Frequently Asked Questions
for Storytellers and those who want to hire them
What should I expect at a storytelling event?
Storytelling is a strange thing. 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 events feature a group of master tellers exploring themes like Fools and Wise Men, Tales of the Sea, Scary Stories, etc. Others feature one or two tellers, for an in-depth show. Yet another features up to five tellers in a great show. At a festival, could have a group of storytellers within a certain time, plus features and showcases when a certain storyteller or group will hold the stage.
Most storytelling events are held on weekends and evenings. Typical seating is provided with portable chair. The events could be indoors or outdoors (with shade), and often with snacks on hand or concessions for sale. Most shows last between two to three hours. A festival can span two or three days, when the audience can come and go as they please. 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!”
How do I hire a Storyteller?
First, great! You’re thinking about hiring a storyteller! 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 since you are hiring a storyteller, this is a business decision. You are hiring a contractor to come in and perform a specific task. Storytellers can often be extremely flexible people. Part of that comes from the art, as they can weave a story around almost anything.
When it’s time to hire a storyteller, you’ll need to know your specifics: Who, When, Where, Why, What, and How.
- Date, time, location, and duration
- Type of stories/entertainment you want: What is the theme of the event, or type of audience? Often times the storyteller can work with you to get “just that special note” that makes an event memorable.
- What kind of event it is: Quiet, rowdy, indoor, outdoors?
- What kind of audience: This is very important to the storyteller, since Traditional Whaling songs are likely not appropriate for Greenpeace. Your storyteller will need to know as much as you can tell them about the type of people you are expect in your audience.
- What is your budget? Typically, professional storytellers have four deciding criteria:
- Expected audience size (30, 300, 1000+?)
- Duration and number of performances (30-minute show, several panels and workshops in a day, full weekend?)
- Preparation required (additional research, new performance material, or current repetoire)
- Travel (mileage and time for round-trip to the venue)
Understand that a Professional Storyteller is just like anyone else, making a living. You, as an event producer, can sweeten the deal with how much publicity you can put into the event, great location, fantastic accommodations. And when your event is for a worthy cause, you may find that some Storytellers have added flexibility. If you want to hire a Storyteller but your event’s budget is tight, perhaps you can help line up some other local paying gigs (schools, museums, professional organizations, etc.). By helping book a package, everyone can get a lower rate and more storytelling. Most storytellers will be happy to give you a rate over the phone.
Various Types of Storytellers
These have been my observations over the years.
- Full-time Storyteller: Usually has literature, a website, tapes, CDs, etc. They run their storytelling as a business, and make their living telling stories, offering workshops, etc. They have contracts and information packages. Some pros and cons: High reliability, consistent performances, more flexible schedules, and often better known. However, booking needs to be done earlier, prices can be higher.
- Part-time Storyteller: Storytelling supplements their income. There may not be a big enough market in their area to support a full time storyteller. Since the full-time storyteller life can be difficult, the fluctuations of the freelance market may not be suitable for families with other obligations. However, it is important to note that many part-time storytellers are just as excellent as the full-time storytellers. Some pros and cons: Reliable, more flexible in terms of creating/researching, usually not as expensive. However, schedule is not as flexible since they may have a full-time, day job. They may not be as well known.
- Pro-bono Storyteller/ 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 storytellers do a number of pro-bono gigs for charity causes or fundraising. Some pros and cons: 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. Other times you might have someone less reliable or with less polished technique.
The important thing to remember is that whenever a storyteller 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, a gift bag, or a small token of your gratitude.
True’s Hiring Tips
- Sometimes a storyteller who is “known” for a certain thing–kids, Celtic, puppetry–is dying to try out some new material on 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. A locked-in gig with several months advance notice and creative license for the storyteller can really be enticing.
- The more you do follow-up, write thank you letters, get positive comments from the audience and pass them on, the more you support the storyteller.
- This is an art form and one that needs promoters. In turn, your storyteller can introduce you to other good storyteller, performers, and event opportunities.
What should I expect from a professional Storyteller?
