Before I begin dishing out this piece of advice, I should to place a disclaimer:
By utilizing the abbreviation ADHD and referring to those believed to be suffering symptoms associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, I am in no way, purposely anyway, labeling these individuals as problematic or disruptive (although this may sometimes be the case).
Ok, now, on with the advice. In traveling on your path to becoming a master teller you will, inevitably, encounter that person, most often a child, whose inability to conform to sensible public decorum is desperately lacking. This individual, usually a child, may interrupt your performance with inappropriate yells, screams, ranting and spontaneous dancing especially when there is no music.
I have referred to this person, usually a child, as compromised by ADHD but this need not be the case. This person, usually a child, may arrive to your performance saturated with sugar draining from his pores (I use the masculine pronoun “his” at this point due to the fact that this person, usually a child, is, more often than not, a young boy. The young girl performing in this manner is also inevitable, but you will not encounter her as often). Factors which might influence or contribute to this child’s behavior include, but are not limited to: sodas, ice cream, popsicles, sugared cereals, candy, cookies, cakes, and cream covered or filled delicacies which there should be a law against.
Where will this child be seated? Ah, now that is a wonderful question of the budding teller to ask. Always, and I do mean “always,” this child will be seated front row center of your performance area, directly in front of you.
What complicates this matter often is the child’s accomplice. I call this accomplice the “Absent Parent.” You may look to the left or the right of your young charge and see someone who looks like a parent, but I guarantee you, they are not really there. It is an illusion of sorts. There is a body but its’ inhabitant has momentarily vacated the premises, possibly due to the inordinate stress or fatigue at having had to handle this child’s ever since he was introduced to the world.
The child may wander during your performance, walking around you or through your legs, tugging at your clothing, untying your shoes. This occurring all the while a very contented looking, smiling “absent-parent” sits before you thoroughly enjoying the tale you are telling.
I have often wondered if I am the only person witnessing what is going on. As you scan the audience you may notice that 90% of the people seem engrossed in the tale, barely cognizant of the disruptive force clinging to your leg.
During my earlier years of performing I used to completely stop my performance and demand to know: “whose child is this?”
This inevitably interrupted to flow of the performance and left me feeling as though I had chastised another adult for not doing a sufficient job of parenting.
I can hear your voices now, “What do we do Baba?” “How do we avoid this situation?” “Couldn’t we just run and hide?”
I have the solution for you. It may not be simple but this craft involves a life time of learning.
First of all, you, the teller, are responsible for the escalation or de-escalation of mood in the environment you are performing. Keep this at the forefront of your mind. Knowing this will guide you in developing your own techniques for dealing with this dilemma.
Here are a few things that have I begun doing over the years.
- If at all possible, I simple ignore the person, usually a child.
- When unable to ignore, I creatively engage (I’ll explain a little more in a second)
- Utilize movement to your advantage, anticipating locations of distractions.
- Eye contact may act as a deterrent.
- Voice inflexion may act as a deterrent.
- Offering a sacrifice to appease the unsettled deity.
- Take control of “your” environment and do what is necessary.
Now allow me to explain, in a little more detail each of the above stratagems. Firstly, ignoring the disrupter is self explanatory. The majority of the time, this method will suffice.
Creatively engaging means using your imagination and playing the disruption to your advantage. Allow me to give you an example:
I once was in a session of storytelling when this child, for some unknown reason, would begin barking like a dog anytime I mentioned the word dog in my story. I altered my telling of the tale to include “his,” yes it was a little boy, sound effects. It worked out brilliantly as his timing was impeccable. I even ended the tale with his sound effect.
Now, this is only a short example, but, as tellers, I am sure you can use your imagination to your advantage.
On the 3rd aspect of my list, I have found that movement is a key to all activities. I am not simply saying run away from your aggressor. It has more to do with re-directing your audience’s attention to where you want it. I never perform in one spot on a stage. I am usually moving about in and around the audience. If my little disrupter is seated from row center, he may never have the opportunity to encounter my presence but for a few brief moments at the beginning of the performance and at the close of the session. If you move throughout your audience you will find inspiration for driving the momentum of your tale. There are many people in your audiences who will enjoy the “up close and personal” touch.
Aspects 4 and 5 of my list are very similar. If you have ever been a parent or a child of a parent, and I’m sure that’s most of you, you are familiar with the “eye.” You know what I’m talking about. The eye occurs when your mom or dad are not pleased with how you’re conducting yourself. The “eye” seems to do more to force you to rethink your actions than yelling or being verbally chastised. Add to the “eye,” simple voice inflexion and you have a veritable arsenal at your disposal. You all know the concept of voice inflexion as well. This also occurs when your mom or dad was displaced with you. It typically involved adding your middle and last name to your first when calling you to appear in their presence.
Now the 6th aspect in my list is a bit more controversial, but it really works. It is controversial because many believe that you should not reward inappropriate behavior. I prefer to view this as appeasing the unsettled deity temporarily until the performance is over. Here is how it works: All disruptors want something. If you can figure out what that something is, you are halfway there. I do not recommend dishing out candy, although I have seen this done. For me, I prefer to employ a bit of psychology and it usually works something like this: I may announce that there will be gifts given out during or at the conclusion of the performance (My gifts are typically cowry shells, given with short historical references, these are also teaching moments). It will all depend on how I am reading the audience or situation prior to and during my performance. I address children whose behavior is that which I desire by issuing loads and loads of positive reinforcement. If, for a split second, my disruptor exhibits appropriate behavior I will fly to his side and commend him as I have done with all of the other children (maybe a bit more exaggerated though). Once the inappropriate behavior resumes, I disappear back into another area of the audience with my music and stories.
Finally, and this is probably the most important: Take control of your environment and do what is necessary. I have, in class room settings, told children to go and sit with their teacher. I have, during performances, escorted small children from the stage to the laps of their parents. The key here is that you must not be afraid to do what is necessary and reasonable. The arena has been given to you to exercise your craft. Only you are fully aware of what needs to occur for the occasion to be successful.
“Dooni dooni kononi bè nyaga da.”