Extracts from Chapter 17: “Stage Fright and Other Disasters”
IN STORYTELLING, as in public speaking, untoward things happen. Sometimes when you least expect them. Here are some hints which we have found helped us cope with these unhappy situations.
When your voice lets you down
You have a booking for a storytelling performance. You wake on the day; but when you try to speak your voice comes out as a whisper! It’s too late to cancel and you can’t reach any fellow storytellers who could replace you. What to do? Be positive. You get up and gargle with everything suitable in the bathroom cabinet, drink sumptuous quantities of lemon and honey, suck every lozenge you can afford, but still, hours later, your voice is merely a hoarse whisper. Finally you decide you will have to show up and try to make the best of it. Here are some devices to ease a difficult situation.
Everyone is nervous to start with. A touch of nerves is not a bad thing so long as it adds an edge to your performance and doesn’t get in the way or prevent you from doing your best. Stage fright is a normal reaction for a novice speaker or teller. Develop some ‘magical’ aids to set the scene and help keep your `butterflies’ under control. A story hat, cape, magic carpet, wishing candle, or costume — all of these could help overcome the ogre that is stage fright. We have found that using puppets helps to focus both the audience’s and your attention on the story.
Recently when a group of us were promoting the Storytelling Guild and telling some stories at a church function we had an experience all performers dread. Having totally enjoyed the interactive story, an elderly gent in his mid eighties collapsed at a table in front of Helen. Although asked to keep going, she stopped, as many people sprang up to help with the emergency. The audience’s attention was on the drama occurring in their midst as they watched those assisting lay him in the aisle and perform C.P.R. (emergency resuscitation) on him.
Children in your audience don’t always make life easy either. Helen was in the midst of telling her first story when a two-year old ran out, stood right in front of her and started to slow clap. As the audience’s attention was being distracted by this performance, Helen stopped at the end of a sentence and gave the child the recognition she sought. Satisfied, she ran back to her Mum and Helen was able to continue.
Handling a Heckler
Should you have the misfortune to encounter a heckler, rather than ignoring the interruption, ask the person to stand and repeat what they’ve said. Keeping the heckler standing, throw the comment out to the audience, asking for a solution. Get one or two opinions from the audience and, when you are satisfied with the replies, refer the matter back to the heckler, who should still be standing up. Should the response not be satisfactory, arrange to discuss the issue later and continue your story, repeating the sentence or paragraph in which you were interrupted.
It is important in all of these various instances that you are seen to maintain control of the situation throughout its passage and that you keep your continuity, wherever possible.
Once again: `BE PREPARED’.