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by Eric Miller
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of Master of Arts
to the faculty of the Gallation School of New York University
April 4, 1996
The Research Essay is about the different types of visuals used to accompany face-to-face storytelling. The question of the essay is, "Can electronic equipment and the two-dimensional visual imagery it produces join the family of visuals used by storytellers to accompany their performances?"
The essay begins with a definition of the terms, "storytelling" and "storytelling accompanied by visuals." Storytelling is defined as a "face-to-face performance in which the performer relates a sequence of events." In the course of discussing "storytelling accompanied by visuals," the essay points out that whatever visuals are used, they should be generated by, seem to emanate from, and be extensions of the performer. The reader is reminded that some visuals, if only the storyteller's body and movements, always accompany storytelling. The essay explains that the introduction of visuals does have some negative results: the intimacy and directness of the teller/listener relationship is disrupted, as is the listener's process of visualizing story imagery on his/her own. On the other hand, the essay presents the point of view that as humans are multi-sensory creatures, by engaging as many senses as possible, the presenter can increase his/her chances of reaching and engaging audience members.
The essay proceeds to survey nine types of storytellers' accompanying visuals. These categories are: 1) performance environment; 2) facial expressions; 3) body movements; 4) coverings/transformations of the skin, especially the face; 5) costume; 6) jewelry; 7) two-dimensional images on flat surfaces; 8) three-dimensional objects; and 9) additional performers.
Following this, the possible uses of electronic equipment and the two-dimensional visual imagery it produces as a storyteller's accompanying visuals are discussed. The essay explains that electronics carry a particular type of cultural baggage, and that electronic technology has its tendencies and qualities, among them the enabling of instantaneous feedback and universal participation. It is pointed out that in this sense electronic has much in common with oral (face-to-face) communication. It is argued that the ascendance of a new technology does not necessarily cause the old ones to fall out of use, but rather it causes the old ones to be used differently, for different purposes, with a different consciousness. The essay explains how electronic image-producing equipment--a video camera and projector, for example--can use and transform any of the first nine categories.
At this point, the arguments pro and con are given regarding whether
electronic equipment and the two-dimensional visual imagery it produces
can be allowed to join the family of visuals traditionally used by storytellers.
On the negative side, electronics may overwhelm a storytelling event and
the human element can be dwarfed by the technology. The counter argument
is that electronics can be acceptable if they are used properly: namely,
the performer remains central, and the performer acts to generate the electronic
imagery. The storyteller can, in the literal sense, generate the electricity
needed for a performance: for example, a storyteller (and audience members)
can power his/her computer and video equipment by cycling on a stationary
bicycle during performance. My conclusion is on the pro side: electronics
can indeed be used, but much care has to be put into the arrangement of
them in order to assure a successful storytelling performance.
This research essay addresses the question: "Can electronic equipment and the two-dimensional visual imagery it produces join the family of visuals used by storytellers to accompany their performances?"
To answer this question, I will 1) define storytelling and storytelling
accompanied by visuals, 2) look at some previously existing styles of storytelling
accompanied by visuals, 3) look at some ways electronic visuals can possibly
accompany storytellers, and 4) give voice to arguments, pro and con, as
to whether electronics can be allowed to join the family of visuals used
Definition of Storytelling
When I use the term storytelling, I am referring to a face-to-face performance in which the performer relates a sequence of events. The word "tell" in "storytelling" is an ambiguous term. Literally, "tell" refers to using the spoken word to relate something, but "tell" can also refer to relating, expressing in any other way, including visually ("a telling glance") or to the general unfolding of reality ("time will tell"). The word can even refer to perception ("I can tell"). The "tell" term is one of synaesthesia, i.e., that which occurs on one sensory level may happen on another, many, or all levels--the latter involving total immersion in the experience.1
Today, as the twentieth century comes to a close, the concept and practice of storytelling is undergoing a renaissance. Since the onset of the Literary Era approximately three thousand years ago, storytelling in the West has been relegated to the "childhood ghetto"--now it is escaping that ghetto, as it is becoming ever clearer that story and storytelling are central to human life. During the Literary Era, relating a series of events has in Western culture not generally been thought of as storytelling, but rather as, "telling what happened," "giving information" (that may or may not be accurate), or just "talking": only when the presentation or content has been especially unrealistic, cute or exotic have people recognized narratives as stories. Now, however, it is becoming obvious that be a story true or false, grandiose or mundane, it is still a story. Respect for storytelling has also come from within academia, which now definitely acknowledges that narrative texts must be viewed in the context of their presentations, and views the social event of the performance itself as a text.
While storytelling is regaining stature in the modern world, its place is still ill-defined and ephemeral. Lip service regarding the centrality of storytelling is freely given, the power of storytelling and storytelling itself remain secrets, grasped only by the initiated. Storytelling is not theatre, although there is a theatrical style of storytelling (the performer is on a stage and is not interrupted). Finally, storytelling is a form of social behavior. In the world of (mainstream) education, the bottom line is that storytelling, like the all of the arts, is considered an extra, not an essential part of living and learning. In studying storytelling, one enters widely disparate areas of study: from genteel librarians' and teachers' discourses on elocution, to folklorists describing shamanism and rituals of tribal life. What is storytelling? How can it be studied? In the Western academic world, storytelling, known as oral narrative, is considered--both in form and content--to be a form of folklore. Folklore is an area within the relatively new discipline, Anthropology. Today storytelling is studied within the disciplines of English, Theatre, Performance Studies, Communication, Media Studies, Education, Creative Arts Therapy, Folklore, and Anthropology, and to a lesser degree, throughout all the humanities.
Storytellers may memorize passages of words, but generally, storytelling is about relating, by any and all means necessary, a series of situations--to know the series of situations is to know the story. Using the practices of present-day (1950s) Yugoslavian epic-chanters as evidence, Milman Parry and Albert Lord demonstrated that epic-chanters (Homer, for example) do not generally memorize their stories word for word.2 Instead, there are reservoirs of elements--phrases, rhymes, rhythms, melodies, facial expressions, gestures, etc.--which a performer has memorized and which he or she calls upon in the midst of performance. The composition process thus occurs in the course of the performance. As a result, due to the unique conditions of each performance event, each performance is unique. According to this model, each performance, each performance event, is a tip-of-an-iceberg, a very limited expression of a massive, multi-faceted tradition. Only an on-going community, one that has existed for a long period of time, can provide such a tradition. And only members of a community, imbued in its tradition, can truly appreciate, understand, and participate in the storytelling performance, for only community members can be aware of the compositional choices constantly being made by the performer. Parry and Lord also provide examples of how each performance extends the tradition into new ground, adding onto and modifying that tradition. For example, a Yugoslavian epic-chanter visited by Parry and Lord performed a story about them: the story told of the heroes from far away who had arrived on the back of a great silver bird. Flying atop a bird is one way for a hero to arrive on the scene in this tradition: in this case, the new transportation method of riding on an airplane was equated with a traditional means of heroic travel, so a literal substitution (airplane for bird) was not necessary.3
The simple point is, storytelling is something that comes directly out of, and is made up of, the storyteller's self. A mother asked her child, who had just attended a storytelling session, "Did the storyteller read the stories from a book? Did she tell them from memory?" The child replied, "She just told them from herself."4, 5
Following are twelve principles of face-to-face storytelling (I have
learned much of what I know about storytelling--including the following
principles--from Laura Simms)6:
1) A Face-to-Face Storyteller is Fully Present
2) Face-to-Face Storytelling is Multi-track
3) Visual Accompaniment is Never Essential
4) A Face-to-Face Storyteller Has a Unique Relationship with Each
5) A Face-to-Face Storyteller is Always Listening
6) A Face-to-Face Storyteller Instantaneously Incorporates Everything--including
Interruptions--into the Ongoing Event
7) Face-to-Face Storytelling is a Reciprocal, Shared Event
8) Face-to-Face Storytelling is Interactive Largely Through Listeners'
Empathy and Enactment
One level on which most forms of face-to-face storytelling generally
is not interactive is story structure: that is, face-to-face storytellers
generally do not leave the story structure up to their listeners. A story
is an interpretation of the past and a model for the future--as such, it
is not something to leave to chance. Face-to-face storytellers have a
moral responsibility about where the story leads. Listeners count on the
teller and her story to provide a point of view and moral message with
clarity and strength, and these things derive in part from the storyline.
The teller's certainty in this area gives listeners a sense of comfort
and security. (This point is debatable--
9) At a Face-to-Face Storytelling Event, the Human Bonding, the
Relationships, are Inseparable from the Imparting of Information
10) Face-to-Face Storytelling Events Feature the Possibility of
Spillover into Real Life
11) Face-to-Face Storytelling Supports the Individual's Struggle
12) The Face-to-Face Storyteller is Both a Keeper and Presenter
of the Community's Culture, and a Bridge to Realms Beyond the Community
Definition of Storytelling Accompanied by Visuals
One way storytellers tell stories is to visualize them. The storyteller can "see the story in [her] mind's eye by visualizing it as a series of pictures"7; she can "see the story... much like the frames of a film-strip."8 The act of telling then involves the teller talking his listeners through the "journey she is on, describing it to them as she experiences it visually. These "visuals," however, are imaginary, internal to the storyteller, so they are certainly not visual accompaniments to telling. Such visualizations can also be used in the process of learning a story. One storyteller recommends: "Draw a map of the action. You can also walk through a scene, imagining where the other characters are, trying out postures and movements that you might not use in performance, but that will help you to get to know your characters and landscapes."9
Storytelling is always accompanied by some visuals, if only the performer's body, movements, and clothing. The term "oral" communication (as in, the "Oral Era" of communication, or "oral-centric" cultures) is a misnomer: what is really meant by the term "oral" communication is "face-to-face" communication.
