Success Stories in Building Adult Audiences

by Kate Dudding ()

At the National Storytelling Network’s 2003 Conference in Chicago, I moderated a panel discussion on this topic. Other panel members were Gerald Fierst, Ellen Munds and Robert Revere. Based on the panelists’ presentations and information shared by attendees, there seems to be three things in common with all successful storytelling events for adults:


  • The venue must fit the audience, i.e. be a place that type of adult normally goes. For example, an adult event at a children’s museum drew a small audience; a storyteller dinner series at a restaurant draws the same older middle-class audience that normally eats in the restaurant; a night club for the 20-30 crowd draws that same age group to a Story Slam.
  • Collaboration with other, non storytelling groups draws new people, people from the non storytelling groups, to the storytelling event.
  • A time for socialization, perhaps including food and alcohol, makes the event more enjoyable for all attending as well as more acceptable for those who are skeptical about storytelling.Below are brief descriptions of successful adult storytelling event across the country. Also see the separate articles: House Concerts in Kansas, Poems, Pints, and More! and Short Subjects .

    Producer: Kate Dudding
    Location: Albany/Schenectady/Troy, NY

    Types of events for adults and how long they’ve been going on:

    • Tellabration since 1996 – audiences 300-400.
    • Storytelling dinner series since 1999 – 35 events, 40-180 people/event
    • Series at a learning center for seniors – just started Feb. 2003

    Attendance (young adults, middle-aged adults and senior citizens):
    mostly middle-aged or senior citizens, but some young adults are coming to Tellabration now that it’s in a theater in Albany.

    Keys to

    • Location: small metropolitan area, 1 million population in a 30 mile radius, enough people within an easy driving distance, without a glut of competing events
    • Our first Tellabration was in a Unitarian Church which often uses stories as part of their service and where several members of our guild attend – our first audience had 70 members from this church
    • 3 dedicated organizers/publicity people
    • 1 person well connected with many community organizations
    • 1 detail person to keep the mailing list on a database
    • a pool of 30 experienced tellers to tell at the programs
    • Once/twice a year planning meetings where new people are invited to share their ideas. That’s how Tellabration ended up in a real theater, not a high school auditorium. Someone suggested it and we found out that the theater’s rate for a not-for-profit organization was within our budget

    Producer: Gerald Fierst
    Location: MidAtlantic States
    Web site:

    Types of events for adults and how long they’ve been going on:

    • New York Storytelling Center series of workshops, swaps and Tellabration – 20 events over a nine month calendar, 20-200 people/event
    • MidAtlantic States Gathering annual conference and retreat for 12 years, 40-200 people/event
    • Jewish Storytelling Center series of four performances/lectures annually, 20-70/event

    Attendance (young adults, middle-aged adults and senior citizens):
    mostly middle aged attendees

    Keys to success:

    • Location and price: accessibility makes a difference
    • Co-sponsorship by a group or institution with access to audience
    • Strong support from a team of volunteers
    • 1 person with lots of energy and organizational skills
    • 1 detail person
    • Strong sense of inclusion in the community as a whole

    Producer: Ellen Munds, Storytelling Arts of Indiana
    Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
    Web site:

    Types of events for adults and how long they’ve been going on:
    Storyteller’s Theater for Adults includes the Storytelling Series, Sharing Hoosier History Through Stories and The Frank Basile Emerging Stories fellowship and Premiere. The Storytelling Series began in 1991 and the other two programs have followed. The majority of our programs are now presented at the Indiana Historical Society in downtown Indianapolis.

    Attendance (young adults, middle-aged adults and senior citizens):
    Individuals attending these programs range in age from 30’s – 70’s.

    Keys to success:

  • Willingness to continue to change and try new formats, ideas etc until we get the right combination.
  • Collaborating with as many different organizations as possible (marketing and programming):
    • Indiana Historical Society: Sharing Hoosier History Through Stories, Historyfest, Concerts on the Canal, 16th Annual Hoosier Storytelling Festival
    • Sierra Club of Indiana
    • WFYI (public radio)
    • OASIS, a national nonprofit educational organization designed to enhance the quality of life for mature adults
    • Conner Prairie: A Living History Museum
    • Arts Organizations such as Dance Kaleidoscope, Indianapolis Opera, Historic Landmarks Foundation
  • The make-up of the board of Storytelling Arts of Indiana consists of members from the corporate and not-for-profit community to assist with developing and implementing marketing and fundraising plans.

    Producer: Robert Revere, previously associated with the Washington Storytellers Theatre
    Location: Washington DC metropolitan area
    Web site:

    Types of events for adults and how long they’ve been going on:

    • Storytelling concerts for adults, monthly since 1990. Evenings feature one performer. Average attendance 150.
    • Speak Easy series, monthly since 1997. Evenings are themed, feature three or four invited performing artists and eight open mic slots. Average attendance 80.
    • Festivals, annually since 1999. Events have taken different shapes and structures, with different results.

    Attendance (young adults, middle-aged adults and senior citizens):
    All. Demographics have been slowly changing. Concerts have attracted mostly seniors, and are now a mix of senior citizens, middle-aged adults, and younger adults. Speak Easys were designed to attract young adults in their 20s and 30s and have actually brought adults in their 30s through 50s (and older).

    Keys to success:

    • Programs should be easy to find and walk to
    • Friendly competition brought out through our Story Slams (competitive Speak Easy, like a poetry slam) brings larger audiences
    • Don’t take production problems too seriously—the audience is on your side
    • Have a good writer handling publicity
    • Take advantage of the Internet

    Producer: Houston Storytellers Guild (Sally Goodroe)
    Location: Houston, TX
    Web site:

    Types of events for adults and how long they’ve been going on:

    • Liars Contest near April Fools Day
    • Twilight Tales
    • Skyline Screamers
    • Tellabration
    • Night of Celtic Tales
    • Patchwork of Storytelling Festival

    Attendance (young adults, middle-aged adults and senior citizens):
    middle-aged adults and senior citizens

    Keys to success:

    • The Liars Contest theme brings a very loyal returning audience.

    Producer: King County Library System
    Location: King County, WA

    Types of events for adults and how long they’ve been going on:

    • Storyfest International, since 2001

    Attendance (young adults, middle-aged adults and senior citizens):

    Keys to success:

    • Backup of a very large library system
    • Well-organized staff
    • Devoted volunteers
    • Excellent tellers from throughout the world
    • Collaboration with other organizations
    • In touch with parks departments and senior centers
    • Overflow parking offered by local church



    Author’s Bio:

    Kate Dudding ( is enjoying her 7th year as a professional storyteller. She enjoys creating and telling stories set in history, personal stories and interactive stories.

    Kate is active in the US storytelling community. She is a member of the National Storytelling Network, the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling and Story Circle of the Capital District. She is also a member of the program committee for the Second Annual Riverway Storytelling Festival and a co-founder of the Hudson Valley Storytelling Alliance.


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