The most challenging story I tell is Emma Edmonds, a Civil War Spy, an epic tale performed first person. Since moving to Indiana, I have found Emma to be one of my cash cows. Audiences respond well to the story commenting that they are captivated and feel as if they are in the moment with Emma. They are genuinely touched by Emma’s story and comment they felt as if they met her. I am pleased with the story’s popularity, yet an epic tale is draining to perform in the best of environments. Would I be able to perform Emma repetitively at a festival?
How thrilling it was to be hired to tell at Civil War Days, Warsaw, IN. What an opportunity to tell a Civil War story while immersed in the sights and smells of a reenactment camp. Men marched in uniform, cannons blasted on the battlefield, and the smell of gunpowder lingered in the air.
I must say the images in my mind were more intense as I told after viewing a mock battle. In my mind I could see more clearly the canteens, flags, and uniforms. Throughout the telling, the cannons continued to boom adding a bit of authenticity to my tale. Sitting in a log cabin on hewed benches was a bit uncomfortable for an hour, yet added to the overall experience.
I had not anticipated the amount of distractions there would be as I told. At the end of the first telling, I realized many changes would need to be made before the next performance.
1. Arrange the seating so the backs of the audience members are to the entrance. It is much better for the teller to be distracted than the audience to see those who choose to peek in the door or enter for a moment only to leave quickly again. Prepare yourself for those who inconsiderately talk outside the entrance, ring the school bell, take a phone call, or simply get up and leave. Don’t take it personally; after all, it is an informal atmosphere.
2. Have fliers available at the entrance of the event as well as in the performance space. I found many took my one sheet at the gate even though they did not attend a performance. My one sheet sells multiple concerts and venues allowing my skills to not be limited to historical telling nor epic tales. Patrons talked to me following the presentation about other programs I offered because they had the one sheet in their hands.*
3. Explain to those at the gate what the performance is and how it will be performed. Emma is an intense one-hour epic not intended for children under nine years of age. Saying there is storytelling at 3 o’clock misrepresents what will be delivered.
4. Put your ego aside. Even when a child reaches through the open window to poke another on the head, the kid in the front constantly makes noise with a bag, and the front row exits at a pivotal moment those who are interested are intently listening and are getting something out of your story. I found my audience was less distracted than I.
Festivals and outdoor events are not the ideal locations to perform intense material, but with some adjustments, even challenging work can be delivered well. I was able to reach a new audience and I learned a thing or two in the process.
Carol Knarr is a professional storyteller specializing in historical telling. Visit carolknarr.com for more information. *Download Carol’s one sheet at About Me.