Like stories themselves, storytellers' visual accompaniments are representations and/or relics. Representations of story elements involve imitative magic (the object is an imitation of the real thing); relics involve associative magic (the object either is the real thing or a fragment of it, or was at one time very close to the real thing). There is a magical-mystical oneness between a thing and its representation. This is true of verbal as well as visual representations, but it is especially powerful with the visual. The visual and physical are: primal; pre-spoken-language; immediately expressive and understandable ("a picture is worth a thousand words"); and usable when the emotions of participants are too intense for the more coded and cerebral spoken-language process.
When a visual from the outside world is used by a storyteller, she/he is summoning the entire complex of associations people have with that visual, including the culture and technology that has helped to produce it. Two ways of looking at what happens in such cases are: the culture of the visual co-opts the storytelling event, so that the visual (and the culture from whence it came) overshadows whatever the storyteller might say or do; or, conversely, the visual (and its culture) is incorporated into and transformed by the storytelling event. Ideally, of course, the oral telling and the visual component complement and enhance each other.
In using a visual external to her body, a storyteller introduces a third party to what had been a two-way relationship between him/herself and the audience. Thus, the storyteller is responsible for the audience's relationship with the visual: she must introduce and explain it; serve as the audience's guide to it and within it; be the mediator and moderator between the two parties; and interpret, translate, and interpret the visual (the visual field is an area where the infinite and divine can enter).
Purists prefer their storytelling with a minimum of external visual accompaniment. "Some stories are so rich in language, imagery, and ideas, that adding a visual element would only take away from the aural experience."10 Indeed, some things are lost with the introduction of visuals external to the storyteller's person. One of these things, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, is the directness, intimacy, and exclusiveness of the teller-listener relationship. Another is the image-making independence of listeners, for a primary principle of storytelling is that each listener visualizes story imagery differently.11 Each listener's unique visualizations are the most important visual accompaniment to storytelling. Attending a storytelling event is a very imagination-intensive activity. To the degree that the story is illustrated with external visuals, there may be less for audience members to do. The defense for using visuals might include several points: Audience members can still visualize uniquely, for only certain things are shown; the storyteller is not necessarily illustrating the story in a literal manner (often the storyteller uses visuals to express how she/he or a character in the story feels); and the visuals presented by the storyteller are starting points, not definitions. Moreover, the type and amount of visuals used make storytelling experiences different: I would agree that the more visuals one uses, the further one is getting away from the heart of what storytelling is really about.
On the other hand, the argument for using visuals might include the following: "People typically remember at most half--at worst ten percent--of a presenter's spoken message. Retention almost triples when we can see as well as hear... Only seven percent of a presenter's impact comes from the words used. Tone of voice accounts for an estimated 38 percent, and nonverbal communication creates some 55 percent of the impact... To present with power and lasting impact, the challenge is to engage the senses in combination, not one by one."12
Moreover, people operate on different sensory and cognitive levels.13
Humans practice at least six types of intelligence: linguistic, musical,
logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and personal (involving
one's sense of self). The oral aspects of storytelling engage people on
the linguistic and musical levels; the accompanying visuals communicate
on the spatial and bodily-kinesthetic levels. Both the oral and the visual
engage the logical-mathematical and personal intelligences. As each individual
is more developed and/or sensitive on some levels and less so on others,
the storyteller must tailor his/her performance, juggle aspects of it,
in such a way as to engage each audience member as much as possible, lest
people find the performance inaccessible and alienating, and so lose interest.
Nine Categories of Storytellers' Accompanying Visuals
The following are among the types of visuals that can accompany storytelling:
performance environment; 2) facial expressions; 3) body movements;
coverings/ transformations of the skin, especially the face;
costumes; 6) jewelry; 7) two-dimensional images on flat surfaces;
three-dimensional objects; 9) additional performers.14
1) Performance Environment
A storyteller is like a theatre director in that she is responsible both for the physical whereabouts of everyone present and for what everyone sees throughout the performance. Thus, first of all, the storyteller must arrange and define the space so that people know where to place themselves, how to position themselves (whether to sit on the ground, on chairs, etc.), and where to direct their attention. One storyteller suggests, "Create a special story space. Defining the story spot helps to create group identity."15 Very important is the backdrop: what will the audience see beyond the storyteller? "You do not want distractions at your back--a door that could suddenly burst open, a clock the audience might watch, excessive visual clutter."16
Next, the storyteller may draw her audience's attention to chosen elements
in the environment. If the storytelling event is being held outdoors,
surroundings include the landscape (especially if the storytelling is occurring
during the day) and constellations of stars (especially if the storytelling
is occurring at night). In oral-centric cultures, where information and
wisdom are passed down orally from one generation to the next, there is
a real need to retain and preserve data. One way that this is done is
to assign stories (and story elements) to landscapes and constellations.
Then, in the course of performance, the storyteller can refer her audience's
attention to that visual. Using a visual in this way has (at least) two
benefits: the visual illustrates the story, and it can also help the storyteller
remember the story.
2) Facial Expressions
A storyteller has a unique relationship with each audience member.17 One way a storyteller can develop these relationships is through eye contact. Eyes are a window to the soul, as an old folk expression says. When a storyteller makes eye contact with a listener, there is engagement, and to some degree, intermingling of souls, and bonding: on one level, the listener forgets the content of the story and just looks into the performers' eyes, which are, in a sense, a mirror image of his/her own. "There is no rule that says a teller must meet the eye of each listener in the course of the story, but if you look mostly at the floor or ceiling, the audience could get the idea that you are afraid of them or not interested."18
"Facial expressions interpret the mood of the story."19 A facial expression
can be of the storyteller, in response to an aspect of the story; of a
character in the story; or of a combination of the two. A storyteller
need not act out all of the appropriate emotional responses to the material
she is presenting; in fact, it can be patronizing and deadening to define
the proper response to a story situation. Often it is best to let audience
members discover and embody story emotions on their own. Alert storytellers
are capable of noticing responses of listeners and building off of those
responses, imitating and/or in some way commenting upon listeners' facial
3) Body Movements
According to present-day standards, body movements, like facial expressions, should not draw attention to themselves. This aesthetic maintains that only an insecure storyteller constantly gives the audience cues about how a character feels, or about how they (audience members) should feel: a storyteller should have confidence that the story, conveyed by her words, will be emotionally involving. Exaggerated body movements, meant to cue and keep attention, are a part of a past style of storytelling: "It was customary for storytellers at that time [around 1900] to use the affected speech and gestures of elocution. The stories themselves were often filled with didactic material."20 In the words of two present-day tellers: "Whether or not you use gestures, and if so, how much, depends on how comfortable they feel to you. This, in turn, depends on how much you use them in conversation"21; and, "Gestures, if used at all, should be natural to the teller and to the action of the story."22
Factors determining the quantity and quality of a storyteller's gestures include the size and age of the audience: one storyteller suggests, "The larger the audience, the broader and slower your gestures should be. Young audiences are usually attracted to a speaker who uses vigorous gestures, but older, more conservative groups may feel irritated or threatened by a speaker whose physical actions are too powerful."23
Storytellers use body gestures, as all other visuals, to complement
the central aspect of the telling. For example, one storyteller reports
that "I hardly use any gestures when I tell a story rich in imagery."24
The storyteller must sense when there are gaps that need to be filled,
when a visual jolt can regain attention or make a point that was not coming
across verbally; and conversely, when not to distract attention away from
the verbal. My point is that gestures should not be used a crutch--if
the storytelling is hollow, no visual can save it.
4) Coverings/Transformations of the Skin, Especially the Face
This category includes make-up, tattoos, scars, and masks. One central
question here is, "Is the decoration present for life, for the performance,
or only while the storyteller is playing a certain character?" If the
decoration is present throughout the performance but is not permanent,
the decoration is perhaps being used to signify that this person is taking
on the role of storyteller: the markings may, in that culture, represent
and be a pre-requisite for, that kind of storytelling activity. Decorating
of the skin can be done either before or in the course of a storytelling
performance. In the cases of tattoos and scars, pain is inflicted: the
experience of the pain may be integral to the activity. Bloodletting,
and the rubbing of various substances into the wound--for sensual and/or
cosmetic purposes--may also be involved. Here storytelling enters the
realm of ritual.
