Right now, story troupes are forming in Beaufort. One goal is to compete in the Liars Competition, part of the BIG Story Fest in April. Two other goals are education and audible joy.
Storytelling is a significant art form, both in magnitude and in its mythology-aged origins, but when you start examining it, as we did earlier this month at ARTworks and Beaufort Middle School, you'll also find that storytelling has the welcoming simplicity of a campfire.
"Storytelling is an art form, an educational tool, the most powerful tool for communication," said JW Rone, the executive director of ARTworks and who put together this program. "It's entertainment, a way to share history and culture. We are all storytellers."
Earlier this month, Judy Sima flew in from Michigan to lead workshops for artists and educators to help get the troupes started. "I can hold eighth-graders in the palm of my hand," Sima said, "on a Friday afternoon, full of sugar, on a full moon. That's the power of storytelling."
She wrote a textbook called, "Raising Voices." With her guidance, we got on our feet, formed some stories and practiced, practiced, practiced. The homework was to practice, practice, practice, too (note that repetition is a common device in storytelling), so as I raked the yard, my dogs heard my story a few times too.
Sima shared her "bare bones stories" method, which starts with a selection of summaries, just a few skeletal sentences, each of fables, folktales and ghost stories. I like this approach because inspiration isn't always worth waiting for, but good stories are always worth adapting. LaShanta Smith, who is a spoken word artist and educator, chose "The North Wind and the Sun," about a bet between the two to make a man take off his coat.
"The theme of my spoken word work is personal, real-life stuff, but stepping in as a narrator of this other story, of a tale, expanded my bag of creative goodies," Smith said. "I felt very liberated with the freedom of storytelling; it stretched my creative muscles."
Smith will mentor in the storytelling troupe program. Troupers can be young and old, people who want to adapt stories or create new ones, people who want to explore the branches of storytelling.
In another session, Natalie Daise -- the well known actor-storyteller-artist -- worked with Christine Warner's sixth-graders at Beaufort Middle. Natalie started with a vocal warmup that sounded like a siren. "Let's get the diaphragm loose, get the motion going," she explained as her arms rose and fell with the tones. "Sometimes you're speaking, and your throat gets tight."
After the kids shared their new stories about personal adventures ("One hot summer day on a sandbar around Port Royal ...") Natalie gave them feedback in her vivacious, mothering way.
"It's not about the movie, it's not about the popcorn, it's about the challenge," she pointed out to one girl who hadn't described anything about the jumbo burger at the center of her story. Natalie identified the missing details, and then she and each storyteller visualized the scene out loud, pulling out the colors and sensations like they were picking from a menu.
One aspect commonly left out was a good ending. A student would say "-- and that's the end," after teasing us with a story about "how my best friend and I got into a fist fight," and neglecting to inform us eager listeners of the consequences, the results, the final score. Natalie pressed them further, "Think about your audience," she prompted.
"And those were the only pair of flip-flops I had," one student concluded poignantly.
"That thing scares me. To this day," another said, extending her story just one, helpful bit.
Stories are usually just a few minutes long, even after all the work and preparation and long history and deep breaths. But, a few minutes of a live voice, of open ears and of fired-up imaginations are the vital details of community and creativity.