Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Preparing Storytelling Programs – 18th-Century Stories

18th-century: Ol’ Bess speaks at a Gathering. Ol’ Bess, a tavern slave from 18th-century Williamsburg, Virginia, stops by in costume and invites folks to a slave-gathering and shares the tales of humor, lessons and dreams from her time period. She also shares about her life – joys, sorrows and hopes. Songs are included in this very interactive program. If time is available, and students are grade 6 and above, there is a Q&A session at end of presentation. Some titles: “Simon & Susannah”, “Devil Coined a Phrase” (compiled by Zora Neale Hurston), “Combustible Woman” (from Virginia Gazette)

Well, friends, I didn't make it two weeks in a row writing my blog post on Tuesdays, however, I finally made it. This is one of those "odds and ends" about me in this wonderful profession as Teaching Artist. Enjoy. Peace,

Quick Performance Update: 1/16 - Nodland Elementary School, Sioux City, IA & Sunnyside Elementary School, Sioux City, IA; 1/17 - Sunnyside Elementary School, Sioux City, IA & Roosevelt Elementary School, Sioux City, IA & East High School, Sioux City, IA
Other Jan. performances in: OK, IN & VA (Virginia Beach and Yorktown)

As a Teaching Artist one of the things I have to do is prepare for my programs as much as possible. I love this part of my job, because I really enjoy prep and organizational time, as well as research. Right now I'm planning for 7 Storytelling Programs, 1 Professional Development, 1 Evening Program for Parents and 1 Historic Character Presentation in the upcoming week. I want to share with you about how I prepare for one of those progams - 18th-Century Stories (as described above).

I try to start preparing about a week in advance. The first thing I do is choose and then write the stories that I will be presenting. For this program, I have a pattern to follow, but need to choose which stories fall in that pattern. Here is my 18th-Century Stories pattern:
18th-Century Song (I choose from a list of 9 songs)
18th-Century Story (I choose from a list of 21 stories)
An Active/Participant Song (I choose from a list of 3)
An Interactive 18th-Century Story (I choose from a list of 4 stories)
One of Ol' Bess' family stories (I choose from 5 family stories)
Simon and Susannah (hear me do this story at

Each of the stories and songs are documented from the 18th-Century, and the list is always growing. For my upcoming program at Whittier Elementary, I am going to present:
Song: Bound to Go (see lyrics at
Story: Arsenic encouraged
Song: Sit Down, Servant
Story: Anansi and Sons
Family Story: Julius Goes to War (this is story about how Julius, Ol' Bess' son, leaves Williamsburg, VA to join the British militia upon the issuance of Lord Dunmore's Proclamation. Learn more about this Proclamation event at
Story: Simon and Susannah

I have just finished printing off copies of my stories and the songs and placing them in a tote bag for my programming date. Along with copies of stories, I will put my CD's, my purchasing materials (including my credit card swiper, receipts) and brochures in the tote. Finally, I print out my Storytelling Program in order, with the information about where I am presenting (with directions) and the times for presentations. Making sure I have everything on hand for the programming makes my life a lot less stressful. I always put the estimated time with the directions, so I know when I need to leave.

Next on my prep list is to choose and put aside my outfit for the day. This program is a costumed one, because I portray Ol' Bess from the 18th-Century. (see the picture). It just so happens that I will need to wash this costume, making "doing the laundry" now a part of my prep list. :)

I try to send a Teacher Guide one week in advance that includes pre- and post-programming activities for each of the stories that will be presented. I also send the words of the songs, along with a place where the song can be heard again. This Teacher Guide is customized for the stories I will be telling. It also includes hints for preparing students, and an evaluation form for teachers.

Then comes the part I really like: REVIEW. This is the part that I think separates storytellers. Review, Practice and Research; then, Review, Practice and Research some more - that is the name of the game. I start my review by reading all stories to be presented one at time - first silently and then out loud. Then I either listen to an audiotaped version of my story OR I record the story and save on my computer or CD to listen to inthe future. This part is important for me to see what I do well, and what I need to do better.

It seems like that should be it, but for me it is not. I like to take some time over the next week leading up to the performance and do some RESEARCH. I am presently reading portions of an old Storytelling Folktale Dictionary that a good friend, Patty Z., a librarian, gave me some years ago. I read the different entries and sometimes do some internet research on things that interest me and take notes. Last week's blog post about "bees" came from that research. I usually read one page, and then read at least a chapter from one of several books that I have listed. The book this week is "Kidnapped" by Robert Stevenson. How does this book help me? Well, it's 18th-century written, and actually I have found many words in there that I didn't know, but then come across while looking at 18th-Century newspapers. Since I do an 18th-Century Storytelling program AND Ol' Bess as a Historic Character Presentation, anything that helps increase my 18th-century knowledge is helpful.

And that's it! Every day for a week, I try to do one hour of prep for upcoming programs. It's tough, but the bottom line - it's worth it. I am organized, prepared, and at peace. Being at peace is probably the best, because my mind being stress free, allows me to focus on my audience and change things as needed.

Other little notes: Here is the basis of the "arsenic" story.
in VA Gazette dated 10/8/1767; From: London reported on July 8, 1767

On Monday last a man and his wife, in the Parish of St. Martin in the Fields, having some words together, the husband gave her sixpence, and advised her to purchase some arsenic and poison herself; the woman, from a false spirit of resentment, put her husband’s injunction into execution, and expired soon after in great agony.

Share more with you next week. Sheila

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for providing a step-by-step breakdown of how you prepare for a program. It is important for tellers to be aware of the amount of time they put into preparation. This breakdown will be helpful to me in my future preparations. (I tend to worry and fuss, worry and fuss and somehow pull things together two days before a big program. It works but I waste a lot of effort.) Thanks again.