Because storytelling ranges from everyday social behavior to theatrical
performance, storytellers' costumes range from everyday clothing to the
most stylized. Unlike an actor, who dresses to play one particular part
in a story, a storyteller dresses to play all the parts. Some storytellers
will have a special favorite outfit, e. g., one that allows freedom of
movement or that is especially colorful and attractive. Sometimes storytellers
will don a particular article of clothing to signify that a telling is
taking place. For example: there is a tradition among teachers and librarians
of wearing a story hat. The storyteller puts it on when the story starts
and takes it off when the story ends.25
Jewelry worn by a storyteller can be a relic from a story. For example,
one storyteller reports: "When telling the Jewish Iraqi Kurdistani story,
"The Clever Midwife," I use a real object. In this story, a midwife delivers
the child of a demon. The midwife is then required by the demons to take
a gift. The gift she selects is a clove of garlic, which the following
morning turns to gold. I relate this tale as though I am a descendent
of the midwife... At the point in the story where the garlic turns to
gold, I tell the audience that my grandmother gave each of her relatives
a piece of this garlic clove. I then display a chain from around my neck
which holds a gold nugget, as if the nugget were from the original clove."26
In this case, the visual accompaniment serves as proof of the reality of
7) Two-dimensional Images on Flat Surfaces
Two-dimensional images on flat surfaces may be stationary or they may be manipulated, or even created, in the course of telling.
Cave-paintings are among the most ancient examples we have of this sort of visual accompaniment to storytelling. These visuals accompany rituals, not just storytelling. The use of these visuals may be related to the hunting of animals and to rites of passage. Cave-paintings can be used for imitative magic--people imitating or enacting an event to gain a sense of control over the actual event.
As stories and storytelling recreate one's psychic environment, it is not surprising that people place images on various types of abodes. Native-Americans paint on their tents (teepees), which are made of the skins of large animals.
One of the most developed shadow-puppet genres in the world, Wayang Kulit, occurs in Indonesia. The puppet-master tells the story as he manipulates the puppets from behind the screen. From the audienceís point of view, it is actually the lack of light-- shadows created by the puppets blocking the light from a lantern--that provides the accompanying two-dimensional images.
There are many varieties of picture-drawing storytelling. There are traditions of drawing in and/or with snow, mud, clay, and sand. "The most energetic picture-drawing storytellers are certain groups of indigenous Australians, among them the Walbiri and the Ananda. These storytellers trace their pictures in the sand, then erase them, only to draw the next symbols. These in turn will be erased or drawn over, on and on, in long cycles, until the teller gets tired and stops, sometimes in the middle of a story... Anthropologists and ethnologists have reported that Inuit women and girls perform a similar kind of storytelling, in the snow in winter and in the mud in summer. It was called storyknifing because they used a rounded knife made of whalebone to draw the pictures."27 Related to this is the tradition of sand painting --often accompanying storytelling--among Navaho, Tibetan, and certain south Indian cultures.
The Pulluvans are one south Indian people--actually, they are classified as a caste by the Indian government--that draws with colored powders in the course of performance. It is especially during the dry part of the year (July and August), when there is little agricultural activity, that groups of Pulluvans go from house to house, singing songs and performing rituals. Virtually every village of Kerala (the state of south India native to Pulluvans) has its own snake goddess. Small shrines abound--in groves and in homes. These shrines feature stone images of the divine serpents: women of the household light an oil lamp at this shrine daily to invoke the deities' blessings. The name and the birth star of the children of the house are told to the Pulluvans, who incorporate them into the song. "The Pulluvans, besides being good singers and instrumentalists, are custodians of the great art of drawing the Pamkin Kalam--an intricate drawing depicting serpents intertwined--using colored powders. The picture of a Naga Yakshini, a semi-human, semi-serpent form, is a favorite theme."28 The drawing is usually square: it can vary in size from a couple of square feet to several square yards, covering almost the entire courtyard of a house. Traditionally, five colored-powders are used: yellow (tumeric); red (kumkum); green (dried and powdered green leaves); white (rice powder); and black (powdered paddy husk charcoal). Half of a coconut shell serves as the painting tool: the powder trickles through holes which have been made in the shell. Once the drawing is complete, the divine presence is invoked on it by the Pulluvan singer. A young girl--preferably of the household--is bathed, dressed in clean clothes, and made to sit on the Kalam. The Pulluvan singer then begins to chant stories connected with the snakes. One source of such stories is the section of the Mahabharata which refers to the sage Kashyapa and his two wives, Kadru and Vinata, and to the birth of Kadru's 1008 serpentine sons. Other sources are tales of local snake goddesses and the story of the Pulluvans themselves.29 The Pulluvan singer gradually increases in tempo and rhythm. Participants and observers seem to enter altered states of consciousness. The young girl sitting on the Kalam at some point starts swinging her head; her body begins to shudder. She writhes and rolls on the ground, almost erasing the Kalam with the arecanut shoots which she holds in her hand. It is believed that she gets possessed by the divine snake that is the subject of the song. Questions are asked of the snake goddess (who speaks through the possessed girl), such as whether or not she is satisfied with the ritual. If the answer is positive, the ritual may come to an end, with the girl recovering her consciousness as the Pulluvan Pattu gradually decreases in tempo and comes to a halt. But if the answer is negative, the entire process of the ritual has to be repeated the following day with a fresh Pamkin Kalam drawing.30
The manner in which the drawing is disturbed by the girl also interpreted. In a sense, as she writhes about with the leafed branch in her hand, she is painting, using her entire body (and the branch) as the brush. To the degree that she is in an altered state during the event, her experience is similar to Paul Kleeís while he was making his "unconsciousí line drawings.
The exhibiting of images on paper, cloth, etc., by storytellers seems
to be a universal practice. In 1416, a Chinese man by the name of Ying-tai
Sheng-lan returned from a voyage among the islands of Indonesia. He wrote
that in Indonesia,
There is a sort of men who paint on paper men, birds, animals, insects, and so on; the paper is like a scroll and is fixed between two wooden rollers three feet high... The man squats down on the ground and displays the picture before him, unrolling one part after another and turning it towards the spectators, whilst in the native language and in a loud voice he gives an explanation of every part. The spectators sit around him and listen, laughing or crying according to what he tells them. 31Similar traditions have existed in India from time immemorial. The "picture showman" (yamapathaka) showed pictures of episodes of the life of the hero.32 There are at least two distinct types of visuals used by such picture showmen: 1) a scroll upon which designs have been painted (pabuji kaa pat); and 2) a large cloth sheet with designs stamped (using wooden blocks) upon it (kalamkari).33 (I have seen a life-size model of the latter storytelling event--it is an exhibit in a museum in Jaipur, Rajasthan, north India: The sheet is hung on branches of trees: a man, the storyteller, points with a stick to the section of the sheet that corresponds to his words, while a woman assistant holds a lantern so that all can see.)34
Storytellers in Tibet use tankas--mandala-style paintings featuring Buddhist iconography, on rice-paper or cloth. In a tanka, the episodes of the story are portrayed in sections of the central circle: often, a head, arms, and feet protrude from this circle. Thus, the story episodes make up the body of the figure: the figure is a representation, a personification, of the entire cosmos.
In Europe, a similar tradition arose. Numerous religious artistic traditions seem to have contributed to it, among them: alter paintings, church murals, stained-glass windows, and manuscript illuminations. (None of these are truly storytellerís accompanying visuals: murals, paintings, and stained-glass windows are designed to stand alone and be appreciated in silence, and manuscript illuminations, although often held up and shown to the congregation, are meant to accompany the reading, not telling, of stories.)
Twenty rolls have been found that were produced in northern Italy during the eleventh and twelfth centuries that scholars believe were made with the sole purpose of accompanying storytelling (and preaching).35 These Christian picture scrolls are known as the "exultet" rolls, because they all include the word "exultet." The scrolls were used in the course of the Easter vigil service, which begins with the word, "exultet," meaning "rejoice." The rolls, it is posited, were displayed especially at the moment of the blessing of the new candle. Perhaps the lead cleric told the biblical stories in his sermon, using the rolls as visual accompaniment.
The rolls' pictures are separated into squares or rectangles, and tell a story by depicting a series of actions: the term for this is tessellated, or, tessellation. "One roll, found in the Abbey of Monte Cassino, and now in the British Museum, has fourteen illustrations, each about a foot square. It begins with a figure of Christ, continues with two angels, and then shows a female figure personifying "Mother Church." Following this is a vivid portrayal of "Mother Earth," teeming with animal and vegetable life, and then scenes from episodes in the Old and New Testaments."36
Although it is not clear how widespread the use of such scrolls was, to some degree this practice led to the later institutions of the religious and secular bankelsangers.37 A bankalsanger was a man who stood in a marketplace and chanted and sang, accompanying himself with picture sheets ("schilder"). "Schilder" were created using a variety of materials, including wood-block prints, copper engravings, and oil on canvas. The picture sheets were large enough to be seen by a small crowd standing around in a marketplace. They contained up to a dozen of the story/songís most dramatic scenes. A common size was 1 1/2 meters wide and 2 meters high. Bankalsangers evidently sold copies both of their lyrics and of their "schilder." They purchased these materials from printers and/or actually were steady employees of these printers. The place of the this type of storyteller in society was not very exulted: "It must be remembered that the bankelsanger never achieved the status of the bard and often had to scrounge for a living."
