Once Upon A Time By Barry Mitchell
We’re continuing with our GREAT stories acronym. In the last issue we discussed E – Emotionally involving. A great performance story should have a point or moral the kids will understand, that’s G – Graspable point. The story, props, and storyteller’s ability should retain the audience’s attention, R – Retains attention. A great story tugs a heart string and involves the listener emotionally, E – Emotionally involving. And now A – Audience interaction.

A – Audience Interaction
A good story may be spoken and heard by an audience. It may also be seen in the case of a movie. But a great story, in my opinion, is heard, seen, and involves the audience in character roles. It thereby becomes effective to each learning group represented in the audience. It should be noted that these are my opinions based on experience as a performance artist. A classic storyteller would suggest that genuine storytelling is the art of the spoken word. But I’m not striving to be genuine or classic. My goal is to entertain the audience and reach the most members effectively.

How do we involve the audience? Here are three methods that I employ throughtout my shows.

  1. Talk specifically to audience members

Within the first couple minutes of my shows I make a connection with someone near the front and say hello. I ask their name. I may make a joke and look toward them for approval or disapproval. For example, “Bob, does this coat make my butt look big? I wanted your opinion since you’re sitting so close.” Admittedly, that’s a silly example and I don’t use the word “butt” in my shows. However, any short conversation with an audience member forms a connection and breaks the barrier between performer and audience. I then come back to this person throughout the show to continue the rappore.

  1. Responsive involvement

This is a little like responsive reading in church but not as boring. An excellent example would be having the audience create a rainstrom with a helpless victum in need of rescue. Divide the audience into the sounds of falling raindrops, wind, and thunder. Have one audience member yell out, “Help me, help me.” each time they are signaled. Using this type of responsive involvement really adds entertainment to a story.

  1. Audience character players

This is the favorite method I employ. Many of my stories, Oscar the Oyster and the Magic Box, use this method. I have one, two, or as many as six helpers on stage to play roles in the story. Each may have a body movement or simple line to say on my cue. The hidden treasure in this form of involvement is the unpredictability of the helper’s response. Many extremely humorous interactions become possible within a story presentation. Two cautions are necessary to mention. When audience members are used in this manner the performer must know their stuff. If you don’t know the story well there’s a good chance an audience helper’s funny moment may trip you up. Caution two is to use a stage marker so helpers will know where to stand. I developed a simple square rug with shoe prints so each helper has a position on stage. All I need to do is point to the rug and the helper knows exactly where to stand and which direction to face. This is extremely effective for children. If you have six children on stage without a method like this you are either extremely brave or really stupid. You can find my “foot print” rugs on my website.

I hope you’ll try some of these methods in your programs. Once you do you’ll see how audience involvement with improve your stories and your show. We’ll discuss more in the next issue. Until the next Once Upon A Time . . .

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