Every Teller Needs a Home
I think it was 2002 when I walked into The Storyteller Cafe, Mesa, AZ, and asked if they needed a resident storyteller. A group of tellers from South Mountain Community College Storytelling Institute, Phoenix, AZ, had preceded me and were no longer providing consistent storytelling performances. Iíd never been a resident teller nor had I ever delivered a full concert, but it seemed a good idea to practice what I believed I could do.
The experience was not altogether positive, but I learned more than 70 stories in six months and created multiple concerts in a very short time period. That experience taught me the skills of learning story quickly, choosing stories for specific audiences, and the art of commanding a crowd with nothing but voice, eye contact, and gesture. Most importantly, I learned every teller needs a home.
October 2008, I moved to Silver Lake, Indiana, a small town surrounded by small towns. Few seemed to understand storytelling as an art form. I knew I needed to have a place I told regularly creating a community of storytelling. Sure, it was a selfish venture. I wanted an audience of appreciative groupies, but I also wanted to educate the community about storytelling and all of the benefits derived from the oral tradition. I needed a home.
I began to travel from town to town, eating at restaurants and drinking at coffee shops trying to find the perfect location. I found a great coffee shop in Warsaw, but they did not respond to my requests to discuss the opportunities of regular storytelling performances. Then one day I ate at Homesteadís Backyard Grille on State Road 15, the restaurant with the chicken on the roof. They met my recommendations and served great pie. We created a harmonious partnership.
Although it is not necessary, I prefer to tell in a space that is private. A banquet room or separate eating space works really well.
1. I do not appreciate coffee grinders, loud ice machines, or music that cannot be turned off. Ask specifically about loud noise making appliances in or near the space. Consider also outside disturbances like horns, air brakes, sirens, motorcycles, or the outside speaker of a fast food restaurant.
2. Sit in the space and listen for a long time during the times you would tell. What would distract you? (If you are not easily distracted, ask someone who is to go with you!) What visually distracts you in that space? Where would you stand? Where would the audience enter and exit? What is the traffic flow of the space and how does it affect where you stand and tell?
3. I work for donations. I like to have a classy glass donations jar on the table that I put at the entrance/exit. I specifically place my marketing materials and flyers right at that door and I put in a starter $6. I like people to know I take donations and that I will take small and large bills. What you put in the jar is what they put in the jar within reason. I cover the table with black cloth to keep the space a visual focus. I mention the table and have the books, props, or puppets I am specifically using for that performance there so the table is in sight often. Do not decorate the table. Make it a place of businessóyour storytelling business.
4. I create a simple contract with the owner that states my expectations. Call it a document of talking points at first, if necessary. Build it together. I wrote in my contract with Homesteadís that I would expect free drinks and a piece of pie at each performance. Pie is important to me.
5. Spend time at each concert talking about upcoming performances at other venues. Have business cards on the tables. Encourage them to take the marketing packet, one for themselves and one for a friend who is well-connected. You want them to tell others about your performance, yes, but you also want future bookings. Compliments are nice, but money is better when it is time to pay the bills.
6. Have your website up on your laptop so the audience knows you have web presence and they can check date availability immediately on your updated calendar. Train them to go to your web site so they will tell others to go to your site.
7. Advertise dates three to four months at a time. Have the dates printed on business cards or post cards that can be given out at the cash register and have them with you at all times. When people ask about storytelling, hand them your card as well as the card with upcoming dates. This for me is the greatest marketing tool I have locally. People like to know where I regularly perform free, family-friendly concerts. They like to know Iím committed to and give back to the community. People like to plan ahead and invite others.
8. Organize your concerts in halves. During the first half, plan stories that could be told to younger children so families can leave at the break. During the break, stand by the table and talk about classes and coaching you offer. Have a sign-up list for storytelling groupies. Most storytellers call this a mailing list; I prefer the term groupies.
9. For each concert send a well-written press release with a picture two weeks prior to performing. This will keep your name in the press and it will help you build a relationship with the media. People will start saying, "I saw you in the paper again! I didnít even know about storytelling until you moved here and now I read about it all of the time." PR increases your celebrity status. It also beefs up your marketing packet.
I provide my own portable Chattervox sound system. (Search chattervox; prices vary.) At Homesteadís there is an ice machine that drops ice about every 15 minutes and there is noise of a dishwasher on the other side of the wall. The amplification helps to cover all distractions. I built a portable 3í x 3í carpeted stage I use that helps elevate me 3" off the floor. I donít always use it. I like to move about the room.
I find when I have a storytelling home my "fan base" grows quicker. Each month I offer the same concert two times during one week. I offer one in the evening and one during the day. Older groupies do not always like driving at night. As the popularity of telling grows, I add concert dates. It is possible to go from one to three nights a week every week if that is what you want to do. I prefer just two to four dates a month to keep my audience wanting more. I title my concerts to gain interest in the variety of telling I offer. If you are just starting, themes as titles are helpful.
If you have found that the same people hire you all of the time or that you are lacking a mailing list or you just need a place to hone your craft, adding a home to your telling may be just the solution you were hoping to find. For me, a storytelling home is vital for the art and business of telling.
Carol Knarr is a storyteller specializing in historical stories for the Kosciusko County Visitors Bureau, Warsaw, IN. Carol has more than 20 available concerts, workshops, and in-service opportunities described at www.carolknarr.com. (April 2009)