Frequently Asked Questions for Storytellers and Those Who Hire Them

Frequently Asked Questions for Storytellers and those who want to hire them!
By True Thomas

1. What should I expect at a storytelling event?
2. How do I hire a Storyteller?
3. What should I expect from a professional Storyteller?
4. What will ’Tellers expect from you?
5. How do I find a Storyteller?
6. How do I find Storytellers in Southern California?

1. What should I expect at a storytelling event? Storytelling is a strange thing. I belong to the Storytell Listserv where time and again people have tried to define what “storytelling” is. It can involve music, puppets, multiple tellers, props, improvisation, and more. Likewise, each storytelling event is a little different. Some feature a group of master tellers exploring themes like Fools and Wise Men, Tales of the Sea etc, Scary Stories, etc. Others feature one or two tellers, for an in-depth show. Yet another features up to 5 tellers in a great show…. At a festival, you get Olio’s (a group of tellers within a certain time) and features, showcases, etc. where a certain teller or group will hold the stage. These are examples, and there is a lot of variety. By and large storytelling events are on weekends and evenings, seating is a portable chair, indoors or outdoors, with snacks on hand (or for sale) and the show will last 2-3 hours. A festival can last up to 2-3 days, but you can come and go as you please. Unlike most performance type events, Storytellers interact at various levels with the audience, and storytelling audiences that “get into” stories are really fun. You meet great people, and might get to share a few of your own. And afterward, you’ll say, wow, I’ve got to tell my friends about this!

true thomas the storyteller in a black shirt and a red waistcoat storytelling2. How do I hire a Storyteller? First- GREAT! Thinking about hiring a teller! Bless you, spread the word, and keep the faith! Before you pick up the phone, here are some things to consider. Every Storyteller is different, but let’s make some assumptions. If you are hiring a storyteller, this is a business type decision. So just as any business would, you are hiring a contractor to come in and do a certain task. Storytellers are the most flexible people I know in terms of capabilities. Part of that comes from the art, as you can weave a story around almost anything. If you are hiring a storyteller, you’ll need to know your specifics, the Who/When/Where/Why/What/ and How.

A. Date, time, Location, Duration:

B. Type of stories/entertainment you want: What is the theme of the event, or type of audience. Often times the Teller can work with you to get “Just that special note” that makes an event memorable.

C. What kind of event it is: Quiet, rowdy, indoor, outdoors, etc.

D. What kind of audience: This is very important to the teller, as Traditional Whaling songs may not be appropriate for Greenpeace, etc. The teller will need to know as much as you can tell them about the type of people you are expecting. You need to know what your budget is: Generally professional Tellers have 4 deciding factors for gigs-

a. How big (30? 300? 1000?)
b. duration (several class rooms over a day, 1 half hour show, etc.)
c. How much Pre-work will be necessary (Am I researching stories for this event i.e. Stories about Garlic for a Garlic Festival, or just telling fun stories to a group of Adults/Kids/Prisoners, etc.)
d. How far the teller needs to go. (How much time will it take to get there, and back, etc.)

Understand that a storyteller is just like anyone else, in that they need to make a living. Things like Medical, Dental, Taxes, Insurance, Rent, Food, Kids, Computers, Publicity, Gas, Auto maintenance, etc. all need to be taken into consideration of the rate of a teller. You as an event producer, have some things you can sweeten the deal with- If a Teller is going to get a lot publicity, spend the night in a great seaside hotel, etc. Fun enters into it- if this is a worthy cause, they could be more flexible. Likewise, if you want a certain teller but your budget is tight, with a little legwork, you could maybe help line up some other gigs at schools etc. Then as a package, everyone will get a lower rate, and a lot more storytelling. Most tellers will be happy to give you a rate, and explain it over the phone. Tellers depend on good word of mouth (literally) and so if the teller is a working professional, they’ll be able to help you. My observations as to the types of tellers… (These are the opinions of True, and not those of anyone else….)

