Thursday, April 30, 2020

Google Meets and Zoom Performance. It's a New World


Well, like a lot of people, my work dried up. Boom. Stopped. No income. This, I believe is the same for any performing artist, and entertainer. It even effects the music, theatre, tv and film industries as studios and the like shut up shop during the COVID-19 lock-down.

Compared to the average actor, as a storyteller I don't need a script or director to do work, I can make stuff up on the fly. I don't need a stage, editor, sound crew. I have experience of doing a lot of this myself as I travel about the country, when the world is less pandemic!

I have been fortunate. I have set up my own very make-shift and somewhat chilly studio in my garage. There's no fancy or expensive gear, just a bunch of jimmied together lights, my old laptop, and some sheets and the backdrops I use when I travel around schools, colleges and libraries.
It doesn't look too bad when I broadcast. It sounds pretty good too. The garage has served as a 'play space' for the kids since we moved into the house, so it's had carpet pieces on the floor since we moved in, old chairs, a dilapidated karaoke machine, and as you can see, my record collection, and very old turntable.

I have already done a number of school presentations, and this weekend - starting tonight - I have a couple of events I am broadcasting live. One of this weekend's performances is an event for a now-cancelled festival I was supposed to travel to in Woodruff, South Carolina earlier this month. To keep the festival alive and in people's minds, the storytellers and producers got together to present a one hourish show, each of us performing for ten minutes, each of us broadcasting from our homes. Tonight, Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, I am doing three more performances (from my garage in isolation) for the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College, under their HopStop program.
So what's it like performing for an audience who is not there with you? Odd. Decidedly odd. I am feeling more nervous before an event than normal, but it is a different sort of nervousness. Before getting out in front of a live audience, one who is there to reach out and touch, if one was so inclined, there is an electric nervousness, one full of energy and vitality. The 'anxiety' before going live without a 'studio audience' feels, for me anyway, how I felt before sitting for an exam at high school! Not the same feeling at all.

If you make a rare mistake with a live, physical audience, you can play with it, because, as a storyteller, there is no real fourth wall. Or if there is you can easily break it. If you make a mistake when broadcasting live you don't see if the audience noticed or not, you can't see their reaction if they do notice it. You cannot respond, alter and correct. I mean, you can, but... You can't be as playful as you might have been.

Performing live as a storyteller, there is a flexibility to the performance, there is spontaneity, you feed from that audience. For me, there is a buzz, or natural high coming off the stage, or stepping away from 200 kids sitting on a gym floor. There's often an unscheduled Q & A afterwards, hand shaking, high-fives, the noise and excitement of people leaving, chatting to one another. You see people walking away smiling, laughing.

In my garage it is very different. It's a kind of sterile feeling. There's no one to engage with before the performance starts. When I look into the lens on my old laptop and say, "Hello! How is everyone today?" There's no 'visible/auditory' hello back. If you're doing a Facebook Live event you wonder if there is anyone watching. You know there is when there's a ping, or smiley face that wobbles up the screen, or someone posts a comment. On Google Meetings and Zoom you see a few faces on the side, but you wonder if they are able to engage and commit to the story you're telling, or if there are too many distractions in the house - is there a screaming baby, a FedEx delivery, someone that needs help with the at-home schooling. There's the concern for me that the internet might crash. And yet, I feel that I put more energy into a digital performance than a live one. I feel I have to overcome the portal I travel through into people's homes. Sometimes there's a pause between the stories where the audience on Zoom or Google Meetings can show their appreciation when the moderator or host opens the mics on the audience! For a moment there's a buzz, and then back to me in the garage and the sound of my own voice.

The performances I have thus far done, when it's over, have allowed for an on-line meet and greet, a Q & A and a quick chat with the host or moderator, then, click - leave the meeting. It's a good feeling that I come away with. There are smiles, positive comments, even - "we should do this again, it works really well." But then quickly and quietly I am in the garage turning off the equipment, rejoining the family upstairs. The high isn't there, but there is a sense of well-being and satisfaction. Not a self-congratulatory feeling, just a good feeling, a warm feeling.

