Storyteller Kevin Strauss explains how storytelling can be fun if one learns the basics.
Storyteller Kevin Strauss explains how storytelling can be fun if one learns the basics.
If only the first two little pigs had gotten that "straw and twigs don't withstand huffs" thing...

"We, as humans, need stories...and we look at our lives forward but understand them backwards," said storyteller Kevin Strauss, speaking to a gathering of storytelling enthusiasts attending his beginners' and advanced tellers' workshops at the Lanesboro Public Library on Saturday, Jan. 19. This program was sponsored by the Minnesota State Arts Board through a grant from the state arts and cultural heritage fund.

He opened the workshop by asking participants to introduce themselves and tell why they were in attendance. Then he told his adaptation of Aesop's fable of the lion and the mouse.

"The Amazing Mouse," a tiny creature that dared to touch a lion's nose, had her life spared by the lion and later saved his life by freeing him from a hunter's net. Strauss shared that there are several different kinds of stories, including anecdotes and fables, fairy tales, folk tales, historic stories, ghost stories and myths, and that they were all passed down through storytelling, as written stories have been in existence for "only the past 8,000 to 10,000 years," and in America, "for only the past 500 years, if that."

The author and speaker, who has also worked as a nature center storyteller, said, "Stories help people learn things, make connections between people, are fun for people while they're learning, and they often motivate change."

An example of a folk tale Strauss gave and told was about "Chanticleer," a rooster whose confidence got him into and out of serious trouble with a fox, as Chanticleer was completely certain that his crowing made the sun come up each day, and the unimpressed fox was completely certain that a mouthful of quieted rooster might be tasty, until Chanticleer asked the question that made the fox open his mouth, affording the chatterbox chick the chance to flap into a treetop.

"The difference between a folk tale and a fairy tale has a lot to do with the defining factor of a fairy tale, which is that it has a lot of magical elements, while a folk tale is passed down from person to person and often has a lesson," he specified. "All fairy tales are folk tales, but not all folk tales are fairy tales."

He elaborated on the differences between Greek and Norse myths, the difference between an anecdote and a personal story, and explained that "historic stories happened to someone else," and that "there's a huge difference between a story about something that happened to you and a story that's ready for the stage."

Strauss demonstrated this to the participants by having them map out drawings of "story scenes," or four stages of a familiar children's story or an Aesop's fable, in the quadrants of a square box, as doing so would help mark the important tenets of each story.

Attendees then told their chosen stories in a matter of 30 seconds, attempting to engage their listeners with the plot, adding details as the time allotted was expanded to 45 seconds and then one whole minute, and eventually, after much practice, two whole minutes.

Strauss asked the participants to describe what their trials were in telling the stories each time, as well as what they enjoyed about relaying the tales and adding details and theatrical flourishes, such as character voices. They related that in the first telling, they felt rushed, lost track of story lines, missed important details and generally felt flustered, and that in subsequent tellings, they were able to master the techniques because they were more familiar with their stories and had more time to tell them.

The professional storyteller advised the beginning storytellers to "choose a story that you love, because it makes it's a little like making friends."

The afternoon session featured more stories from Strauss and tutorials on "how to turn 'okay stories' into amazing stories" through the use of techniques learned that morning as well as exploring the use of personal space, more theatrical inflection and plenty of practice, practice, practice, practice and more practice. Time was spent, as well, evaluating whether one's story was told effectively.

Strauss closed with a story, of course, reminding workshop participants to look for the stories that enchant them and to go out and take those stories to the people, "like pipes bring water" to the flames coming off the tail of the Big Bad Wolf, who might've managed to blow down the first two little pigs' homes but got a hot tail at the end of the tale.

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