4/17/2012 - StoryBlog
Practice, Practice, Practice!
It’s an old joke, but it still holds true: A young man with a violin case under his arm stops an older gentleman on the streets of New York City. The young man asks, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The older gentleman replies, “Practice, practice, practice!”

The same advice goes for storytellers, whether your destination is Jonesborough, the neighborhood library or the nearby elementary school: “Practice, practice, practice.”
How does one practice or rehearse storytelling? In front of the mirror; in front of the wall; telling to your cat or dog? Or do you just “think” about it? I have heard many tellers say that they “just run through it over and over in my mind.” Sounds a bit like Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man. He professed to teach the “Think System” of learning to play an instrument. Just think about the music, and you will be able to play it. In the storyline of the musical, it worked (a little). In real life…not so much.
In addition to crafting the story, you must also craft your performance. When will you speak louder, softer? When will you use a character voice, and what will it be? How will you gesture, in what exact way, and at what exact point? To be effective, you must make intentional decisions about these things, and then rehearse them intentionally. Just thinking about how you will do it when you get on stage will not cut it. (BTW, here's a great video on gestures from 25-year storytelling veteran Sean Buvala)
Storytellers must find a way to actually get up and rehearse the story out loud. You don’t have to do the whole story, start to finish, without stopping. Eventually you will need to rehearse it all the way through, but at the beginning, break it down into smaller, bite-size pieces.
I’m not a fan of practicing in front of a mirror, although it does work for some people. If you start that way, so you can observe yourself, eventually I believe you must move away from the mirror, and at minimum, face the empty room. Otherwise, you will always be focused on “what you look like” vs. being in the moment of the story, even in rehearsal.
Sometimes, rehearsing by yourself is the only option. If you must practice alone, here's a suggestion. Imagine your audience, whoever they may be, right there in front of you. As tellers, we see the images of the story in our heads and then describe the images to our audience. When practicing, we can do the same type of seeing an image of the audience before us. It should be the audience we will be telling to, a large group in an auditorium, a small group of students in a classroom, etc. Try putting yourself there, in the space that you will be in with your audience.
It is important, though, to make every effort to eventually practice in a group or even with one other person. Over and over; again and again. Do it over the phone, or use Skype, or have a coaching session, or practice with a “story buddy”. If you don’t rehearse with a real, live person, you are only practicing in a vacuum. You need that human factor to experience the rehearsing in full storytelling mode: story, teller and audience.
How do you get to a villa in Tuscany? Here’s the story.
One of my favorite tellers is Regi Carpenter. She is a mesmerizing storyteller who has won many awards and performed at many storytelling festivals, including Jonesborough. She is also on the faculty of Ithaca College in New York. In February of 2012, Regi decided to tell at Massmouth, a story slam in the Cambridge area. She won that week, and returned several weeks later to compete in the final “mouthoff”. She won first place. The prize? A one week stay in a villa in Tuscany, Italy!
Here’s the story behind her story.
The four minute story Regi told was a condensed version of a much longer story she had already been working on. Did she practice? You bet she did! She told the story to as many people as she could. She told it over the phone. She rehearsed by herself in her living room. She told it with friends on Skype. She honed and perfected her story and her performance. She told it with groups of trusted friends. Over and over again. Regi spent close to 60 hours on a four minute piece. Over half of that time was spent practicing on her own, or rehearsing in front of others. I submit that if she had used the Music Man’s “Think System” — that right now she would only be “thinking” of Tuscany vs. deciding what to pack! (Click here to see a video of Regi's perfomance from the February Slam)
Nature abhors a vacuum. Storytelling is the same. You don’t tell in a vacuum, so you shouldn't practice in one.

©Mark Goldman 2012

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For more information contact Mark Goldman - 602-390-3858 - Mark@Storytellermark.com


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