The bankelsanger is well-documented by Europeís painters and
writers, from the fifteenth century onwards.38 Goethe observed:
The folk will be most strongly moved above all by that which is brought under their eyes. A daub of a painting or a childish woodcut will pull the attention of the unenlightened person much more than a detailed written description... The large pictures of the bankelsanger impress themselves much deeper on the memory than their songs--although these also captivate the power of the imagination.39The tradition of bankelsangers lasted well into the twentieth century. "Visitors to the Munich Oktoberfest and to other similar yearly markets or festivals could still listen and watch as the singer pointed his stick from picture to picture and intoned the many verses of the ballads."40
Just as the bankelsanger tradition was coming to a close, teachers and librarians of the West were developing a very different kind of two-dimensional visual accompaniment to storytelling: the flannel board. Flannel board storytelling involves placing cut out pieces of fabric (especially felt) on a flat, often flannel-covered surface. Flannel boards are about 20 inches wide, 16 inches high, and are usually blue, brown, or black. Figures can cling to and overlap each other. One teacher observes, "Flannel board storytelling works best with cumulative stories, where the figures can be added and/or taken off in succession: otherwise the teller has to pay more attention to the board than to the telling or the audience."41 Another teacher directs: "Move the figures as little as possible during the telling: they are illustrations of the story events, not puppets... You should be able to spend most of your time telling the story to the children and watching their reactions, reaching over occasionally to add, move, remove, or point to story figures. As a general rule, it is best not to move the figures while you are talking, but to pause while you place or move a figure on the flannel board."42 Flannel boards are still available commercially, although they reached the height of their popularity decades ago. "The use of a cloth board and felt figures...appears to be a modern innovation. But unlike other modern media, flannel boards are as warm and personal as storytelling itself."43
Another modern form of storytelling accompanied by two-dimensional visuals appeared in Japan in the 1930s. This genre is kamishibai, which means, "paper drama," or, "theatre of paper."44 Kamishibai gained popularity among children of the urban poor. There were performers in most of the major cities. A kamishibai performer had a repertoire of at least three or four stories: he carried the cards with him in a wooden frame that also served as the means of presenting the picture cards during the telling of the tales. Kamishibai performers, with their gear, could often be seen bicycling about town. Some sets of cards were hand-painted, but most were printed and had to be purchased by the kamishibai performer.45
This survey of storytellers' uses of two-dimensional images on flat
surfaces would not be complete without the mentioning of the illustrations
in children's books. Although, technically, neither the writer nor the
reader of a book is a storyteller, sometimes readings of such books become
storytelling events (when the person who is reading aloud strays from the
text, etc.) As was the case with manuscript illuminations and stained-glass
windows, with literary communication in the ascendance, spoken language
and visual accompaniments are used for the benefit of the "lowly masses,"
including the illiterate, lower-class, disabled, and the young.
8) Three-dimensional Objects
Objects can represent entire stories: "Among the Lega of Zaire and the Sambui of Angola...it was common for itinerant storytellers to use objects, attached to vines or strings, which matched each tale they told. The listeners pointed to one of the objects and, upon payment, could then hear the story."46
One kind of object that can be used is vegetative matter. For example,
one teacher tells of how she uses dried corn in the telling of a Mayan
When giving the presentation, I begin by displaying a bundle of many-colored corn... At one point in the story, Yum Kax, god of the corn, is called to help with creation--at which time I pick up the corn bundle and begin rattling the dried corn silk. (This continues at varying rhythms until the end of the tale.) Yum Kax gathers meal from many colors of corn (as many colors of corn as there are of people), mixes it with water, and forms the bodies of people, then breathes life into them. From these images we learn that the people came from the corn, that they are sustained by it, and that they will return to the ground from which more corn will rise. 47Animal products (meat, bones, skin) are also commonly used. Like vegetative matter, animal products are often relics of the stories. The presence of such relics give people emotional as well as physical sustenance. This can be an instance of associative magic--people attempting to gain power over an event by manipulating an object associated with that event.
All over the world, storytellers act out their stories via puppets.
It is also common for storytellers to accompany their tales with figures,
from matrioska dolls to totem poles. One scholar reports:
I have seen a number of storytellers effectively use matrioska dolls to introduce stories from the Slavic countries by saying something like, "My great-grandmother told this story to my grandmother, who told it to my mother, and she told it to me." For each generation, the storyteller opens up the doll set and shows the next doll inside... The stories told often involved grandmothers or mothers who had many children... The actions, as much as the tale, were used to educate as well as entertain. The actions helped teach the children size and spatial relationships... There is something irresistible about taking apart and putting together again the sets of dolls in their graduated sizes... The tinier the inmost doll, the better.48Another visual which, surprisingly, is nearly as universal is string figures.49 The string can be made from vegetation (bark, vines), animal products (leather, intestine, braided hair), etc. The untied length is about two meters. To make string figures, the stringís two ends are tied together. In 1898, two anthropologists, Dr. A C. Haddon and Dr. W. H. R. Rivers, presented a special vocabulary that they had developed to describe the way strings figures are made.50 "The string artist was often a storyteller as well, using his loop of string to illustrate his tale."51 According to a number of scholars, the practice is still widespread today:
In some cases the figures are given symbolic names, more often than not related to the configuration of the stars and planets. Other figures have names that aptly fit the shapes created by the movement of the strings. One must practice them enough so that the telling is accompanied by smoothly executed patterns that look utterly simple to do, but often are not! However, the person who attempts telling string stories will soon find that they are an almost magical, universal entree into social encounters with virtually any group, even when there is a language barrier. 52Strings can also be knotted: "Strings can be described as one of the earlier forms of the book... The most famous of these string books were the quipu of the Incas: long strips of leather knotted and twisted in patterns that told of events in the life of the tribe."53
Musical instruments are another type object that often accompanies storytelling. In this case, visuals are supplied by the body of the instrument itself, two-dimensional decorations on the instrument, and the movements of the storyteller as she plays the instrument. A single-stringed instrument was and is widely-used by chanters of many societies. The most primitive of these one-stringed instruments can double as a bow used to shoot arrows. The Pulluvans of south India (see above) play a one-stringed instrument that they call a veena (the south Indian classical instrument which is usually called a veena has numerous strings). The Pulluvan veena's single string is stretched across a dish-shaped resonator (kinnam) which has a wooden stem attached to it The resonator is made of light wood, and its face is covered with the skin of a large lizard (udumbu). The Pulluvan say that their musical instrument is shaped like a snake--the resonator being the hood and the stem being the tail. Snakes are painted on the reptile skin. The tapering stem is of harder wood, and is about one foot long. Twisted fiber from a creeper forms the single string of the veena. The Pulluvan veena is played by a bow which is about two feet long. At the bottom end of this bow, a couple of metallic rings is attached: this provides a jingling sound, which keeps the rhythm.54 Pulluvans also play a clay pot. The pot can be tapped on the outside; the pot can be played like a drum (leather can be stretched across the mouth of the pot), or, a string can be placed inside the pot and plucked.
In oral-centric cultures, storytelling has often occurred around the hearth fire: here the fire is the visual accompaniment.55 "Shanachies [Irish storytellers]...told their stories by the great peat fires."56 The fire serves as a common abstract visual field onto which all can project. Like hunting-related visuals, the fire provides emotional as well as physical benefit--in this case, warmth.57 The community fire signifies the presence and continuing growth of family, kinship, and community bonds, which yield cooperation and protection. The fire is also evidence of the group's civilizing and scientific achievements. A modern incarnation of this use of fire was developed by Mary Gould Davis, who in 1922 became the New York Public Libraryís supervisor of storytelling. "New York Public Library story hours, under her direction, were formal and dignified, with fresh flowers, a wishing candle, and books on the table."58 The lighting of the wishing candle was meant to help to create a special mood and indicated the start of the telling. This being a formal style of storytelling event, library tellers would often say something like, "Once the candle is lit, no one speaks but the storyteller."59 At the end of the story hour, wishes were made and the seated children silently blew out the candle, which at this point was often held by the storyteller. Sometimes one child, representing the audience as a whole, would be called forward to blow out the candle."60
In addition to representations of animals, actual living animals are
sometimes used to accompany storytelling events. The Pulluvans of south
India (see above) believe they are constantly watched over and protected
by snakes. In performance, they address and conjure snakes: evidently
Pulluvans sometimes carry them in pots as they travel. If the Pulluvans
are mistreated by their hosts, angry snakes have been known to appear.
It is implicit that Pulluvans can at will transform into their sacred animals,
actually become snakes. Pulluvans are also are associated with birds:
It is believed that the word, Pulluvan, is a derivative of the word, pullu, meaning bird. A common belief goes that there are wandering spirits which take the form of birds and fly about at night causing ill health to babies and children. The Pulluvans are astrologers, medicine men, priests and singers in snake groves. Pulluvans firmly believe in magic and sorcery, and every kind of sickness is attributed to the influence of some spirit. Pulluvans are clever in curing disorders which pregnant women suffer from through the evil influence of these birds. Abortion, death of a new-born baby, prolonged labor, the death of the delivering woman, fever, want of milk in the breasts, and other misfortunes, are attributed to malignant influences. 61Another way that animals are involved in Pulluvan events--and similar events around the world--are as sacrifices: goats and chickens are the favorites: "Any slight dereliction or indifference with regard to the offering of sacrifices is attended by domestic calamities. More sacrifices are offered if the spirits will help them in the achievement of an object, including the destruction of an enemy. In some cases, the village astrologer, or the village oracle (Velichapad) is consulted, and the astrologer, by means of his calculations, divines the cause of the illness and suggests that a particular disease or calamity is due to the provocation of the family: sacrifices or offerings have not been made to some god or goddess."62
9) Additional Performers
There are two types of additional performers who can function as a visual (and other) accompaniment to a storyteller: members of the troupe and audience members.