Sometimes you get a glimpse into people's homes, and you might get a sense that some are struggling more than others during this time. I feel, I hope, in that brief moment of time I told the stories, those characters, those scenes, transported the listeners. The listeners who, like me, had to work a little harder to hear and see in their minds-eye those same scenes and characters, were taken out of their new normal and went somewhere with me to a place that offered hope, transformation and a bit of a giggle even for a brief moment, and they found some joy.

Friday, January 03, 2020

The Darkness of "Rinkrank", Grimm tale No. 196

I was recently reminded of a story I read a Long Time Ago. It never really appealed to me at the time, but on re-reading it, now, with 16 years of experience as a professional teller of tales, it has a very different sound to it.
The story of "Old Rinkrank" is tale No. 196 in the sixth edition of Grimm's Children's and Household Tales. It was collected by the brothers, found in Frisian Archiv von Ehrentraut - the archive of Ehrentraut.
The basic story is this: King has a glass mountain 'created.' Anyone wishing to marry his daughter has to cross the mountain, and if they fail, they lose their heads. A young man wants to marry said princess, who goes with him to help. She falls through the mountain herself and vanishes as it seals up. Young man goes back to king. King 'brings down' glass mountain. Girl finds herself in the bowels of the earth confronted by an old man with a long grey beard. He makes her his slave and takes her to his cave home/dwelling. Daily he leaves the cave-home climbing a ladder to the top world, returning with gold and silver. This is Rinkrank. When the princess becomes old, he tells her his name and names her Mother Mansrot. She has enough and plans her own escape. She lays a trap for him and locks his beard in a window. He eventually tells her where the ladder is, which she finds. She climbs up the ladder and with a string she has with her, attached at the other end to the window, releases Rinkrank from the trap. Princess goes home, tells her father the king, who digs up the underground lair, and kills Old Rinkrank. Princess marries her sweetheart who is still waiting on her and all live Happily Ever After.
This, to me, is a very different and sinister if not outright dark fairy tale, which I recently reacquainted with through the legendary Gwenda Ledbetter. When I re-read it today, I find a story unlike many others. To begin with the princess is old when she gets married. She rescues herself. She is renamed by her captor, who appears to only reveal his name years later when she is grey.
Let’s dig in.
Looking deeply into Old Rinkrank, if the king has the glass mountain made, he would have known that the mountain would open up and reseal itself. Did he plan to have his daughter vanish, or was the plan that his daughter would never marry? Was the mountain designed to capture the suitors, who would fall through the magical glass, never to be seen again? The king, then, would not have to marry his daughter off. If she were married there was always the possibility that the king would lose his kingdom. Kings and queens were often overthrown or murdered back then. Glass is a liquid, and quite often liquid is seen as representing love - Cups in Tarot etc.. Is the king freezing the love of his daughter as the glass mountain? The princess obviously loves this suitor (not a prince, or if he is, it is not specified) as she says she will go with him to help him succeed. The king does not object, so does he even know? Does she sneak off in secret to assist her true love?
Did the king know of the old man, Rinkrank? Again, he should if he had had the mountain built. Was the old man Rinkrank there to 'take care of' any falling suitor? Daily, Rinkrank goes to collect gold and silver. Is this his promised payment from the king in return for his deadly services? With the princess captured, is the payment now a bribe or ransom?