“A Full time Teller”

Usually has literature, a website, tapes, etc. They run it as a business, and make their living telling stories, offering workshops, etc. They have contracts and info packages. (Pro’s and Con’s: Pro- High reliability, consistent performances, more flexible schedules, and usually better known. Cons: Booking needs to be done earlier, sometimes tellers get a little burned out, prices can be higher.)

“A Part-Time Teller” Is somebody who does not do it full time. Storytelling supplements their income, and there may not be a big enough market in their area to support a full time teller, etc. The Full-time teller life is a hard one, and the fluctuations of the freelance market are not well understood by landlords and kids. It’s not for everyone. Also, some tellers come to storytelling later in life- and want to finish their 20 years as an executive, or whatever. I want to point out that many of these “Part-Time” tellers can be every bit as good as a “Full-time teller”.

(Pro’s and Con’s: Pro- Reliable, more flexible in terms of creating/researching, etc. usually not as expensive. Con’s: Schedule is not as flexible {A teacher might have mornings locked up etc.} so availability increases with notice. They may not be as well known. Consistency is less “locked”)

“Pro-bono Teller/ Almost free”

This could be a retiree, a person just doing it for the love of telling, someone developing their chops, etc. Most Pro and Semi-Pro tellers do a number of Pro-bono gigs for good causes as well. In this case, things like reliability, and ability are totally subjective. You get what you pay for. Sometimes you can get an incredible teller for nothing. Or one that blows you off, or goes on and on, and on.

The important thing to remember is that whenever a teller endeavors to entertain, this is a skill, and effort. Do what you can to repay the intent and effort, even if that’s a thank you note, gift bag, etc.

True’s hiring tips:

– Sometimes a teller who is “known” for a certain thing- kids, Celtic, etc. is dying to try out some new material, new audiences. This can help you get some tellers who are looking to expand their markets! And get you a great teller who has their “chops” down.

– Lead-time is a great thing- and a locked in gig, with months in advance and with creative license for the teller can really be enticing.

– The more you do follow-up, write thank you letters, get positive comments from the audience and pass them on, etc, the more you support the teller.

– This is an art form, and one that needs promoters. In turn that Teller can turn you onto a lot of other good tellers, make suggestions and more!

3. What should I expect from a professional Storyteller? Every teller is different, just like most businesses. Some are happy with a verbal contract over the phone (and legally binding), and others might fax you a contract. A Pro should give you the following:

A. Show up on time, with a little lead-time for “surprises”

B. Appropriate dress, and performance material. Material should be pre-agreed on.

C. PR photos/ headshots for you to use, as well as a bio and introduction.

D. They should hit their marks in terms of length, and produce a “quality product” (No two audiences are alike, so you never know. The important thing is that the teller gets up and delivers a consistent and reasonable story)

E. They should be able to furnish you with a receipt, upon request. (It will usually be sent once they get home).

F. They telephone/e-mail contact numbers to get a hold of them in case of emergencies.

G. When dealing with guests, VIP’s and audience members, they should reflect well on the craft of Storytelling and your event (patience, charming, etc.)

H. They are guests, and should not breach etiquette or hospitality.

I. They should be willing to allow for publicity both for and after events. (The event producer should tell them ahead of time what this might entail….)

J. Every Teller should leave an event with good thoughts about storytelling in the minds of the producers and audience about them, and storytelling in general.

4. What will ’Tellers expect from you? Tellers need you to help create the mood, the environment where they can work their magic. The producer is the unseen partner of the teller. Here are some suggestions, no particular order.

Well, first, the tellers are going to need all the information covered in “how to hire a teller”. Care and feeding of a Teller is not that hard. Tellers will need accurate maps and contact numbers to get a hold of you. One of these numbers has to be a way to get a hold of you just before a gig (if someone gets lost, calling your home won’t help…)

Most tellers are pretty flexible, but “big surprises” like promising an audience of 30 and ending up with a hall of 300, is likely to be a bit flustering. They will need a “handler” who will meet the teller, get them situated, and help move them and their gear as need be. If your venue includes kids, kid wranglers are a must, and they should know not to interrupt the teller if at all possible (quietly removing unruly kids, etc.)

