After ten years of working professionally as a storyteller, I began teaching through the thriving local adult education system. We worked on vocal variation, sound effects, character voices, use of props and a little mime. But we also worked a lot on the inner critic, by doing three things: a creative visualization, practicing something called “Casting the Golden Net" as well as doing an exercise designed to cultivate a witness consciousness. This can be used to counteract free-floating performance anxieties. The latter two are exercises I learnt while studying full-time at The Drama Action Centre in Sydney (or D. A. C) when it was directed by Bridget Brandon (1).
I put a lot of work into the self-critic because I felt my earlier years as a storyteller were quite overshadowed by my rather overdeveloped one and it is this I’ll concentrate on in this article.
For me a big turning point came in 1999, when I was told I would never come into my fullness as a teller while deep down I doubted my skills. Furthermore, if I just remembered to tell from the heart, then that’s the way my audience would receive my stories. This came through a psychic friend and it really made sense to me. I was headed to Western Australia for a solo tour and for once I felt really confident. While there, I discovered I was pregnant with my son- another great turning point for me as a teller- but that is another story…
My experience was that an overdeveloped inner critic can inhibit creativity, joy and confidence in almost every aspect of life. I also feel initiations are important, so the creative visualization involved imagining an ancient campfire scene in which an elder tells a spellbinding story. Then as people sat and chatted afterwards, the storyteller turns to you and passes on the ‘storytelling light’, a warm glow in his/her cupped hands that flies into your heart. S/he then affirms: “Know that this light will never go out. Let it grow and mature in you at it’s own pace. You can’t rush it. But once kindled, the story light never goes out- even when you think it has! And one day, you too will pass it on. "
Casting the Golden Net is a technique one of our voice teachers at D. A. C. taught us and it is very simple, but effective. You simply imagine, that as you are speaking, your voice and words are casting a golden net over your audience- right to the back row. I feel energetically this is what you are doing when you are holding an audience (and why performing to big groups can be quite physically demanding).
The last and most challenging exercise we did on liberating our inner storyteller which could be called “Witness Consciousness". We did this exercise on our first day at D. A. C. One by one, students stand before the group. They only say their name and then they just stand there- looking into the eyes of the audience and being seen by the audience. Potentially quite confronting even for extraverts in a very safe group! So I am very gentle and supportive as I coach people. I ask: “H Scan your body with your mind and notice any tension there. Where is it?"
Often, when people tune in, there is some degree of discomfort or a distracting sensation. If not, I coach the student to imagine a more challenging situation, because the idea of the exercise is to practice being grounded despite nervousness.
Next I ask, “Where is the sensation? In your body or outside your body?" The feeling might be perceived in a particular spot, like throat or stomach, but sometimes is perceived as a cloud above the head or even encompassing the whole body. Then, one by one, I gently ask what colour, size and texture the feeling has. Usually, just bringing awareness to the sensation and quantifying it, can ease the feeling or reduce it’s power to distract. It usually will move and change depending on what is going on for the student.
Then I coach the student with something I learnt at a Frankie Armstrong’s (2) folksinging workshop: to breathe the Earth’s energy up through the feet, up through the body and out the mouth, and to remember that nervousness is just nature’s way of giving you extra energy or extra voltage to give out to your audience and reach the back row. So it’s best to let it flow through you, rather than trying to stifle it or wrestle with it. Also students can imagine casting the golden net and/or silently welcoming the audience into their performance space. I check in on the feeling again, until it had dissipated enough for the student to feel comfortable. Rome wasn’t built in a day and naturally these exercises are not quick fixes. They are just some possible first steps in a journey to heal the relationship with one’s inner critic.
My groups since then have all found this exercise very helpful. In that first group, in the last week everyone told the story they’d worked on. Three of the students presented stories they’d written themselves. All eight students told in completely different ways and all eight tales were spellbinding- because they were telling from the heart! I was very proud of them, as they had all given so much, taken risks and come so far in such a short time! We continued meeting for a year after the course finished. J. Cargill ©2003
1) The Drama Action Centre is unfortunately no more, but Bridget Brandon now runs a wonderful company called Storyworks Australia. See www.storyworks.com. au
2) Frankie Armstrong is a wonderful English folksinger who travels the world teaching ‘The Calling Voice’.
If you want a recording for your child/grandchild/students that will ignite their imaginations, check out award winning CD “Wonder Tales of Earth and Sea" by dynamic Australian storyteller Jenni Cargill. At her site you can listen to free samples of the CD, download individual tracks, download free stories and articles and find loads of storytelling links. http://www.jennicargill.com.au