The king, frightened that the truth might come out, brings down the glass mountain. After all, neither he nor the suitor go in search of the princess. And Rinkrank hiding in his underground cave dwelling/home, collects the money still, presumably not giving away the secret to the king's daughter. She is made a servant, a slave to Rinkrank. The old man gives her the choice of slavery or death. She picks for the former and cleans and cooks for him. Everyday Rinkrank leaves, climbing a giant ladder to the above ground. He pulls this out of his pocket. Once up there he pulls the ladder after him only to return with the gold and silver.
For years she works for Rinkrank, and when she is grey and old, he names her Mother Manrot, and tells her his name. Bear in mind these stories are old and life expectancy was not as it is today. The king might have made it to fifty, so, if he had her when he was sixteen to eighteen years of age, not uncommon then, she would be around thirty years old now in the story, possibly. Why name her now? Did he feel he is losing his power over her and wants to strengthen that grip? The names are not kind nicknames but harsh names. Does Rinkrank smell? Mother Manrot - has she become rotten herself, or so ugly her appearance makes him rot? This is not important. Naming things - oneself or others - is powerful; that is what is important, and that she is there a long time before he names her and reveals his name. If it is because he feels his grip over her is weakening, and the naming will stop this, it backfires! It is at this point she decides to escape.
A colleague of mine, Charles Kiernan pondered on a possible Bruno Bettelheim explanation… The conflict and struggle between Mother Mansrot and Old Rinkrank reflects the internal struggle of an individual in whom the authoritarian superego (Rinkrank) has subjugated the id (the princess’s wants and desires) until the ego (in a burst of tenacity) releases the superego’s stranglehold and restores equilibrium, allowing the individual to reintegrate their personality.
Kiernan does not think this is the real reason. But the naming has to be the catalyst that has her finish her chores and then set a trap for Old man Rinkrank. She locks up the house, doors and all but one window - a small window which she leaves open and attaches a string to. She goes to another part of the house. Rinkrank arrives home and demands to be let in. The princess refuses. He finds the open window and puts his beard through planning on following, but the princess yanks on the string which traps his beard. He pulls and tugs but she will not let him free until he gives up where he keeps the ladder. We know from earlier in the tale that it is kept in his pocket, and he pulls it up after him once he has ascended. There must be another, as he admits it is hidden with the treasure. She finds it, climbs it, adds to the length of string until she is at the top and only then frees Rinkrank.
The princess, leaving Rinkrank to nurse his beard, runs off back to her castle. Her father and suitor are still alive and there waiting for her. The king immediately acts. The king has the old man killed - to keep his treachery concealed, I presume. They take the money, and the princess and her suitor are married -  and they All Live Happily Ever After.
This is, or could be, a very duplicitous story. The king is a complete tyrant, at least from this point of view. What are the king and the suitor doing all this time? Presumably the marriage would have taken place when she was sixteen at the latest, if this is a very old story, making her absence last fourteen years. If the plan was to be rid of the princess all along, and the suitor was in on this, why did they get married? Maybe the suitor figured out what happened, sent her a message, and he and the princess killed the king as soon as they could. This story provokes so many questions and gets me all excited about all the possible answers, and which ones are most relevant for today's audience.
Old Rinkrank is interesting and, if taken from this point of view, very dark indeed! I love it. I might, of course, be reading way too much into the story. But it is fun to ponder on these things.
What would you have the princess do? Is the suitor as much as a tyrant as the king? Is the story pure entertainment, the sort of Michael Creighton, Lisa Unger, Gillian Flynn, or Patterson story of it’s time? What are your thoughts? How would you tackle the story?
Curiously,
Simon

