periods.
This group of adolescents could switch between being perfect kids or being a roomful of “wild childs,” sometimes in the same 45 minute class period. Ahh, the joy of pubescent mood swings. On this particular day, they were all wild. I should have known what I was in for by the way the teacher mumbled, “Good luck.” to me as she walked out the door. She may have even screamed, “Whoopee!” as she walked down the hallway.
So, teaching the Bible parables of forgiveness and homecoming should be simple, right? Wrong. These young people were intent this day on making sure they behaved in a way for which I would need to forgive them. How thoughtful.
In the midst of complete anarchy and the throwing of smaller students amongst themselves, I took the story telling plunge. I said, very loudly, “Once upon a time....”
The room fell silent. Now I know you think this might just be journalistic tomfoolery to prove my point, but I am telling you, the room fell silent. I think they still had one of the smaller boys dangling in mid-air.
I began to tell the biblical story of the “prodigal son” to this group. I grabbed the first kid, led him to the front of the classroom and said, “Once upon a time, there was a man, who had two sons...” Grabbing two more boys and placing them next to the “father,” they became the sons.
Throughout the rest of the story, I had the boys and girls become the friends, the landowners, the servants, the pigs, even the front gate of the farms. Kids repeated the lines I gave them and we played with those lines until the kids said them with all the goofiness the situation deserved.
At the end of the story, the classroom broke into spontaneous applause of their mutual performance. After months of waiting, thinking and hesitating to be a “real” storyteller, I had become one.
And thus, my career in storytelling was born from the pure desperation of “tell or be killed” with this group of young teens. Also born that day was a signature style of telling that Prodigal Son in particular that I still do to this day with most groups. Except now, it’s usually the Prodigal Daughter story. It’s much more fun that way.
-by Sean Buvala, Storyteller.net Director