If dealing with kids, sitting some adults in the audience is a good idea. Sometimes, tellers get treated like “a video tape” and the parents/ teachers/hosts proceed to talk loudly in the background. Likewise, if a teller is performing at a large function, giving them a quiet corner, or room to perform in will make all the difference. Let your crew know that the respect they pay the teller will influence the audience.

Having a quiet place to change clothes, rehearse, and stow gear securely is very handy. For the record, changing clothes in a public bathroom is awkward at best. If you will need sound or lighting, these need to be resolved and tested before the teller arrives. Any gig with more than 30 people could require a sound system. Having water available, and place for the teller to rest, and eat off stage is good too!

Most tellers would prefer a check made out to them, given to them at the end of the performance. They will need to examine it (nothing personal, just to make certain names, and prices are correct) on site. With any publicity (clippings, posters, etc.), copies should be given to the teller. Likewise, taking photo’s at the gig is usually okay, but not during a dramatic part of the story (unless you are using a professionally “blimped”) camera. Tellers and producers always need new photos.

A teller may leave a follow up sheet, for you to make suggestions and offer compliments, likewise getting feedback from the audience and passing that on that as well can be truly helpful. Always keep track of what stories a teller tells, just in case they’ll be back- and you may or may not want a repeat.

If the Teller has a lot of gear, or needs to deal with a dark parking lot at night, be aware- the teller does not know what you know. A little help can go a long way, so the “handlers” should make certain everything is okay from beginning to end. (The handlers are best if they are calm types, who know who the players are.)

Onstage, a Teller may need a mike either on a stand or a clip on. Plan for sound checks. Tell your sound person that tellers have a pretty big dynamic range. Often times, Full or Part time tellers will have their own mikes, and sound systems. Check compatibilities and needs. Tellers might need a stool to sit on (not too low) or table to set stuff on. Lighting should be high enough in the audience for the teller to make eye contact (and if the house spot is on, it’s like being speared like a bug) – tellers like to see their audiences.

Audiences- not too warm, not too long, not too noisy. If you’ve parked the audience in a thoroughfare, with an electric band and a jumper nearby, and with no shade… then the teller will be talking to only a few people. This is what we call “Storytelling Hell”. Give the teller a pleasant non-distracting environment, cool-ish, and a visual place to look for cues from the stage manager. Some tellers make ask you to give them time cues, or be in a certain place if they need to ask someone to adjust audio, or deal with an audience member.

All in all, a little planning and consideration can make for an incredible storytelling event.

5. How do I find a Storyteller? Before you look for one, have in mind the kind of event and teller you might need. Because once you get on the phone, the creative part of you joins the business part of you. Hopefully when you talk to the teller you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you want. This will cut down on the phone time, and let the teller work with you on the creative side. What kind of stories do we want to do! Every teller has specialties and strengths. Some are good with kids, others with adults, and some with corporate types.

One of the best ways to find storytellers is to go to storytelling events. You get to see them in action. Talk to the event coordinators (usually a few days after the show). Check web pages (like ours) or the National Storytelling Network –This is a directory on the network, as well as the regional Liaisons at who can give you recommendations. Likewise, here at , there is a handy directory. Every teller I know has favorite tellers they like- and will be glad to refer you. If at all possible talk to people who have seen the teller in action, and see if there are tapes, audio or video available.

Tellers come from all walks of life, and there are people who might not think of themselves as storytellers, but are absolutely wonderful speakers, and natural tellers. So keep an open mind, and look for those people. But remember that this person may not be comfortable in front of a mike with 50 people watching them intently. So a few dry runs might be in order.

Good Luck and may your stories be Legendary!-

True Thomas is an experienced storyteller, performer and author living in California.

This article first appeared in 2001. The contents expressed in any article on are solely the opinion of author. Articles are under © and should not be used without permission of the author. Contact us if you have questions.