To start with the first category: Many troubadours of late Medieval Europe surrounded themselves with a retinue of tumblers, pages, and buffoons. These performers did not necessarily help tell the story--they were there for comic relief and secondary entertainment.63
Storytellers are often accompanied by people doing sign language. The signer may have never witnessed the storytelling performance before, or the teller and signer may have practiced together in advance. Practice is recommended for three reasons: "The signer can do a more creative interpretation if he or she is familiar with the story; you can adjust your pace to the needs of the signer; and you won't be so distracted by the signing if your curiosity has been satisfied during rehearsal."64 Here the visual accompaniment is serving a very real and practical purpose, as a translator from the aural to the visual.
Bharata Natyam and many other forms of Asian dance involve a dancer who dances as somebody else sings.65 The dancerís hand movements (mudras) alone are innumerable: they constitute an entire language.66 Some mudras are made with a single hand, others require both hands.
There can be a second storyteller. This is known as "tandem storytelling." The tellers alternate narrating a story, and take different charactersí parts during dialogue. It is not a play, because the narration is still the central thing, and because neither teller is anchored to any particular role. "At its best it sounds like two friends so eager to tell you something that they are interrupting each other. In fact, it is best done by friends whose style is similar enough to blend into one narration. The stories that best translate into tandem telling either have two main characters, or one main character who interacts with a series of minor characters one at a time."67 Of course, the number of storytellers in a performance need not be limited to two: any number can present together.
One of the performers can be semi-disguised as an audience member. This is a feature of one south Indian folk storytelling genre known as Villupattu. I have witnessed a number of performance by a villupattu troupe led by Subu Arumugam. Three or four musicians sit behind and around the central performer. On his right, half in the audience, half in the performance area, sits the secondary teller (in this case, Mr. Arumugamís son). The performer on the side speaks as an audience representative, questioning, challenging, disagreeing with the main teller.68
Honored guests and subsets of the audience are two types of audience
members who can be used as a visual accompaniments to telling. In either
case,"A storyteller simply adds to, or enters into, the ongoing event that
is already taking place."69 An example of how a subset of the audience
may be used as a visual accompaniment is the following:
Ray Hicks...told a tale to an audience of about three hundred at a storytelling festival. Like most traditional storytellers, he was probably used to telling to 25 people or less. What he did was to maintain eye contact with about 25 people in the front center of the audience, while the rest of us, instead of having a story told to us, watched him tell the story to that group, watched them react to it, and saw him enjoy their reactions. It worked. 70Audience members can be brought onstage: "I bring the children onstage, as the story progresses, to be the family and the animals... I would do only one of these onstage participation stories in a program, and put it near the end... They are especially good for family programs."71
As noted regarding the Lega people of Africa, audience members can request what story is to be told. They can ask questions and make statements. They can also be coached to act out aspects of the story, either visually or verbally. When using a flannel board, cloth figures can be doled out to audience members... At the appropriate times, the audience members can come up to the performance area and place the cloth on the flannel board.72 Or, audience members can cut out their own cloth figures.73
Audience members can act out the story with their bodies and/or voices.
"After you have told the story several times, choose four children to act
it out... The four children will say the words of the four characters,
and at the end of the story they will together mime the building of an
imaginary three-dimensional house."74 "You can involve all the children
by having some of them act out the story, with the rest watching; or by
having the groups act it out simultaneously, in different parts of the
room, as you narrate."75 Audience members can be assigned physical actions
that they are to do when certain words are spoken. "The teller can turn
her back to the group at times: but when she turns to face the class again,
for example, on the words, 'but when she came back,' the children must
all be doing the correct action for that stanza."76
Electronic Equipment and the Two-Dimensional Visual Imagery It Produces
First of all, I wish to make it absolutely clear that I am referring here to the use of electronic equipment and images in accompaniment of a live storyteller: I am not speaking of using electronic media alone to convey a story. I am stressing the presence of the equipment onstage, or at least, the controls of the equipment being onstage. Just as a musical instruments and the body movements necessary to play them provide accompanying visuals, so do electronic visual-image-making "instruments." Also, I am stressing the point that the storyteller must control these instruments. The accompanying electronic equipment and images here are emanations from and extensions of the performer: the storyteller directly controls the means of production. For example, there is a qualitative difference between a person in a lighting booth raising and lowering the light levels during the performance and the performer herself operating the slider that raises and lowers the lights. The former occurs in theatre; the latter occurs in storytelling.
Psychological and sociological qualities are inherent to each technology.77 Electronic technology enables instantaneous feedback: participants can change roles of presenter and receiver quickly and often, and all can participate simultaneously. In all of these ways, electronic communication differs from the literary, and is similar to the oral.
Electronic equipment and the imagery it produces bring a particular type of cultural baggage with them: the entire ongoing complex of history, science, and industry that manufactures and maintains electronics. The use of this equipment necessitates the constant intake of electricity: like a child drawing milk from his motherís breast, the "storytelling accompanied by electronic visuals" event is then dependent upon and clients of, in effect at the mercy of, the military-industrial complex (if that is indeed where the electricity is coming from). At the same time, as noted above about visuals in general, the relationship goes both ways: the way one uses electricity can affect the entire production and distribution grid.
The simplest and first example of electronic accompaniment has already been raised: lighting for illumination purposes. This sort of lighting does not actually produce imagery, but it does enable people to perceive those images.
Not only are electronic visual images legitimate in their own right as a storytellerís accompaniment, but they can also recycle, amplify, and transform all other visuals. All it takes to do this is a video camera (to pick up the image) and a video monitor or projector (to display it). The ascendance of a new technology does not necessarily cause the old ones to fall out of use, but rather it causes the old ones to be used differently, for different purposes, with a different consciousness.78 To illustrate this, I will briefly survey how the aforementioned nine categories of accompanying visuals can be used in conjunction with electronics.
The Performance environment can be used in conjunction with electronics in the following manner: The storyteller can direct a video camera to at any and all aspects of the performance environment, instantaneously putting them onscreen. This reifies, elevates the mundane to the level of fiction.
Facial expressions can be used in conjunction with electronics in the following manner: The storytellerís face can be put on the screen. This usually magnifies the face image, making it "larger than lifeí. One can, for example, change the colors of the face to show mood. One can freeze frame, reduce to silhouette, transform and distort it in any way imaginable. One can also replace the silhouette, or the background, with another video source: one can present it so that, through the silhouette, the audience is shown what the figure is thinking and imagining.
Body movements can be used in conjunction with electronics in the following manner: If body movements are picked up by an input device (a video camera, for example) and run through a computer, oneís movements can create visuals on the screen (dragging color); interact with computer-generated imagery; or trigger other changes on the screen, such as change of background.
The fourth, fifth, and sixth categories--Coverings/transformations of the skin, especially the face, Costumes, and Jewelry--can be used in conjunction with electronics in the following manner: Coverings and transformations of the bodyís surfaces can all be created on the screen in the course of performance, or they can be made in advance and called up from memory. Again, the performer can be seen in the flesh simultaneously with the stylized version. Or, the performer can temporarily go behind a screen, so that the audience only sees the stylized version.
Two-dimensional images on flat surfaces can be used in conjunction with electronics in the following manner: Patterns of light can be projected, thus creating patterns of light and dark. By using an overhead projector, or a projector of transparencies, one can simply put flat images on a large screen.
Ray Gray first used a single slide projector (rear projection), which he operated by remote control from where he sat on a stool beside the screen. "When I told a story, I used one visual as the set for the telling, and various other slides during the introduction, bridges, and closing. It was my kind of book: me, pictures, and no written words... Today, I stand in front of two screens, while a multi-track tape deck plays music and sound effects. The audio deck synchronizes the sound to four projectors that dissolve pictures on the screen. Colored lights also add some magic."79
The line between non-electronic and electronic production of images is not always defined. For example, the Indonesian puppet-master who uses a light bulb instead of a candle to produce shadows is only changing his presentation on one level.
Anne Pellowski has adapted sand storytelling to an electronic medium: She places sand on an overhead projector. "I carry the sand in a glass jar or a plastic bag and pour it out just before beginning the story. You will need to experiment to get exactly the right amount in order to have the sand flow properly when making the designs and shaking the screen. The stark quality of the black and white images, and the fleeting quality of the images, seem to me to be remarkably similar to those that would appear in a sand story drawn on the ground."80
Through television/video, the human body is once again a central means of communication--largely because the visual images of these bodies can be mass produced, recorded, stored, manipulated, and transported. Although the electronic-visual-image system can be easy to use, this system is enabled by the application of a massive body of literary-centric culture (involving science and industry). The powerful of society are those who control the operation of--although they may not necessarily understand--the electronic systems that make it possible for people to easily use (and become dependent upon and addicted to) electronic visual imagery.
My personal vision is of a storytelling performance in which the storyteller accompanies him/herself with video-computer equipment and the imagery it produces (which is projected onto a large screen). Any number of sources (such as live video; prerecorded video; computer text, graphics, and paintings; images from live cable TV; images from the live Internet; videoconferencing images; etc.) can be processed, painted over, and mixed together. The resulting picture can be shown on a screen beside the storyteller. Input devices can be made available to audience members.
