Using Pantomime with Storytelling
Following a performance of "Irish Cinderlad" I was asked how I was able to retain the believability of the pantomimed sword. That comment surprised me, having come from an experienced teller. I have never taken an official course in pantomime however I have taken years of theatre classes and workshops. Is my ability to create believability with gesture and pantomime instinct, skill, or common sense?
Storytellers who stand and tell with their hands clasped in front of them lose my attention quickly, Kathryn Tucker Windham being the exception to this rule. Each story has natural rhythms and moments that can be emphasized by natural gesture. Watching a teller who is relaxed and having fun telling a story naturally creates emphasis with the hands and body. The story does not need to be acted out as a play, but movement is necessary.
When pantomime is used, it is disturbing to see the object disappear or “dropped,” for example, the creation of a rocked baby. When creating reality of object or space, keep the object real until that moment has passed. A natural flow from one pantomimed movement to another can be accomplished if the reality is not abruptly destroyed.
Helpful Steps to Successful Movement:
1. Read the story as if you were drawing a storyboard or looking for action. Decide where natural flow is necessary and where the action could be emphasized with specific pantomimed movements.
2. Plan those movements with precision. When does the movement begin and end? How can the movement flow into another natural movement or does the item created need to be ‘placed’? For instance, put the baby down and then come back to the baby at a preplanned time.
3. Practice, practice, practice. I can imagine in my mind when to use these movements. I have enough training that movement is more about instinct and common sense. When beginning, seek assistance and mentorship. Natural movement may need to be rehearsed and learned.
4. Practice telling before a small audience of veteran tellers. Have them specifically look for use of believable pantomime and when those movements suddenly or unrealistically disappear. Ask specifically for times you used natural movement and times you could improve your skills. Video tape this performance allowing the veterans to show you what they mean by “You dropped the baby here.”
5. Rehearsing in front of a full length mirror or using digital taping is most helpful.
Every teller has ticks and personal habits that annoy listeners. Not all habits can be totally removed, but most can be lessened. Personal ticks of mine include clicking my tongue, playing with my hair, moving my feet unnecessarily, clasping my hands, and looking over the audience rather than looking in the eyes of my listeners. I have to work very hard at lessening these personal habits. To overcompensate, I must first be aware of them.
Your job as a teller is to connect with the listener in a sincere and dynamic way. It is my opinion if presenting yourself as a professional teller, it is also your responsibility to present the story with the skill and technique of a professional teller. The secret is to create a combination of natural and preplanned movement while lessening annoying personal habits.
Carol Knarr is a storyteller specializing in historical stories. Carol has more than 20 available concerts, workshops, and in-service opportunities described at www.carolknarr.com.
(Posted June 2009)