Monday, September 09, 2019

Timpanogos Storytelling Fetival 2019

I have just returned from the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, out in Utah. What a festival! Set in Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point, Lehi, you would not want a better venue. Beautiful gardens, paths, waterfalls, falling water pools surround the huge tents which house some of the best storytellers sharing their craft. From tellers like myself sharing the traditional tales, to the brilliant Bil Lepp with his tall tales, there was the powerful, gracious and witty Carmen Deedy, the clever and humourous Tim Lowery, the musically crafty Anne Rutherford, Don White with his dry wit and heartfelt and funny songs, Antonio Rocha dancing his way gracefully through his stories, both fairy tales and personal stories (I love this guy and his work), Motoko with her amazing craft, school girl giggle and wonderful stories, Andy Hedges telling us stories about the songs his sings (another favourite of mine), the impeccable and immaculate Donald Davis, the cheeky, fun Barbara McBride-Smith, and the sweet, and lovely Sheila Starks Phillips who will surprise you with her tales! I also got to ‘sit in’ with a wonderful duo called Tiny Home made up of Sonya Cotton and Gabe Dominguez, who on Tuesday night played a fabulous version of ‘All the Pretty Little Horses.’ And we got to see Chris Osmond open up the festival on Thursday night. That’s Donny’s son, I think.
Not Chris, but me telling the school children
Antonio did a set of stories Tuesday night, when I first saw Tiny Home at a wonderful gazebo in town. A large family arrived late so he and I did an impromptu set for them after and ended up getting more people show up to listen. The sunset which happened behind the audience was amazing, and Antonio, of course, wound it into one of his stories. I got to see tellers I have never seen before like Carmen Deedy, who I also got to perform with. What a treat that was. I have been wanting to see Robin Bady’s “Nancy Drewinsky and the Search for the Missing Letter” and was NOT disappointed. She is incredible. I have only seen a little bit of Motoko so had to see more of her craft. She and Eshu Bumpus did a fabulously crafted Jappalachian ballad. So clever, so beautifully sung. Motoko’s Laughin’ Night story was another really clever piece with a brilliant ending, and her Shivers in the Night Story was one of my favourites. I had never seen Barbara or Sheila before and I was not disappointed, their stories were great. They both have a twinkly (sly?!) sense of humour which I loved. Tim Lowery is so clever with his stories and goes so deep. I got myself a good dose of Tim, as I did with Antonio and Andy Hedges. Andy is something else. I have to say that I am not a country fan, nor a fan of Western music. I have been exposed to that genre since I was a kid, so know a variety of styles. Andy Hedges plays cowboy music, which, I think is outside of the realm of C&W. There is something gentle, and at the same time rugged.about the songs he sings and the poetry he recites. Some of the songs can be heart breaking but many are laugh-out loud funny. I am a fan! I have seen videos of Don White but to see him in person is a lot of fun. He runs deep and I was lucky enough to spend time chatting with him about our craft. Anne Rutherford is another clever and funny storyteller musician. I saw her set and was very impressed with what she did. Carmen Deedy. Wow. Carmen Deedy has a very strong fan base, and rightly so. Powerful, funny, irreverent - is it any wonder we got on like a house on fire? Not at all. Go see her. I got to share the stage with Bil Lepp, another honor, and boy is he funny. Tear rolling, belly aching funny. Love the guy. Donald Davis of course, a regular feature at Timp, and so on point and wonderful.
Motoko working her magic with Eshu
I have to mention the Youth Tellers. These kids come from all over the country and vary greatly in age. I saw a couple of them and was highly impressed and again, many of them at a Q&A, and they asked some great questions of the panel. When Antonio and I performed together for the school groups on Thursday, we were opened by Youth Teller Sohan Bhakta. His timing was impeccable, his wit and humour sharp as a knife. The way he re-crafted the story of the Freedom Bird was creative and clever and his voices were a joy to hear! I think we will be hearing a lot more of him as he works on his craft!
Antonio and I being mesmerized by Sohan!

Sohan telling the Freedom Bird

One of the things about performing in an event like this is that you get to hang out with all these wonderful people and their partners and families. Andy’s family was wonderful to have around, and I got to make pirate hats and paper swords for them, and tell them stories in the green room. Little kids light up rooms and many of the tellers had fun interacting with them! And Bil was there was his most of his family, who I met for the first time last year at Jonesborough - which is coming up fast! I got to know Bil and Paula and their daughter better which was great. Love those folks too.
The remarkable Carmen Deedy
The conversations at breakfast and at the end of the night were priceless. So many stories swapped, and So Much Laughter. Anne’s husband Norm Brecke was there and added another great voice to the after-show frivolity! Eshu Bumpus, a legend in my mind is a fabulous man and had such a deep level of understanding of our craft. I was so lucky to spend time with him. Just driving around with these folks and talking shop was a wonderful addition to the week.

The little dots before the pipes are the choir!