The use of electronics makes the storyteller and audience members "electronically-augmented." Other examples of this augmentation are: pacemakers regulating hearts; legends of computer chips being implanted in peoplesí heads; legends of bionic people; people becoming more like computers and computers becoming more like people (computers having artificial "intelligence" and being vulnerable to infectious "viruses").
Narrators surrounded by electronic imagery can only be considered storytellers when they control that imagery directly. The following can be storytelling performances in which the storyteller accompanies him/herself with video-computer equipment and the imagery it produces (which is projected onto a large screen): Business people talk about a product while also making a prerecorded video or a multimedia presentation.81 TV weather people gesture toward the graphics and text that appears behind and beside them. TV interviewers face video images of their distant interviewees. In arenas and stadiums, rock musicians perform
Three-dimensional objects can be used in conjunction with electronics in the following manner: They can be projected onto a screen, thus losing their three-dimensionality. With equipment more advanced than is readily-available today (laser and holographic technology, etc.) light can be used to create and/or recreate three dimensional images.
Additional performers can be used in conjunction with electronics in
the following manner: A live video camera can be directed at members
of the audience. Thus, audience members' images appear on the large screen.
These images can be processed and/or painted over. For example, a (computer-generated)
figure in the story can be shown moving in relation to the live image of
the audience member.
The argument against the inclusion of electronics as a storyteller's visual accompaniment is similar to the argument, presented in the introduction of this essay, against storytellersí use of external visuals in general. That argument that visuals take the focus off the central thing, the storyteller takes on a special urgency in the case of electronic visuals. For when electronic visuals are used, so the argument goes, the power source is outside humans--this inevitably tips the scale and the human element is overpowered, overshadowed. Electronics (whether hardware, electronic imagery, or electricity itself) are not of/from the human, at least not directly of/from the storyteller at hand. Electronics detract and distract from the human: the human and the electronic can not but be disparate elements in competition with each other.
The argument for the inclusion of electronics as a storytellerís accompaniment points out that in the cases of storytellers' divine and animal visuals, the power source is also extra-human. Whatís more, the power source of electronic visuals does not come wholly from outside the storyteller. Humans make electricity, so the human element is still primary when electricity is used. Actually, electricity can come from places other than the military-industrial complex: the source of electricity can be the sun; or the storyteller (and/or other humans present) can generate create the electricity themselves--via a stationary bicycle, for example--either before or during the storytelling performance. (If the electricity is generated before the performance, the electricity can be stored in a battery/cell.) And although electronics hardware, and the body of knowledge enabling the production of that hardware is literally from beyond the storyteller, at least those things can be of a storytellerís culture. The point is that a storyteller may or may not be of the electronic culture: a storyteller who does not feel at home with electronics definitely should not use them. So finally, the argument against the use of this technology is actually just an argument against the bad use of technology.
Electronics, like any other visual, can be used by storytellers as long
as the technology is kept in its proper place--secondary to the live performer.
The electronic visual imagery, as well as the means of production of that
imagery, must seem to be generated by and emanate from the storyteller.
If this discipline is maintained, electronic equipment and the imagery
it produces can be allowed to join the family of visuals used by storytellers.
1 Howard Gardner, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (New York: Basic Books, 1983), p. 16.
2 Albert Lord, The Singer of Tales (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960), p. 123.
3 Lord, The Singer of Tales, p. 192.
4 Augusta Baker and Ellin Greene. Storytelling: Art & Technique (New York: R.R. Bowker Company, 1977), p. 58.
5 John Hannah is a researcher at the Archeology Dept. of Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia. Mr. Hannah has told me of stone carvings of "seated human figure bowls." He and others have found over 60 of these figures along the south coast of British Columbia and throughout Fraser Valley. A "seated human figure bowl" is a carving of a human figure in a squatting position, embracing a small bowl excavated into and protruding out of the stomach and chest area of the figure. Often these figures are engraved with representations of mythical and/or reptilian creatures. Mr. Hannah felt that these figures, while not necessarily used in storytelling, may actually represent the storyteller him/herself. Personal conversation with John Hannah, 2 March, 1995.
6 These principles are largely distilled from the work of storyteller and educator Laura Simms, with whom I have periodically studied since 1982. I use the female pronoun in recognition of Ms. Simmsí influence on my perception of storytelling.
7 Aline G. Chan,"The Art of the Storyteller," The Leader (December 1987), p. 2.
8 Baker and Greene, Storytelling: Art & Technique, p. 40.
9 Nancy Schimmel, Just Enough to Make a Story: A Sourcebook for Storytelling (Berkeley: Sisterís Choice Books and Recordings, 1992), p. 7.
10 Schimmel, A Sourcebook for Storytelling, p. 14.
11 Personal interview with Laura Simms, 1 December, 1995. Ms. Simms is a leader of the revival of storytelling. I have periodically studied with, and worked as an assistant to Ms. Simms over the past 15 years. Most of what I know about storytelling I have learned from her.
12 NEC Technologies, "SenseSational Presentations" (1995), p. 6.
13 Gardner, Frames of Mind, p. 3.
14 Some of the data that follows is drawn from the Dunbar Index. The Dunbar Index, an index of storytellersí accompanying visuals, was begun by Diane Dunbar, who began collecting this data in the course of writing her M.A. Thesis: "Storytelling With Video Accompaniment," Creative Arts Program, SEHNAP, New York University, 1990. I wish to express a great amount of debt and gratitude to Ms. Dunbar and her pioneering storytelling scholarship, including her attention to electronics as a storyteller's visual accompaniment.
15 Margaret Read, The Storyteller's Start-up Book: Finding, Learning, Performing, and Using Folktales (Little Rock: August House, 1993), p. 23.
16 Read, The Storyteller's Start-up Book, p. 24.
17 Personal interview with Laura Simms, 1 December, 1995.
18 Schimmel, A Sourcebook for Storytelling, p. 11.
19 Chan, "The Art of the Storyteller," p. 2
20 Baker and Greene, Storytelling: Art & Technique, p. 4.
21 Schimmel, A Sourcebook for Storytelling, pp. 9-10.
22 Baker and Greene, Storytelling: Art & Technique, p. 58.
23 "Gestures: Your Body Speaks," a Toastmasters International publication. As cited (on 2/21/96) in website, http://skypoint.com/members/srtobin/document/storytel.html
24 Schimmel, A Sourcebook for Storytelling, pp. 9-10.
25 Chan, "The Art of the Storyteller," p. 6.
26 Cherie Karo Schwartz, "Using Objects in Storytelling and Teaching," Storytelling (volume 6, number 5, November 1994), pp.16-18.
27 Anne Pellowski, The Story Vine: A Sourcebook of Unusual and Easy-to-Tell Stories from Around the World (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1984), p. 47.
28 Subhadra Sundaralingam, "They Sing to Please the Snakes," Indian Express (4 June,1991), p. 33.
29 The origin story of the Pulluvans is as follows: Agni, the fire
God, desired to destroy the great primeval forest of Gandava. The eight
serpents who lived in the forest were friends of Indra, but Indra proved
incapable of extinguishing the flames. Many animals of the forest were
burnt to cinders. One of the snakes was rescued at Kuttanad (near the
modern town of Alleppey) by a maid-servant of a Brahmin, who placed the
sacred reptile in a pot, which she deposited in a jasmine bower. When
the Brahmin heard of this, he had the maid-servant removed and sent her
away, expelling at the same time a man-servant, so that the woman might
not be alone. The two exiles prospered under the protection of the snake,
and became founders of the Pulluvans.
30 Sundaralingam,"They Sing to Please the Snakes," p. 33.
31 Pellowski, The World of Storytelling, p. 141.
32 Pellowski, The World of Storytelling, p. 140. As cited in Dunbar, "Storytelling With Video Accompaniment," pp. 85-86.
33 Pellowski, The World of Storytelling, p. 140. As cited in Dunbar, "Storytelling With Video Accompaniment," pp. 85-86.
34 Personal experience, 1991.
35 J. P. Gilson, "Introduction," in An Exultet Roll Illuminated in the XIth Century at the Abbey of Monte Cassino (London: British Museum, 1929), pp. 5-7. As cited in: Pellowski, The World of Storytelling, p. 71.
36 Gilson, An Exultet Roll Illuminated in the XIth Century at the Abbey of Monte Cassino, pp. 5-7. As cited in: Pellowski, The World of Storytelling, p. 71.
37 Rolf Brednich, of The Museum of Freiburg, believes that the bankelsang tradition grew out of a religious performance tradition. He is gathering all available pictorial evidence relating to the early history of bankelsang. As cited in: Pellowski, The World of Storytelling, p. 71.
38 Pellowski, The World of Storytelling, p.139. As cited in: Dunbar, "Storytelling With Video Accompaniment," p. 85-86.
39 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm Meisterís Theatralische
Sendung (Weimar, 1911), p. 150.
40 Elsbeth Janda and Fritz Notzoldt, Die Moritat vom Bankelsang: oder das Lied der Strasse (Munchen: Ehrenwirth Verlag, 1959), p. 93. As cited in: Pellowski, The World of Storytelling, 1977, p. 138.
