The journey metaphor is a common one in storytelling discourse. Many storytellers view themselves as guides; expansive, informative, nurturing or laconic, each teller possessing their own unique presentation style, and the story itself is a journey that the listener embarks upon. A traveller may traverse the same track many times or a listener hear the same story told by different tellers, but this does not mean that their experience of the journey will be the same each time. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus succinctly puts the view that ‘No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.’
Like the hiking guide, a storyteller has a duty of care to those who consent to be taken on the journey. This includes preparing their listeners for the story and then bringing them to the end of the tale. If, along the way, the listener chooses to leave the storyteller’s company, then that is their prerogative. In the same way a hiker may turn back, reasoning that they cannot complete their trek, the story listener can also leave off listening, and if they want, leave the storytelling space altogether. But how far is the storyteller accountable for their listener’s departure?
It is only the storyteller’s responsibility for a listener leaving a concert if the teller has not informed or has misinformed the audience as to the content or length of the performance. Generally speaking, the storyteller aims to create a moving experience for the listener. Storytelling may evoke an emotional response, an illumination of meaning or forge a connectivity in the listener. However for storytelling to occur, it is mandatory to have a listener! Ensuring that the audience knows what to expect helps achieve satisfaction for both the teller and the audience. However the storyteller is not responsible for an informed listener’s interpretation or response to a story.
While it is not usual for a listener to run screaming from the room or a particular section of an audience to leave en masse in my storytelling concerts, I have experienced both of these responses. In the first, a child with special needs was frightened by a balloon I was using to tell a visual story and in the second, a private party with a request by the organisers for strong women stories proved to be a challenge for the anti-feminist men present, who left in protest. Both instances taught me a valuable lesson. It is not enough to know thyself, I also need to know thy audience! Not that this is always possible, but my experience of telling to a wide range of people has given me an insight into the power of storytelling to effect a strong response in a listener. This is one of the reasons I am a storyteller, and I want the power of story to be shared with everyone.
Photo by Roman W. Schatz