Every storyteller is different, just like most businesses. Some are happy with a verbal contract over the phone (and legally binding), and others might email you a contract. A professional should give you the following.
- Show up on time, with a little lead-time for “surprises”
- Appropriate dress, and performance material. Material should be pre-agreed upon.
- PR photos or headshots for you to use, as well as a bio and introduction.
- 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 sotryteller gets up and delivers a consistent and reasonable story.
- They should be able to furnish you with a receipt, upon request. It will usually be sent once they get home.
- They telephone/e-mail contact numbers to get a hold of them, in case of emergencies.
- When dealing with guests, VIPs, and audience members, they should reflect well on the craft of Storytelling and your event with patience, charm, etc.
- They are guests and should not breach etiquette or hospitality.
- 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.
- Every storyteller should leave an event with good thoughts about storytelling in the minds of the producers and audience about them, and storytelling in general.
What will storytellers expect from you?
Storytellers 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 of my favorite suggestions.
First, a storyteller needs all the information covered above under the heading “How to hire a storyteller.” Care and feeding of a storyeller is not that hard. They need accurate maps, directions, and contact numbers to get a hold of you. One of these numbers has to be a way to get a hold of you ON-SITE, just before a gig. If they are lost or having trouble with parking, calling your home won’t help.
Most storytellers 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 may need a handler to greet them when they arrive, 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, storytellers get treated as if they were just a recorded television performance, and adults (whether parents, teachers, or hosts proceed to talk loudly in the background). Likewise, if a storyteller is performing at a large function, providing a quiet corner or room to perform in will make all the difference. Let your crew know that the respect they pay the storyteller 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 your event needs sound or lighting, these should be resolved and tested before the storyteller arrives. Any gig with more than 30 people could require a sound system. Have water available and place for the storyteller to rest or eat off-stage can be extremely valuable.
Most storytellers 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. If you have produced any publicity (news clippings, posters, flyers, etc.), copies should be given to the storyteller. Likewise, taking photos at the gig is usually okay, but no flash photography during a dramatic part of the story. Storytellers and producers always need new photos.
A storyteller 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 which stories your performer told, just in case they’ll be returning for a future event. You may or may not want a repeated story at the next performance.
If the storyteller has a lot of gear or needs to deal with a dark parking lot at night, please be aware that the storyteller does not know the area the way you do. A little help can go a long way, so the “handlers” should make certain everything is okay from beginning to end. These should be your most trusted and calm crew members.
Onstage, a storyteller may need a microphone on a stand or a clip-on wireless. Plan for sound checks. Tell your sound person that tellers have a pretty big dynamic range. Many full-time or part-time storytellers can bring their own sound systems and microphones. Check the compatibility of their system. Your storytellers might need a stool or a chair, sometimes a table for props or gear. Lighting should be high enough in the audience for the storyteller to make eye contact since storytellers like to see their audiences. Spotlights are usually overkill.
To take care of your audience, you want the venue to be not too warm, the event not too long, the environment not too noisy. If you’ve parked the audience a high-traffic area, in the sun, next to the amplified band and a bouncy-house jumper, then your storyteller will be talking to only a few people. Please try to give your storyteller the most pleasant, non-distracting environment possible. Shade outdoors is a must. Non-competing sound systems is ideal. It can be very helpful to have a stage manager within sight that can give cues about time, make adjustments to the audio levels, or deal with disruptive audience member. All in all, a little planning and consideration can make for an incredible storytelling event.
How do I find a Storyteller?
Before you look for one, have in mind the kind of event and storyteller you might need. Once you get on the phone, the creative part of you joins the business part of you. If you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you want, then the storyteller can work with you on the creative side. What kind of stories do we want to do? Every storyteller 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 with other event coordinators (usually a few days after the show). Check the websites of different storytellers, and check the National Storytelling Network — Contact one of the NSN State Liaisons who can give you recommendations. Every storyteller I know has favorite storytellers they like and will gladly to refer you. If at all possible, talk to people who have seen a storyteller in action. Check for tapes, audio, or video available.
Storytellers 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. Keep an open mind and look for those people.