41 Schimmel, A Sourcebook for Storytelling, p. 16.
42 Judy Sierra, The Flannel Board Storytelling Book (New York.: H. W. Wilson Company, 1987), p. 7.
43 Sierra, The Flannel Board Storytelling Book, p. 1.
44 Pellowski, The World of Storytelling, p. 57.
45 Pellowski, The World of Storytelling, p. 57.
46 Pellowski, The Story Vine, p. xi.
47 Pellowski, The Story Vine, p. 65.
48 Baker and Greene, Storytelling: Art & Technique, p. 137.
49 Camilla Gryski, Catís Cradle, Owlís Eyes: A Book of String Games (New York: Scholastic, 1995), p. 2.
50 Gryski, A Book of String Games, p. 7.
51 Gryski, A Book of String Games, p. 4.
52 Pellowski, The Story Vine, p. 3.
53 Gryski, A Book of String Games, p. 4.
54 Sundaralingam, "They Sing to Please the Snakes," p. 33.
55 Dunbar, "Storytelling With Video Accompaniment," p. 25.
56 Baker and Greene, Storytelling: Art & Technique, p. 2.
57 Dunbar, "Storytelling With Video Accompaniment," p. 25.
58 Baker and Greene, Storytelling: Art & Technique, p. 8.
59 Baker and Greene, Storytelling: Art & Technique, p. 8.
60 Baker and Greene, Storytelling: Art & Technique, p. 9.
61 Thurston and Rangachuri, Castes and Tribes of South India, volume V, p. 226.
62 Sundaralingam, "They Sing to Please the Snakes," p. 33.
63 Chan, "The Art of the Storyteller," p. 1.
64 Schimmel, A Sourcebook for Storytelling, p. 17.
65 Dunbar, "Storytelling With Video Accompaniment," pp. 52.
66 Personal interview with Matteo, 23 March, 1996.
67 Schimmel, A Sourcebook for Storytelling, p. 16.
68 Personal observation. Madras, Tamil Nadu, India. 1991.
69 Laura Simms, "What Storytelling Means To Me," Tale Trader (August 1995), p.5
70 Schimmel, A Sourcebook for Storytelling, p. 11.
71 Schimmel, A Sourcebook for Storytelling, p. 16.
72 Schimmel, A Sourcebook for Storytelling, p. 16.
73 Sierra, The Flannel Board Storytelling Book, p. 8.
74 Sierra, The Flannel Board Storytelling Book, p. 15.
75 Sierra, The Flannel Board Storytelling Book, p. 16.
76 Sierra, The Flannel Board Storytelling Book, p. 26.
77 Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word
(London: Methuen & Co., 1982),
78 Harold Innis, Bias of Communication (Toronto: University
of Toronto Press, 1951), p. 21.
79 Ray Gray, "Multimedia Storytelling," Storytelling (volume 6, number 4, September 1994), p. 6-7.
80 Pellowski, The Story Vine, p. 61.
81 One advertisement for business presentation technology reads, "No
more static images! Now still graphics can be animated, rotated, magnified,
and built into powerful visual illustrations while video segments can play
on demand and live sources can be brought in from remote locations in real
time." NEC Technologies, 1996.
Adigal, Prince Ilango. The Epic of The Ankle Bracelet. Translated by Alain Danielou. New York: New Directions, 1965.
Avery, Myrtilla. The Exultet Rolls of South Italy. 2 volumes. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1936; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1936
Baker, Augusta, and Greene, Ellin. Stoytelling: Art & Technique. New York: R.R. Bowker Company, 1977.
Bauer, Caroline. Handbook for Storytellers. Chicago: American Library Association, 1977.
Clarke, Kenneth, and Clarke, Mary. A Concise Dictionary of Folklore. Bowling Green: Kentucky Folklore Society, 1965.
Coomaraswamy, Ananda. "Picture Showmen." Indian Historical Quarterly 5, no. 2 (June, 1929): pp. 182-187.
Coupe, William A. The German Illustrated Broadsheet in the Seventeenth Century. Bibliotheca Bibliographica Aureliana, 17. Baden-Baden: Heitz, 1966-1967.
Dunbar, Diane. "Storytelling With Video Accompaniment," unpublished Masters Thesis, Department of Dance and Dance Education, SEHNAP, New York University, 1990.
Gardner, Howard. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books, 1983.
Georges, Robert A. "Toward an Understanding of Storytelling Events." Journal of American Folklore 82 (1969): pp. 313-328
Gilson, J. P. "Introduction," in An Exultet Roll Illuminated in the XIth Century at the Abbey of Monte Cassino. Reproduced from Add. Ms. 30337. London: British Museum, 1929.
Gray, Ray. "Multimedia Storytelling." Storytelling, volume 6, number 4 (September 1994): pp. 6-7.
Gryski, Camilla. Cat's Cradle, Owl's Eyes: A Book of String Games. New York: Scholastic, 1995.
Innis, Harold. Bias of Communication. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1951.
Lord, Albert. The Singer of Tales. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960.
Mair, Millar. "Psychology As Storytelling." International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, 1988, 1:125-137
McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: Penguin Books, 1964.
Meyrowitz, Joshua. No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Behavior. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.
NEC Technologies. "SenseSational Presentations." 1995: p. 6.
Ong, Walter. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Methuen & Co., 1982.
Pellowski, Anne. The Story Vine: A Sourcebook of Unusual and Easy-to-Tell Stories from Around the World. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1984.
__________. The World of Storytelling. New York: R. R. Bowker Co., 1977.
Sawyer, Ruth. The Way of The Storyteller. New York: Viking Press, 1951.
Schwartz, Cherie Karo. "Using Objects in Storytelling and Teaching." Storytelling, volume 6, number 5 (November 1994): pp. 16-18.
Schimmel, Nancy. Just Enough to Make a Story: A Sourcebook for Storytelling. Berkeley: Sister's Choice Books and Recordings, 1992.
Sierra, Judy. The Flannel Board Storytelling Book. U.S.A.: H. W. Wilson Company, 1987.
Simms, Laura. "What Storytelling Means To Me." Tale Trader. August, 1995.
__________. Personal interview, 1 December, 1995.
Sundaralingam, Subhadra. "They Sing to Please the Snakes." Indian Express. 1991.
Thurston. Edgar, and Rangachuri, K. Castes and Tribes of South India.
New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1909.
Notes about a Demonstration of the New Genre:
To fulfill the performance aspect of my thesis, I gave a talk to students at Stuyvesant High School (which I had attended). I discussed storytellers' use of visual accompaniments and my experiences in Tamil Nadu, and I told the Epic of the Anklet. I was expecting to accompany my talk with electronic images on a large screen--video clips from a 1941 Tamil movie version of the Epic of the Anklet, drawings of maps, etc.--but did not due to logistical reasons (including the fact that the school band needed to use the auditorium for a rehearsal). Instead, I demonstrated the electronic component of the presentation for the three members of my thesis committee two days later back at NYU.
We find ourselves in the midst of a plethora of new communication technologies and genres...attempts to put one application of the new technology into a historical/theatrical/aesthetic context...the genre I am working with is a present-day instance of the ancient tradition of storytelling accompanied by visuals.
The genre I am working in--storytelling accompanied by electronic visuals--is, I am arguing, a modern-day instance of an ancient and timeless genre: storytelling accompanied by visuals. I wish to show whose family this new genre is in, who its parents are. By so doing I hope to alleviate some of the bewilderment, alienation, and helplessness produced by the new technology.
The place and importance of the genre is that it is, I posit, a modern-day instance of the genre, storytelling accompanied by visuals. I think it is important for people to be aware that storytelling accompanied by visuals is not only surviving but reappearing in new incarnations.
The study of storytelling accompanied by electronic visuals is also important for the following reason: The use of electronic communication technology is an emerging field. Developments must be clarified and given meaning. Genres and the creations of "greatí works in those genres should be recognized. Innovators should be given credit. Just as we recognize producers and directors of films, plays, advertising and even political media campaigns, so our society should recognize the people who design and produce interactive electronic experiences. Study will facilitate this process.
People often tend to be unaware of how their culture is being shaped, of how they are being manipulated by, in this case, configurations of electronic communication technology. Study of this field will help to bring such things to the level of general consciousness. It is the goal of developers of such things as "interface designí for consumers to use the equipment intuitively, without thinking about it, "without giving it a second thought,í without even being aware that they are using and becoming dependent upon and addicted to it. When developers are not trying to make their work "invisible," they are trying to make it seem bedazzling, sensational, fantastic, and most of all, revelatory and inevitable. The study of applications of the new technology will help get people over their amazement--and thus, their passivity--in the face of new developments. Awareness can lead not only to avoidance of addiction, but also to empowerment, to the shaping of new systems.
Academic consideration of the uses of electronic communication technology is constructive in that it helps one make sense of these phenomena by putting them into historical context. Showing context, how things are connected and related to each other, is one of the great roles of academic endeavor.
I see interactive telecommunication enabling a certain romantic sensibility to inform and transform what has been referred to as the patriarchy. I sense that the "system" is to some degree changing naturally, from within. Interactive telecommunication culture has a tendency toward inclusiveness, informality, and spontaneity. The possibility of such a development may be surprising to those who are focused on the digital (binary, precisely measurable) aspect of computers and on their use for consolidation by government and big business, but there is another side to electronics that I feel people should be more aware of: this technology's life blood is electricity. Electricity is pure, formless energy; it is matter in its dissolved, liberated, activated, quicksilver state; it is an element of the cosmos that is personified in Indian mythology as Shakti, goddess of Energy. Electricity cannot be conquered: at most it can be channeled. To channel energy and other resources justly, in a balanced and fair way, is the task of government.
