Story Power author Kate Farrell has written a new blog post about the work and storytelling abilities of Marie Shedlock. Take a look!
Marie Louise Shedlock in her classic work, The Art of the Story-Teller (1915), defined the essence of art with stunning clarity. Shedlock described storytelling performance as an “inside out” process that is both powerful and simple. Her work profoundly influenced me as a storyteller and, more importantly, as a teacher of storytelling in the Word Weaving Storytelling Project and in writing the book, Story Power: Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories.
Many of the storytelling guides today, either published or online, tend to construct stories from basic elements, such as: story structure, narrative arc, emotional charge, or timing. By crafting stories from the “outside in” one can develop good story lines, but they won’t reflect the essence of the art or engage the listeners in the same way. This is especially true for online storytelling in virtual platforms.
Over one hundred years ago, in the Preface to Shedlock’s book, Earl Barnes brilliantly describes her approach and the vital differences in storytelling techniques.
Preface to The Art of the Story-Teller
“Some years ago I heard Miss Shedlock tell stories in England. Her fine sense of literary and dramatic values, her power in sympathetic interpretation, always restrained within the limits of the art she was using, and her understanding of educational values, based on a wide experience of teaching, all marked her as an artist in story-telling. She was equally at home in interpreting the subtle blending of wit and wisdom in Daudet, the folk lore philosophy of Grimm, or the deeper world philosophy and poignant human appeal of Hans Christian Andersen.
“Then she came to America and for two or three years she taught us the difference between the nightingale that sings in the tree tops and the artificial bird that goes with a spring. Cities like New York, Boston, Pittsburgh and Chicago listened and heard, if sometimes indistinctly, the notes of universal appeal, and children saw the Arabian Nights come true.”
Though the nightingale distinctions might seem poetical or archaic, they are, nevertheless real. I can spot a storyteller who is pushing the story at listeners with eye winks, gestures, dramatic movement, or deliberate asides, while not internalizing the meaning and experience of the story. Here’s how Marie Shedlock puts it:
In Shedlock’s own Words
“It would be a truism to suggest that dramatic instinct and dramatic power of expression are naturally the first essentials for success in the art of story-telling, and that, without these, no story-teller would go very far; but I maintain that, even with these gifts, no high standard of performance will be reached without certain other qualities, among the first of which I place apparent simplicity, which is really the art of concealing the art …
“The fault in the artist which amounts most completely to a failure of dignity is the absence of saturation with his idea. When saturation fails, no other real presence avails, as when, on the other hand, it operates, no failure of method fatally interferes.”
As Shedlock continues to define that inherent quality of saturation, she provides further guidance:
“The special training for the story-teller should consist not only in the training of the voice and in choice of language, but above all in power of delicate suggestion, which cannot always be used on the stage because this is hampered by the presence of actual things. The story-teller has to present these things to the more delicate organism of the ‘inward eye.’”
To me, the insistence of Shedlock on the simplicity of storytelling, on visualizing the action and communicating with the inward eye, has been the hallmark of effective and memorable performance. I invite you to read The Art of Story-Telling in Shedlock’s own words in the University of Pennsylvania digital library: https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/shedlock/story/story.html#I-II
Shedlock’s respected influence on the practice of storytelling in England and America was due to her dramatic performances on tour, as a rock star among storytellers, and the support of public librarians who became practitioners. Shedlock was born in Boulogne, France, of English parents; her father was an engineer helping to build a railroad. Although she lived in England for a short time as a child, she returned to France, and ultimately went to Germany to complete her education.
Shedlock’s first job was as a schoolteacher. She taught school in England from age 21. At age 36 she began her career as a storyteller, having a debut performance in London. At age 46 she ceased teaching and began her career as a professional storyteller. She had two extended and well-received tours in the United States. Shedlock’s first American tour took place around 1900; was wildly popular, and lasted seven years. After this first tour, Shedlock returned to London, later writing her two books.
In her seminal work, The Art of the Story-Teller, Shedlock quotes Shakespeare to make her essential point:
|Tell me where is Fancy bred,|
Or in the heart, or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?
It is engendered in the eyes
With gazing fed,
And Fancy dies in the cradle where it lies.
Let us all ring Fancy’s knell.
I’ll begin it–ding, dong, bell.
–Merchant of Venice
Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories
Stories are everywhere. The art of storytelling has been around as long as humans have. And in today’s noisy, techy, automated world, storytelling is not only prevalent—it’s vital. Whether you’re interested in enlivening conversation, building your business brand, sharing family wisdom, or performing on stage, Story Power will show you how to make use of a good story.