S.O.S. Strengths of Storytelling
Storytelling Tips and Techniques for All Performers.
It’s impossible to prepare a fairy tale theme show without discussing the art of storytelling. Barry has shared some of the techniques used by professional storytellers to capture and keep the attention of all audiences. These techniques apply to ALL PERFORMERS. This content is more than another trick or magic secret. It’s knowledge of skills you can apply immediately in your shows, regardless of theme.
Special Thanks to Steve Petra and Sherry Grant for their help with this content.
Want to be a storyteller?
If you’re not juggling in your show, it may be because you don’t know how to juggle. If I could show you some quick tips to help you be a better juggler, would you want to? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe you simply don’t want to juggle. And that’s ok.
The same logic applies to storytelling. It may not fit your character or your style. If that applies to you, please don’t stop watching this video just yet. I promise I won’t try to convince you to be a storyteller or a juggler.
The techniques I’m about to share do apply to all seriously minded performers. Think of this as a detective mystery. Your task is to find the clues hidden within the storytelling techniques that apply specifically to your talents. If you’re as good of a detective as I believe you are, you might discover all the techniques apply to your act too.
The Mother of a Good Story
I have a theory that you started the same way I did. You have a mother. Don’t you? Your mom brought you into this world, but she doesn’t want to take you out of it. No matter what you do. She wants you to gain the skills that will keep you growing. One of those skills is the basic structure of a story. (As you watch this video, you may notice I didn’t include the one line that made the, “Everyone has a mom,” section make sense. I considered reshooting the video but felt it was better to leave it. I wanted to leave a clear example of the importance of including the important parts of the script. Without the final line, the section is neither necessary nor understandable. Think of this when you watch the Four-Letter Word video. Ask yourself, “Is the Everyone Has A Mom section necessary to elevate the content? Or is it an egg that should be removed?
I consider a story to contain five simple elements that just happen to fit an acronym of the word STORY. As I perform this story, please listen for S – Setting. Where does it happen?
T – The Characters. Who’s involved? Do their character traits add meaning to the overall story to develop the plot? If not, why are they in the story at all? Think of that point if you write your own stories.
O – Obstacle. What’s the problem also knows as the conflict in the story.
R – Resolution. By the story’s conclusion, has the conflict been resolved?
Y – Yippie. This is not a Yippie that the story is over. Is there a message or moral to the story that tugs your heart or gives you a reason to think? Listen for those elements. But since you’re most likely a magician watching this, watch for one more element. Is the magic good?
The Mother of All Diamonds
Now that you’ve heard and seen the story, you noticed the setting was a teacher’s classroom. When I originally wrote the story, the classroom was a small village in South Africa near diamond mines. But it can be any teacher and class setting. On a side note, it was very exciting for me to have the blessing to be able to perform the story in South Africa. One of those items on my bucket list.
The Characters are a teacher, a class of children and one specific student.
The Obstacle is an impatient boy with an act of deliberant destruction.
The Resolution is the change of the spilled coal to diamonds. The magic happens as the resolution.
The Yippie is the message for the boy, which applies to us all. A bonus of the story is the discovery that the narrator is the main character.
What does this mean to you if you don’t want to tell stories in your shows? The elements of a story are the same elements in good magic routines.
1. Does the beginning of our trick/routine give the audience enough information to want to keep watching?
2. Is there a conflict in the trick that puts you or the “missing card,” as an example, in the path of ultimate doom?
3. Is the trick resolved in a way for the magician to live another day or the card to be found safe and restored?
4. Does the trick end with the audience feeling an inner Yippie of joy for spending their time to watch?
If your magic is doing that, then you’re using the techniques of storytelling. Maybe a little more research into storytelling can improve your stage presentations.
Four Letter Word – SCRIPT
Get ready. I’m about to use a four-letter word. SCRIPT YOU! I’m sorry. That was a six-letter word. And I should have said, Script? You?
For some performers, script is a bad word. I’m not exactly sure when scripting became vital to my work, but I know it was the same time I started charging more money for my shows. In other words, scripting made me better. For over 20 years, I’ve been telling magicians the difference between an amateur and a profession is a script. I still believe every word of that, but I would like to clarify my definition of a script.
For me, a script is every word and action I will perform during a routine. The act of writing the script and playing with the potential props, feeds my creativity. For some, a script might be an outline of what should happen that eventually becomes a script through trial and error of performances. I can see that as a way to write a script. An outline beginning is definitely better than nothing.
My scripts always change with performance as I slowly learn what works. In both cases, a full script and an outline are starting points for greater presentations. But anything less than an outline is just a guy doing play by play as he/she describes the latest trick purchase.
