The craft of storytelling and the craft of acting are accessed by two completely divergent paths. This needs to be stressed especially to the beginning teller. Each craft has its respective trials and tribulations in attaining mastery but similarities stop there. To the casual observer it might appear that both, the actor and the storyteller are engaged in the same venture, but they are not. Having experience in both realms of activity I am in a very good position to explain, what I see, as the differences between them.
The first thing I should say is that mastery of one does not preclude a person from mastering another.
The finely honed skills of an actor revolve around ancient and contemporary methodologies of embodying your subject, becoming the object and convincing, not only yourself, but observers as well, that you are that which you claim to be.
For the storyteller, content and context is king. Within the context of a tale there are messages to be delivered, morals to be taught, and valuable insights to be gained. The teller is not attempting to “get into character,” if I may borrow a phrase from the thespian’s vocabulary, but she is attempting to alter the environment. By altering her surroundings the teller is creating an ambient setting conducive to a comfortable exchange of creative energies. In this type of environment, the observer, unwittingly at times, becomes a participant. The observer is a participant because his mind is constantly assessing the tale he is receiving, searching for its logic, enjoying its rhetoric, rejecting or objecting to what he is subjected to. The masterful storyteller is continually scanning the mood of her audience. The masterful storyteller employs eye contact as a tool of assessing the audience’s temperature. Believe it or not, in an audience of 1,000, if you can make eye contact with 10, you will get an intimate feel for most others present, even if you cannot see them because of the lights of a stage. These immediate assessments may alter the outcome of the story. These immediate assessments may alter the pacing of the story. This is the context in which a teller’s performance is charted.
With the actor, the scripted line will dictate the emotive character of her subject. With a storyteller, those present, the mood and current events will dictate the emotions involved in the performance. The actor, in essence, has a road map if you will or script that guides her in directing her audience through conflict, climax and, ultimately, resolution. The teller is performing on the figurative tightrope without a net.
I have to pause here for a moment to explain something about my generalizations. Not “all” tellers perform the way which I am explaining. It is the approach to storytelling that I employ. Secondly, acting is not a stagnant craft which is limited in creative scope. My approach to storytelling comes from my training in the ancient West African Griot’s craft of Jaliyaa, so my reference points might be a bit skewed in that direction. I’m sure other tellers have differing opinions to the ones I’ve state here.
I have had students who have sought the craft of storytelling professionally through me. Many of them think they can come, learn a few stories and hit the money making market by storm. Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, if storytelling is not a passion of yours, do not attempt it. Secondly, if your primary reason for venturing into the arena of storytelling is financial, don’t do it. Life’s metaphorical lions will eat you alive (bills, familial responsibilities, time, physiological health, psychological health, etc.) I have been honest with anyone who has come to me professing to want to be a professional teller that this road has a lot of gravel on it.
Alright, all that having been said, would I prefer a different employ? No, never! I love what I do too much.
Whether you choose acting or storytelling as a craft to master, know that neither is easy and both are extremely dissimilar. Also know, and know this well, you are committing yourself to a lifetime of learning.
A storyteller’s repertoire must be as vast as an ocean an as accessible as a mother to her child.
“Dooni dooni kononi bè nyaga da.”