I became a storyteller through copying #10

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The acclaimed British storyteller Sally Pommes Clayton has written a good and touching post here  about the creative energy and work a storyteller use in her work and about how difficult it may be when some «steals» this work. This has been a delicate and at times outrageous theme as long as I have been in this field, and there is no clear answer on the subject. This is some of the difficult by being in a tradition that is no longer a tradition but contemporary and community art form. Previously a storyteller was protected by the tradition (ref. Lord and Parry about about the bardic tradition as an example), one formally or informally learned from a family member or a master, the story was learned as a kind of imposed copying the master untill one restrained the form, the technique and the story and was free to innovate the tradition. This was protective because sthe storyteller got permission from the master to tell the tale. This reassuring protection we have no longer as storytellers, but because tradition still follows us like a shadow in the sense that we are telling the same traditional tales that before «was passed down», there is also implied that anyone can tell the stories one hear. Clayton uses the example of Stand up where it is unheard of to tell each other stories, she could use other examples. In folk music one must be precise about who you got the tune from, in the theater one often learn from a more experienced actor, in visual art copying is a natural part of the learning.

The problem with the storyteller is that it is a kind of system failure, many storytellers even believes that this art can not be taught, despite the fact that tradition refers to a formal or informal learning situation. The system failure is that the stories have become fair game, so far that one as contemporary storyteller invokes the right to tell stories that are far beyond one’s own culture, a culture colonization many get paid to implement.

A couple of years ago I saw video of a young Norwegian storyteller I had never met, she was a student of a student and I recognized the young storytellers hand gestures as my own. This is another side of this «system failure» to learn the craft, we must copy – this is implicit in the telling. I have taught this subject at HiOA since 1996 and know from experience that this is a necessary way to learn the art form. It is of course incredibly provocative, once I spoke harshly to a student something I regret strongly in retrospect, I have had to accept that students take your repertoire when it comes stories and verbal and non-verbal language. And this is also a phase even I went through, I stole or copied the storytellers I recognized something in, until the day I found my own expression. But getting there takes a long time, this the master knew who slowly led his student into the artistic expression. What is bad is that we are so eager for storytelling to be recognized as an contemporary artform that we forget and in some cases dismiss the tradition, because the tradition carried something which now might be experienced as gone and that is a fundamental respect for the master of the artistic expression.

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  1. Very true 🙂 I think copying is a part of the learning process, both traditionally and non-traditionally. It’s a human thing to do. The problems start when you don’t acknowledge that you are doing it, don’t give credit for it, or don’t move on to find your own expression. Then you are just living off of someone else’s work. I know a lot of storytellers honestly don’t care of someone else takes up their tales, but my policy is to ask anyway, just to not hurt feelings 🙂

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