Copyright © 2013 STORY LEAGUE. All Rights Reserved.
Lauren Knapp: I’m new to storytelling, but I’ve spent years performing on the stage as a singer-songwriter. When I was preparing to perform with Story League in the “Powers That Be” show, I found that the process was pretty similar. The biggest hurdle for me is always remembering what to say. With music, the tune and rhythm help me out. And if I can’t quite remember the words, I can always add a couple measures of instrumental while I remember. Unfortunately, you don’t have that luxury with live storytelling. So, I spent a lot of time just reading my story over and over — to myself, to my roommates, to my friends. It also helped to practice eye contact on them. I also like practicing in front of a mirror. I like knowing what I am going to look like to the audience. Narcissistic? Maybe. But it definitely helps me.
HB: I’m also pretty new to storytelling. I do stand-up comedy as well, so I try to go about it from the perspective of stand-up. Meaning, I prepare as much as I can and I go over it by myself, but I truly work it out onstage. So I like doing a story a few times because that’s how I can best edit it according to the way it feels live, the audience response and my comfort level. I always learn something new when I perform that enhances my next telling. I’m so glad I’m not the only mirror-practicer! My mom taught me that tip in high school when I would egomaniacally run for class office over and over… it really works.
LK: With music, I have almost no stage fright… with storytelling, a lot. It’s just you, the microphone and your story up there. I tend to go over the story in my head before getting up onstage, and try to remind myself that the audience is on my side. They want me to do a good job. But once I get going, the nerves tend to settle a bit. The first laugh is actually key. Once I can get a good laugh out of the audience I feel like we’re on our way. We’re going to make it. The nerves die down, and it becomes a lot more fun. You?
HB: With singing, A LOT of stage fright. JK, I’m amazing. JK, I’m a terrible singer and would DIE if I had to sing anything on stage. JK I would love to sing Les Miz on stage because I know it by heart and I’m kind of good at doing all the parts. But for real, I get nervous but I just accept those nerves as part of living and doing creative things. I heard once that “Fear is just excitement with a bad attitude,” so I try to remember when I’m fearful that maybe I’m just totally psyched. I lie to myself a lot.
So, since we agree we’re both starting out in the live, true story business: Who are your storytelling idols?
LK: I’d say: Dan Savage, Mike Birbiglia, Sarah Vowell (can you tell I listen to This American Life?).
HB: Oh my god, Mike Birbiglia is one of my favorites too. His stand-up and his storytelling. HERO CITY. My friend Julie Kraut is an amazing storyteller, she just won at The Moth GrandSlam the other week. Honestly, there are some incredible storytellers in my family who I greatly admire. My siblings are all writers and my several of my cousins work in television, so family events are always a blast. My mom, Marjorie Buckholtz, tells a killer story.
So, what do you think makes a story great?
LK: Humility! That seems like a bit of a contradiction, since you’re already standing on stage telling people they need to shut up and listen to you. But, humility is what invites people into the story. When you show your own weakness, and even more, show that you’re OK with it, it makes others more comfortable with it. It’s easier for the audience to connect with the storyteller when they are able to laugh at themselves.
HB: I agree and couldn’t have said it better. There’s nothing like vulnerability. My favorite laughter is that laughter when the person is nodding their head in familiarity and identification — the laughter of “I thought I was the only one who did that!” — the laughter of knowing.