Then on Sunday morning, those who performed over the weekend were invited to see the Tabernacle Choir at the Conference Center. I had no idea how large that space is. I have seen it on tv once or twice, but it is HUGE. The choir and orchestra were amazing. It was a moving experience.
The Gang!
If you have never been to Timpanogos Storytelling Festival then I would highly recommend it. There is food on the site which is wonderful, the gardens are incredible, the organization is remarkable and the stories to be heard are brilliant. There’s a ton of other stuff to do at the festival too. There are puppets galore, jugglers, more music, liars, and pottery tents. This is a VERY family oriented event, so if you ever want to visit Utah, make sure you visit when the festival is on.
A huge thank-you to the organizers, and ALL the volunteers who are the most friendly ‘do anything for you’ people I have met. What a community! I am humbled.
Now it’s time to get tickets for CA, and prep for White Mountain Storytelling Festival and the National in Jonesborough!
Until next time…
Peace
I have been told that there were about 6,000 people at this closing night Laughin' Night!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Stone Soup Storytelling Festival

I have to say that my visit to Stone Soup Storytelling Festival needs a proper blog post with a few photos. There are more on my Facebook page!

It was quite the experience, not least for the reason that a number of the New Voices stayed together at an AirBnB. Although due to 'unforeseen' circumstances the sleeping accommodations were a little wonky, it worked out very well. So many deep conversations were held, stories swapped, and silly ping-pong games!
It was an early start on Thursday, the moon high in a dark sky, but watching it rise at the airport was fabulous. Arrived in Charlotte at a little before 9 am, got into the rental car and found a diner to have breakfast in!
After breakfast, I took a somewhat winding way to Woodruff, South Carolina to see the country I was in. I feel back roads more interesting to drive, and you see where you are better in terms of culture, too. It also allowed me to see a roadside attraction - Gaffney's Peachoid - a water tower where art imitates life, I think!
Stone Soup Storytelling Festival has a segment called New Voices created by Linda Goodman. A bunch - this year 12 - of tellers are asked to perform as part of the festival. We do it for love and for the chance to get to come back, paid! A number of us decided, at the organizers suggestion and organization, to stay at a near-by AirBnB. Karyn Page-Davies is a wonderful organizer and planner and very full spirit. She could be likened to a sunflower rising up above the rest sharing light and happiness. Anyway, I arrived at the AirBnB. On Thursday and Friday it was pretty much just Paul Strickland, Jane Ogburn Dorfman, Rachel Ann Harding and myself, then we were joined by Cooper Braun, Mark Goldman, Yasu Ishida, Sheila Gray, and Sarah Beth Nelson. Apart from lots of tea and coffee, laughs to be had, table tennis, and stories shared and swapped, there were long deep conversations about life, storytelling and business. It was incredible. I would not trade that experience for anything.
Jane, Paul, me and Rachel Ann
The weekend was filled with stories and panels, discussions on storytelling, meeting other storytellers like hobbiest storyteller Kanute Rarey, and the dry and funny Sam Pearsall, the brilliant Tony Marr, who I met last year but did not hear.
The whole weekend is filled with story. From the Lunch and Laugh at the Soup Kitchen; the Story Panel which Regi Carpenter nailed, along with Jeff Doyle, Tony, Sam and Kanute; and the opening concert all on Friday. We did look over the town of Woodruff and I saw a beautiful pocket watch. It was an antique and would have cost $75.00 which for an antique is not too bad, but I was thinking of the people at the Soup Kitchen and couldn't bring myself to buy it. There are people there who were struggling to put food on the table and the watch seemed to be frivolous to me.
Saturday began with amateur storytelling open mic where we heard some tellers who should be telling way more, and a young 13 year old girl who told a remarkable sci-fi story. This was MCed by a very capable daughter of Nicole Hazard who had MCed the panel on Friday. From there we went to the first New Voices concert which featured Sarah Beth Nelson, Sheila Gray, Cooper Braun, Meanie Knauff, Denise Mount and Rachel Ann Harding. All were good, some were brilliant, and my kitsune tale from Japan and was brilliantly told. Her pace, and delivery were top notch. Sarah Beth Nelson told the story of Dido in a way that surprised and delighted me. It was so good and filled with depth and humour. Melanie Knauff's personal story of bears and soda machines was a riot. She is quite a powerhouse and defiantly a good laugh. I met Sheila Gray at Sharing the Fire this year, and I think I met her once before, and her story was a great story from the Native American culture. Another story I liked a lot was the story of how Denise Mount's parents met. Denise's delivery was fabulous, and her story heartwarming. A whole set of love stories, pretty much.
The second set - Paul, me and Mark, Jane, Yasu, Lori and Omar
favourite tales were by Cooper and Rachel Ann. At first Cooper's story seemed to be a complete departure from his normal deep, mythic tale, appearing to be a personal story, but then the girl in the story opened her wings took hold of Cooper and flew off. There it was! The mythic! Rachel Ann's story was a
Our New Voices MC, the very chirpy, wild and funny Lona Bartlett was the best. Her handling, introductions, and outros were perfection. The audience had been given a voting sheet with all 12 names on it, as the audience (and the tellers) were asked to pick ONE performer from each set as their favourite. This was incredibly hard to do. In both sets I had a hard time picking one person, and part of me was saddened I could not choose more, best of three would have been good! After each set, Lona had the tellers return to the stage space and ran through all the stories pointing out the tellers. Marvelous job, delivered with grace and humour. When Lona says of herself: "You might find I am a little crazy. And I am very good at it!" she is not kidding. I loved her MCing us. The performance order for both sets were decided by drawing from the Soup Bowl of Destiny! Which brings me to lunch.

