Storytelling Tips

For aspiring raconteurs, two professionals share a little inside knowledge and their storytelling tips.
By Emily Stetson
September/October 1981
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Connie Regan and Barbara Freeman, seen here performing at the Folktellers, have a lot of storytelling tips for beginners.

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Many of today's storytellers are taking this ancient art in new directions. Two of the most successful tale-sharing innovators are the Folktellers: Connie Regan and Barbara Freeman. These first cousins have entranced audiences in 32 states and five countries with a unique style of performing that combines individually related sagas, paired dialogue-filled stories, and rhythmic tandem recitations. Emily Stetson recently spent an afternoon with the two spell-spinning talesters and collected these storytelling tips.  

Connie: Anyone can tell stories, anyone. If someone had told me when I was in high school that I would one day be relating tales in front of thousands of listeners, I would have said, "No way!" But I can do it now and feel comfortable. Actually, the first time you tell a story is the hardest one. Every time you do it after that, it gets easier and easier.

Barbara: Once you learn a narrative, you always have it with you. You don't ever have to say, "Oh, I wish I had the scrap of paper I wrote that story on," because you have it inside. It's part of you and can always be shared with others.

Connie: Why, you could give your family the gift of a story on Christmas Eve.

Barbara: Or on Halloween! When your little visitors cry out, "Trick or treat", you can start in with, "It was a dark ...dark ...night. And there were some dark ...dark ...woods." Their eyes will start getting bigger and bigger. That'd be a wonderful treat.

Barbara: Many individuals—even if they don't mean any harm by it—equate storytelling with lying. But the two are not the same. If I lie to you, I'll be taking you in to get something for myself. Afterward, you'll feel bad and stupid. Storytelling, though, involves a shared experience, not a deceiving experience. There's a core of truth in all stories.

Connie: Sometimes when I'm telling a story, scenes and people that aren't in the original tale come into my mind. If the audience is really enjoying the narrative, I'll introduce the new elements as I go along. That's part of the freedom you have when you know a tale well can live with it. After all, a story is a living thing and should be able to change and grow.

Barbara: Storytelling is such an intimate art that the sharing of a tale becomes a really personal thing. It's more like a friendly conversation than a big theatrical performance.

Connie: That's why it's so important to have that eye-to-eye contact with the audience. In fact, we never like to have the house lights all the way down when we perform on a stage. If it were totally dark in the room, if we couldn't see any of the audience's smiles and reactions, it would be as if our stories—our children—were getting lost out there somewhere!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Connie and Barbara have just released two albums of their storytelling. Tales to Grow On is a collection "for children and those like-minded" ...White Horses and Whippoorwills is oriented toward older listeners and includes "No News, or What Killed the Dog." The records are $7.00 apiece (include $1.00 shipping and handling for one or two albums) and are available from the Folktellers. 

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