Elaine Forrestal

Children’s Writers – Live

Elaine Forrestal, storyteller and writer

“For TV and film you just have to be,” Hugo Weaving said when interviewed for The Australian Review Magazine recently. “Stage is different. While developing the character you move from it being outside you to being inside you – absorbed into your personality.” Storytellers, who are often story writers, work in much the same way.

Performing your story for a live audience will alert you to what’s working and what’s not. When you tell a story over and over, to different audiences, you change things. You add words in, leave others out, change the rhythm, gestures, timing. You gauge what works by the responses of your audience. At which points do they laugh, shout out objections, wipe a tear from their eye? The best bits are stored away in your mind, ready for the next time you tell that story. Any live performance is like a stream flowing. It moves from one place to another. While it always looks the same on a map, it is incrementally changing as it picks up grains of sand and drops them in a different place. And even as it moves through patterns of light and shade, it will not lose the essential character of a  stream. It will take time and  more than one telling for a story to fully develop. The storyteller will adjust the pauses, the gestures, the emphasis on certain words and phrases. They will adjust the pitch of their voice at different points to bring out the inherent humour, drama, sadness,  and special magic of that story. Each audience will have a lasting effect, not only on the storyteller, but on the story itself. These incremental changes will become part of the story and continue to be carried by the memory-stream, kept for future reference. Of course the interplay between audience and performer is not without risk. Sometimes it all goes wrong. But those times are also crucial to the life and growth of the performer, and of the story itself.

One thing covid-19 has taught us is the importance of live story times in our Libraries and Schools. The sooner we can reinstate them the better. Somehow Zoom just doesn’t cut it.