Getting eaten by a dragon for lunch
I grabbed lunch on my own at a local sandwich/hot dog shop which was really good. Not only the sandwich but the space to be solo for a while. It was a very good sandwich.
Afterwards I went with others to see Jeff Doyle tell to kids at the local library with Kanute. Jeff has a way that brings kids out of themselves which was great to see. He thoroughly entranced them. Kanute had fun too.
Paul I left to get back to the performance space for New Voices part two. Paul and I first met at the Jonesborough Storytelling Festival last year at the Exchange Place. The National Festival's way to introduce new tellers to the event. I loved the tale Paul told then and I enjoyed his company then too, although it was brief. Hearing him again here in Woodruff, confirmed everything. He is brilliant. His stories are so well crafted, clever, funny, playful and yet insightful. His stories, although tall tales which will have you crying with laughter speak of the deep truth of life at times if you are willing to see it. See Paul if you get the chance, you won't regret it. He wasn't the only one to hit the mark, Jane Ogburn Dorfman also told a brilliant story, delivering with gentleness and depth. A wonderful mix of personal narrative and folk tale, beautifully done. The set was opened by Mark Goldman who told an historical story. It was incredible and the ending a total surprise. I cannot give it away, as I hope he will be making this story more available. Yasu Ishida was another clever and thoughtful performer. His story about time travel was remarkable and the end was just astounding, catching everyone, it seemed, out! Quite brilliant. I very much enjoyed his company both at the performances and in person, very gracious human being, and enthusiastic, too!Omar and Lori Hansen are tandem tellers and did a great traditional tale. The humour and fun they obviously had on stage made it all the more enjoyable. And I told The Goat from the Hills and Mountains! People seemed to enjoy it.
You might think that was it for stories but no! After a short break the storytelling returned in the form of a liars competition - Say What?! That was a lot of fun and we got to see more of Cooper, Paul, Jane, and Lori and Omar (although theirs was not a tall tale, but a folk tale), Sarah Beth and other storytellers too. Paul won the main prize which did not surprise me, although I really enjoyed Jane's tale too, and that was a very good fib.
A bunch of us went out to supper together. And when I say a bunch, I mean a bunch! Imagine a couple of tables filled with storytellers - well, here's what it looked like! Yep, it's a busy chatty two tables!
 We had fun talking about all sorts of things, from why people tell the tales they do, to where they tell them and how to make series of tales! It was a lot of fun. After super we headed to the siree to hear Regi, Sam and Kanute tell again. Regi was once more amazing, powerful, leaving me filled with wonder and admiration. After the after-party I could have gone to the cabaret, but I was exhausted. Late nights up talking with those who were staying at the AirBnB, all the stories, and walking about Woodruff left me tired out .

