(Published 2014. This is an article from our very popular free newsletter series. Come join us for content that is new first in the newsletter.)
Histrionics in Storytelling?
Histrionics is the use of drama, gestures and personal energy to express ideas and thoughts. In our application for oral storytelling, I am writing about how an artist uses drama in their storytelling presentations.
There are the purists of the world who say that storytelling should just be a simple recitation of the story. That is surely one approach and can work very well. I remember more than a dozen years ago sitting on grassy hill outside of a clam-shell bandstand, watching the late Kathryn Tucker Windham mesmerize an audience of thousands with simply by her cadence of words and tenderness of her story. She was essentially motionless, hands clasped in front of her as she leaned slightly down into the microphone. It remains one the more memorable moments from my story-watching history.
"Stay standing still" is just one point of view. A good storyteller is aware of what the audience "needs" from them at any given time. Over the many decades of my own storytelling work, I would probably be seen as a more "histrionic" storyteller, using an active combination of words, tone, gestures, sounds and emotions to convey the stories I tell. The use of these histrionic tools makes a more complete experience for my audiences.
You must decide what the right balance is for you as an artist and a story-bearer. Donít let anyone tell you that you are "too" dramatic to be a storyteller.
The thing that oral storytellers must bear in mind: storytelling is not acting. Histrionics are used to move the story, audience and teller forward. A storyteller is always ready to adjust their work. If your histrionics are so rigid that you must always do exact behaviors at exact moments, then youíve moved away from storytelling into the world of acting. Unlike actors, storytellers always let the interchange of energy between the audience and storyteller lead the way in making decisions in the delivery of the story.
If you want to read a bit more about this, take a look at my article at Storyteller.net entitled, "Flexible Storytelling Styles" where I describe how the same-location delivery of the same essential story set was changed for two very different audiences.
Sean Buvala is the director of Storyteller.net and a professional storytellers since 1986. Photo credit to Met Museum