With the school year beginning, I find it necessary to go back to basics. By basics, I mean returning to my roots as a teller of African & African American folktales. That being said, I recall the first storytelling workshop I ever attended by master storyteller, Jackie Torrence. She was known for her Appalachian Jack Tales, Brer Rabbit Stories, and ‘Jump Tales’. Jump tales are suspenseful stories wherein the teller draws in the listener and then at its climax, causes the listener to JUMP in fright. Though she is no longer with us, she still is relevant to the storytelling world and remains a huge influence on me and the way in which I tell stories.

Over the years, to improve and grow as a teller, I have taken many workshops on a variety of storytelling topics such as cultural, healing, historical, and personal stories. However, I always refer to this first workshop because it established a solid foundation for me to build my craft. The knowledge I gained from her was invaluable and here are six of the tips she passed along. So enjoy and take notes!

  • To be a good storyteller one must be a good listener – Go to festivals, conferences, story swaps, meetings, etc. and listen to the tellers. See what works for them and how they connect to the listener using their voice, language, sound effects, props, word choice, music, etc.
  • Make the story fit me and not someone else – Tell stories through your distinctive style and voice. Not everyone is the same type of teller. There is no set model one has to fit in order to be a storyteller.
  •  Only tell stories you like – Don’t tell a story just because it is popular or you feel pressured by peers and colleagues to do so. The story may simply not be for you.
  •  Make people visualize the story – Paint mental images of your story’s characters so that the listener can see what is happening. The listener needs something they can connect with in the story or else they will be lost.
  •  Know your audience – Learn how to read your audience and have material suitable for them. Your repertoire needs to have enough stories so that you can accommodate different groups of listeners. Don’t use the wrong story for the wrong group, i.e. don’t use children’s stories for adults.
  •  Read! Read! Read! And Practice! Make sure you have gained everything you need from reading of a story before you perform the tale. The reading may take twenty minutes or twenty years. Words and phrases may have to be changed in order to be current with the times. Give easy definitions by putting the right pictures and words together.

Now this not the only advice she shared, but these six tips are the ones which I find the most relevant and continue to be part of my routine when preparing new material. So, with that in mind, I say class dismissed or as Jackie would put it, “And … that’s … the … end … of … that!”

Find out more about Jackie Torrence at www.jackietorrence.com/.

Chetter Galloway

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