For example, watch as I place this stack of four nickels on the back of my hand. I will cover them with this completely ordinary brass cap. I will mash it down and say the magic word abra-cadabra, which is a magic word recognized around the world. That’s the way I did the Nickels to Dimes as a child. But I’m older now and I charge money for what I do, aka professional. I can do better than play by play and if you’re watching this video, you should be able to as well.
Another way of saying play by play is WINGING IT. I’m sure you’re heard that before. Some performers, especially magicians, brag about their ability to wing it. They see it as a badge of honor to be so quick witted and pull from their vast knowledge of . . . wait, what are they pulling from. If they have no script or outline and they haven’t taken the time to prepare then they must be pulling it out of their bottom. You run the risk of stinking on stage.
I’m often told I have a gift for ad-libs. I’m honored that people notice but it isn’t a gift. It’s over 40 years of work at this point. It began with my 3 x 5 card joke list that I used as a teenage magician. Before each show I would read through a selection of my favorite jokes just in case I had the opportunity to use one in the show. Little by little they became engrained into my memory and I could pull them from my head instead of my butt. And the cards still smell fresh.
There’s another benefit to scripting. It’s editing. After I finish my wonderful trick and script, I have all my eggs in the carton. And then I have another idea or bit that would be PERFECT for the routine. What do I do? My egg carton is full. If I keep trying to add more eggs into a full carton someone will suffer. In the instance of my show, the routine will suffer because it becomes obvious to the audience that there’s too much. If I’m going to add more, something has to go.
The process of editing allows me to remove a weak portion of the routine and insert something better. For most performers this is one of the most difficult parts. It certainly is for me. But editing is required to improve our presentations.
Scripting for Beginners
Let’s use an acronym outline for the word SCRIPT.
S – Start with a pad & penor your computer. Do more than think about it in your head. Put something on paper.
C – Create an outline for the effect.Using my elements of a STORY may help your outline process.
R – Research jokes.Taking a little time to look for possible jokes to add to your patter can really improve your performances.
I – Invest time.Since this is a new habit for you. Spend more than five minutes on the outline.
P – Play with the props and patter out loud.Speaking your words out loud in the stage voice and energy level will help you know if your words feel comfortable.
T – Take a risk.Write some of your spoken words on paper. Try to develop a habit of forming a script that may eventually become a way to take your performance material to an entirely new level of professionalism. Even if you never write a word for word script as I do, any effort you make toward outlining and scripting will make a difference.
Professional storytellers are actors. Their tools include script, voice, tone, inflection, energy, emotion, body movements, blocking, rehearsal and a passion for the work. That’s the list that first comes to mind when I think of my experience with storytelling. Ironically, it’s the same skills I use as a family entertainer.
I will readily admit I consider the magic tricks in my show the least important element. I realize that statement might get me thrown out of the magic organizations. However, I consider the “magic” in my show to be everything that surrounds the tricks. It’s the storyteller techniques and other tools, such as puppets, that have the greatest effect on my audiences. I realize that’s because of my style and character. If I was a card magician, I might need to count on the tricks being pretty good too. Of course, when I do close up card tricks, I still focus of the audience involvement more than the trick itself. It’s just my nature.
I should be clear that I’m not trying to make YOU into ME. I simply want to share about the storyteller techniques that may help YOU be a better YOU.
Let’s put the list I mentioned earlier into a shorter list. Let’s go with Voice, Energy and Movement.
Voice includes everything we say and how we say it.
Consider the world of punctuation. A statement ends in a period. It says, I’m done. A comma says, I’m done, BUT I could do more. Period. An explanation point says, I’m DONE! A question mark says, Are you done too? Saying you’re done can be done with many different tones and inflections.
It can be done in different dialects and humors ways. (Country accent) I’m done. You? (Silly voice) Or, I am finished.
Energy includes our emotions and passion. You may recognize a portion of this script from a popular movie. (Think of Die Hard) Yippie ki yay, I’m done. (Say with more energy.) Yippie ki yay, I’m done!
Movement includes our body movements, gestures and blocking. By blocking, I mean where we stand or sit and the positions of our props at all the different points in our presentation. (Repeat the sentences in a variety of body positions, voices and energy levels.) I’m done! I’m done. I’m done here and I’m done there. I’m done EVERYWHERE! Don’t ask me if I’m done again. Are you done yet? I think this need to be done.
All of these actor/storyteller tools could fill an entire college course on acting. We’re just scratching the edge for our time together. I hope scratching the edge is giving you an increased itch to learn more about storytelling.
I want to mention one more tool that will help us all in both performances and life. It’s confidence. It’s been said many times, fake it until you make it. In other words, act confident.
It’s also been said that confidence comes from achievement. I’ve found that to be true in my own life. When I finish a task or win an award, my confidence grows. But achievement only happens when we take a risk and begin the work. Will your confidence grow when you apply the tools of a storyteller? I believe it will. But only you can take the risk. As Larry the Cable Guy says, Get er done!