I headed home for a short rest, then the other tenants returned and the deep conversations and table tennis began again and lasted, for me, until 1 am! We talked about politics, racism, the power of stories, conferences, festivals, everything, it seemed.
Fortunately we didn't have to be up until a bit later on Sunday for the Sunday service at the local First Presbyterian Church. The Reverend Steve Phillips presided with Regi and Tony Marr adding to the service. I liked what everyone did and the pianist, Madeleine McEntire was fabulous.
This was followed by another mass-eating fest for brunch. No photos, just great conversations about a fabulous weekend of tales.
Woman of the weekend - Karyn Page-Davies without a doubt. The organizer of the weekend, a sunflower standing above all giving radiance and smiles wherever she went, apparently oblivious of the whirlwind of a festival going on around her, yet orchestrating the thing! I met so many wonderful people, heard so many great tales, and need So Much Sleep now it almost hurts!
If you ever get the chance to visit this festival, please go and support it. The people there are great, the stories told are remarkable.
https://www.stonesoupsc.org/

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Why Sound is Important

I have met a number of people who are weary of microphones, PA systems, and the like. I get comments like - too many cables, not sure where they go, what does it all do! I get it. The first time I saw a sound board I was a little "awestruck!" Meeting so many storytellers who are not comfortable with sound systems I decided to offer a workshop and from that grew a small booklet - a basic 'how-to' on the whats, wheres and why-fores of sound in relation to performance, in particular to voice work.

Sound is important in our job as storytellers. It is, for the most part, an oral art form for an aural audience.  Obviously, this is not always the case. There are amazing storytellers who are deaf and use sign language, there are storytellers who use tell tales using a digital format, but for the rest, it is our voices that do The Job.
In an ideal setting we would never need amplification. In an ideal setting we could use our ‘indoor’ voices and everyone would hear. We would never get sore throats, or infections. We would all instinctively know the best way to use our voices to maximum effect with minimum effort. But this is not the case. The hall is massive and our voice is lost or echoes so much there is an eerie delay, the wind takes our voice, or the acoustics are so bad people whispering at the back are as loud as you are annunciating and articulating with your best projection from the front! Sometimes we need amplification.


In my youth I was in a number of bands and always into the equipment side of things: the mixing boards, the microphones, and speakers, both in and out of the studio; even though I was ‘just a drummer’ and never had the voice to sing outside of a shower or car! I discovered that different voices did not always sound good on the same microphone. Some mics were okay all round microphones, but some mics worked well for one singer and another mic worked better for a different vocalist. Guitarists choose amps to project a certain sound or feel. Drummers use different skins, have kit and cymbal manufacturers they preferred over others.
As a storyteller I was able to bring all this knowledge with me, and when I got ‘kitted up’ for larger performance spaces and for venues where the acoustics were lavatory quality, I knew what to do. (All my old equipment was left in the UK and sold, or given away over 20 years ago.) I tried out a number of microphones when I recorded my first CD as I know my voice has a strong sibilant side. For fun, I tried out the most expensive mic the studio (Pepperbox Studios in Vermont) had in their collection. My voice sounded scratchy, and hissing to the point it might make one wince. The mic sounded great on someone, just not me! I tried out a few other microphones and found one that cut the sibilance down and brought a slightly deeper resonance to the mix. That mic I liked a lot. It is the same with speakers. They have their own ‘colour’.
Our art requires us to be heard and understood. As storytellers we need to have equipment which allows us, even in the most horrendous of situations, to be clear as a bell, to be heard over traffic, wind, heating/cooling systems, or rude patrons, amongst other handicaps. As professionals we need to be aware of what is available, what makes us sound good or bad, and most importantly how to set equipment, and a room up for success. We display our professionalism and that we are worth our salt. We show we know what we are doing. People then know we take our profession seriously. It shows our customers, be they libraries, museums, businesses, theatres, etc. that we can be trusted to do a great job and that we can be hired again, and that means more work for all of us.
We want an audience to go home having felt they were in an intimate setting, having an intimate experience, no matter the size of venue, or number of bums on seats. Maybe we get the room set up so perfectly, they leave not even realizing there was amplification. We need to know how to amplify a room for ourselves. Finding and using the right equipment properly is so important. As I implied, and can confirm, the equipment does not have to be the most expensive. But it does have to be right - for us, as individuals.
Why Sound Matters by Simon Brooks, © 2016