Craft of Storytelling — Peter Dargin

Storytelling is a craft, to some an art form. An accomplished storyteller memorises his story, just as an actor memorises a script. Others have the beginning and ending word perfect, then tell the story — each a unique telling, as rapport is established with the listeners.
One method of presentation is to use palm cards: either the whole story (conveniently separated) or the beginning and end, in full, with sequenced cues. These can be words or visuals. They can be played as the story unfolds.

One well known story of this type is the “Deck of Cards,” about how a soldier, caught with playing cards in church, plays out his pack to the court martial, explaining that it his prayer book and Bible. I know of one school inspector given “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace,” by a group of Aboriginal pupils. The teacher arrived at a school without any equipment and made do.

I use a photocopier to reduce the story onto cards that fit into a cassette case. Some children like the opportunity to sequence the cards, use them for retelling, or as a springboard for the imagination to take off into sequel-making and fantasy. They are permanent, well packaged and can be replaced with a tape of a good performance, for pupils wishing to rehear the story at a listening post or listening area. I play the tapes on long trips to consolidate, revise and as a stimulus to start more stories. Keeping a small cassette recorder handy enables me to capture those — so easily forgotten — fleeting thoughts.

On a larger scale I use coreboard cut to A4. These store and carry well in PostPaks. Black and white illustrations can be reduced or enlarged and photocopied onto different coloured paper.

Characters and elements are cut out with an art knife and pasted onto the board. The illustrations can be to a set size, leaving a white border, or go over the edge and be trimmed. This photocopy collage is very like cartoon cells. Colours and textures can vary by adding different papers, either cutting in or tearing and pasting, or both. For display I stick small pieces of velcro on the back and, as the story unfolds, place them onto a piece of black carpet.

A development of this is the Six Wise Men and the Elephant. There are 20 A4 photocopy collages. The session is introduced with a visual. To some it is a wine glass. To others it is two people: nose to nose. It is easy to make, just cut a profile out of a folded sheet of paper.

Seeing is believing and All is not what you see can be discussed.

Six wise men of your town,
To learning much inclined,
Decide to see the elephant
Though each of them is blind.

Each man’s concept is pasted onto a black rectangle and a final composite presents their logical but hilarious view of an elephant. The story has an excellent moral. It supports conflict resolution sessions and discussions on points of view.

This simple story is suitable for preschool to adult audiences. The senses of sight, touch and hearing are highlighted. Rhyming cues encourage audience prediction. That’s the way stories of the hearth reached the hearts of all. There is something in it for everyone.

Peter Dargin © 1996