The genre I am working within is a conglomerate. Thus, an essential issue in my performance will be the arranging, alternating, and balancing the human and electronic elements. For audience members the experience should be challenging, at times discordant and disturbing, and finally pleasing and inspiring. One media should not distract or detract from the others: audience members should not be confused about whether to look at the performer, the projected imagery, or both--except when the performer wishes them to be confused. In performance, I will especially carefully monitor and respond to audience membersí reactions, expectations, desires, curiosities, and frustrations regarding this matter.
Telling and gesturing to the audience involves one part of the brain; fiddling with electronic equipment involves another part. Only in moments of virtuosity will I/the performer/the character really use both parts simultaneously and "effortlessly" and "naturally" to communicate, express through the external technology. More often, the equipment will be operated clumsily, haltingly, self-consciously--this will cause a lot of breaking of the narrative, of the characterís storytelling frame (but never of the character itself).
The performer in this genre's attitude can be similar to that of a person who has purchased a VCR or a computer and is now taking it out of the box and trying to get it to work. During the halting moments the technology will seem like an untraversable bridge between the performer and the audience--here the problems with the technology will symbolize the isolation and alienation of the self in the modern world.
Thus, formally, the drama of a performance in this genre is inherently partly about whether or not the performer/character will succeed in using the technology. There will be pacing, building of momentum, disasters, etc. Each time the fictional frame will be broken and recovered, the performance will incorporate a larger reality and the performance will gain weight and power--it will not be a fragile fiction, shying away from, vulnerable to, outside reality.
One reason I/the character will fiddle with controls onstage is that this will bring the audience back to their everyday lives, where they also might struggle with VCRs, the information superhighway, etc. My intention as an artist will be to elevate mundane matters to the level of fantasy and myth, and conversely, to expose the human side of the mythological/ fictional. One way to expose the human side of the mythic will be to demonstrate, and so de-mystify, the process of making electronic images (the star-making machinery, in Joni Mitchellís words). Elevating the mundane to the sublime, showing the mythic dimension, the value and significance of acts and of consciousness in everyday life, will be, I believe, an empowering and important artistic contribution.
My central conceptual frameworks and vocabularies for discussing the new genre are storytelling and storytelling accompanied by visuals. Secondary models include shamanism (both shamanism and my genre involve an individual telling a narrative, experiencing it on behalf of the community and delving into and interacting with unexplored realms); avant-garde theater (which is a director/performerís theater, not so much playwrightís; there is no fixed text; the separation between performer and audience is broken down, allowing audience-participation; it is a recycled tribal form; it is up to the perceiver to help put it all together); happenings; multimedia; virtual reality (performerís body movements affect images on the screen); interactive electronic installations; and rock concert light-shows (imagery represents, echoes, responds to the sounds).
Throughout this performance, the storyteller will portray a single character--that character will tell the story. Thus, while the performance will be a storytelling event, it will also be a one-person play. The character will be Prince Ilango Adigal, a monk who originally lived in a forest in the western land of southernmost India, approximately 1700 years ago. He would tell the story of Kannagi, a young woman who has wandered into that forest
I choose this story to tell not because it particularly lends itself to the use of electronic visuals, but simply because I fell in love with the story during my study of Tamil culture and have conducted a good deal of research regarding it. I have vowed--as quoted in a Tamil newspaper report--to bring the story to the attention of every prime minister and president of the world (a small feature about the story on CNN should achieve this goal), on the grounds that the story teaches respect for human rights. The story portrays a single powerless individual (she is female, young, penniless, widowed, not of royal or spiritual caste, totally cut off from her family, etc.), who is befriended by tribals (some of them thieves, murderers, and drunkards) and monks--people outside of, excluded from, the normal social system. On the other hand, she is betrayed by her husband (although he does return to her), the court goldsmith, and the Pandian king--figures dominant in society. It is only through the power of her mind and voice that Kannagi is able to gain access to the court, debate with the king, prove him wrong, and level the environment.
Actually, as if by coincidence, the content of the Epic of The Anklet is related to some of the issues around the history of media that have come up in the course of this thesis. My sense of the story is that Kannagi represents a shamaness who burns down the central city of a king, a leader of the relatively newly-installed patriarchy. Kannagiís media is her voice and her body: she is of the oral, face-to-face culture. The Pandian king, who unjustly beheads Kannagiís husband, is a male, an empire builder, and of the literary culture. Harold Innis argues, convincingly to me, that literacy is the chosen media of empires, that the literary media (and mindset) lends itself to empire-building--largely because it involves people using and respecting a chain of command: the commander is the presenter, the citizen is the receiver. I would add patriarchy to the grouping of literacy and empire-building; as I would add pre- (and post-) patriarchy to the grouping of face-to-faceness (orality) and tribal/localism. To me, the Epic of The Anklet is warning that literary culture must remain sensitive to human needs, and a demonstration of what can happen if it neglects to do so.
Three limitations of the enterprise were:
First, there will be no electronic input devices for audience members--they will not be able to directly affect what appears on the large screen. My ideal vision of the genre I am working within is that the screen is a common field onto which all can express their reactions to and visualizations of the story, the storyteller, and the storytelling event. This is in the grand tradition of listeners giving feedback to the storyteller. (In the genre I am developing, audience members do not generally affect the structure of the narrative.)
Secondly, the electronic visuals will be limited to live and prerecorded video, and computer processing and painting. I will not use live broadcast or cable TV or material from the world wide web of the Internet as video sources (although I may use material recorded from these sources).
Thirdly, the participants in my proposed event will consist only of those physically present. There will be no additional participants interacting via: voice telephone; fax; e-mail or web-sites on the Internet; or videoconferencing.
Actually, I would one day (perhaps for a Ph.D. demonstration) like to tell The Epic of The Ankle Bracelet in the following kind of way: One end of the conference would be in Manhattan. The other end would be in Tamil Nadu--ideally Muthuvans and others in the mountainous rain forest of western Tamil Nadu. (Muthuvans, classified as "tribalsí by the Indian government, claim to be the descendants of the original followers of Kannagi, the heroine of the story, who supposedly lived approximately 1700 years ago.) Anyone around the world who wished to electronically attend and participate in this storytelling event would be able to do so.
The performer, slightly to the right of center (from the performerís perspective), generally faced the audience. Behind and to the left of the performer was a large screen (eight feet wide, six feet high). In front of the performer was a table laden with video and computer equipment (primarily a VCR and two computers). A video camera on a tripod was approximately 15 feet in front of the performer. A video projector was a similar distance in front of the large screen.
In the course of telling the story, the performer at times presented the following kinds of imagery on the large screen: 1) Live video (of his face, the performance environment, etc.), produced by the camera; and 2) Prerecorded video, produced by the VCR. A video processor was at times be used to process video images--colorizing them, reducing elements of them to silhouettes, etc. A computer was used to produce electronic painting, which were called up from memory or created on the spot (the electronic painting at times appeared alone, at times superimposed over a video image). In order to create the onscreen imagery, the performer manipulated various input devices, including the camera, buttons, knobs, keyboards, trackballs, mice, sliders, and joysticks.
The performance was given at Stuyvesant High School (on Chambers St., beside the Hudson River)--my alma mater. The performance took place for an English class (entitled, "Women's Voices") during the Seventh period (1:30 - 2:15pm) on Monday, May 6, '96. It was originally scheduled for the auditorium, but was shifted to a regular classroom. It was appropriate for me to present to this class on a number of grounds, among them: 1) I was demonstrating a medium, storytelling, which traditionally has been used by the folk, including disenfranchised females; 2) I will be telling a story about a woman whose voice was very significant; and 3) I will be telling about a culture (south India) that has not fully been taken over by patriarchy.
I wanted to do the performance at Stuyvesant for a number of reasons. I attended Stuyvesant High School, at the old location near Fifteenth St. and First Ave., from 1973-76. I am interested in one day teaching there. I love the Hudson River, the Bay, Battery Park City (of which Stuyvesant marks the northern boundary), and lower Manhattan in general. In addition, by coincidence, my studies relate to a large section of the Stuyvesant student population: more than fifty per cent are classified as Asian, which includes south India, the place where I have done field work. The story I plan to tell, The Epic of the Anklet, is a central epic of the Tamil people, who number over 50 million on the mainland of India alone (many more are on Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, etc.). I expect that this audience will be especially receptive to the Asian element of my presentation.
One advantage of telling stories, of being a storyteller, is that one does not have to depend on others or on material conditions in order to rehearse and perform. As a storyteller, a person narrates and can play all the parts herself. I have been a theatre director, and I remember my frustration over people coming late to rehearsal, over securing rehearsal space, etc. One of the things I love about storytelling is the ease of the rehearsal process. On the other hand, certain aspects of storytelling involve great solitude and lonely feeling: being a storyteller can be a very isolated way of being.
Stage lighting was to be simple. Two lights faced the performer: one from either side. Care had to be taken to avoid sending light toward the video screen (this would wash out the projected imagery). The performer turned the two stage light on as the performance begins; and turn them off as the performance ends.
I had the necessary electronic equipment because our company, Eric &
Co. Video, specializes in multimedia displays (Diane Dunbar and I have
been partners in thos company since 1982). The equipment necessary for
the performance was transported by a single taxi.