Very often when I tell someone I am a storyteller, they will say, “Oh, how nice. Do you tell stories to children in the schools and at the libraries?” Well, yes, I do tell stories to children of all ages, but I also tell stories to adults. And, in my opinion, adults need and want the stories even more than the children. In this article, I am going to address why we, as storytellers, tell to adults. I will be including some quotes and ideas from many other storytellers and story lovers.
Whether they admit it or not, it is the adults that hang on the storyteller’s words. When I have been hired to do a program at an event that will attract families — for example, a county or state fair, a museum benefit, an outdoor festival, or a family celebration — I notice as I tell my tales, that it is the adults who are hanging on every word. Yes, they use the excuse that they are there because they want their children to hear stories. Yet, when the children start to get restless or lose interest, it is the adults who seem disappointed and hesitant to leave the telling. They will often return without the child or children to hear some more for themselves. At the annual Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee the first week in October, close to 90 percent of the 10,000 strong crowd is adult. And the special magic of the event is that these adults are not afraid to admit that they come back year after year to hear the stories.
Remembering and telling stories helps adults deal with life’s challenges. Isak Dinesen wrote, “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” How true! If you have ever experienced an accident, an illness, a death, or some other horrible event, you know how much better you feel after telling about it — the more times, the better. And once we have shared our story or stories with other adults, they usually are reminded of a similar story that they then tell us. The beauty of the whole process is that not only do we come around to feeling better, we make new friends through the sharing. For, when you know someone’s story, you can’t help but like them. During a workshop I was giving at an O.O.P.S! (Ohio Order for the Preservation of Storytelling) on “How to Tell Personal Stories” I told the story of my son’s devastating bout with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It was at least five years later, when a woman rushed up to me to tell me that my story had helped her so much the past year when her daughter had been diagnosed with cancer. That is the power of story.
Besides helping us deal with life’s challenges, stories guide us through the stages and thresholds we face through life. Joseph Campbell wrote, “It has been the chief function of much of mythological lore … to carry … the individual across the critical thresholds from … infancy to adulthood, and from old age to death.” As we listen to and tell the myths and legends of the past, we learn how to face the many stages and passages our lives take. In an abstract way, we can relate to the heroes and heroines of bygone times. Modern stories also help us with those same changes and passages. I am reminded of Gail Sheehy’s book New Passages which is loaded with fascinating stories to illustrate her points.
If we as adults consider our lives to be stories, what a delightful and creative life we will live. I believe strongly that adults love the idea of living a life of story. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “… a man is always a teller of tales, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his life as if he were telling a story.” You see, we need our stories and our family stories to give us a legacy. That legacy strengthens our tradition, our purpose, our self worth and our reason for living the life we live. After all, I want the story I leave with my children to be a story we can all be proud of.
Storytelling to adults encourages them to loosen up, remember, and then tell their stories. When I asked Donald Davis, the well known storyteller of personal stories, what he like most of all about being a storyteller, he told me that he just loved it when he heard people who had attended his program turning to companions and starting to tell their own stories. I feel that I have been successful with my telling when an audience member comes up after the session to tell me about a situation similar to one I have told about. Often, when I tell to children, they can hardly wait to tell a story back to me, but adults are a bit more resistant about telling their stories, so, if we, as storytellers, can encourage them to start, we will be enriching everyone’s lives — theirs and the people to whom they tell the stories.
Stories should also be shared with adults for the pure joy of it. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that telling to adults can also be for the pure fun of hearing them laugh — in this day and age, we all need to lighten up a bit. Also, most of us love the fantasy of fairy and folktales, which are definitely not only for children. They take us to another time and place where magic was the norm. Stories for pure enjoyment will give us all a lift and the energy we need. A perfect example for me was hearing Michael Parent, a bi-lingual storyteller who was raised French Canadian, tell The Boy Who Cried Wolf in French combined with lots of body movement. Even though I faced a long drive home that evening, I laughed so hard I cried, and didn’t feel any fatigue on my trip. I had been re-invigorated by the pure enjoyment of a story.
Yes, stories are for everyone — especially adults!
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