by Nan Kammann-Judd
Member, Producers & Organizers SIG
The storytelling community is one of the warmest, most talented, compassionate, and usually very professional groups of people. What separates the “professional” storyteller from other storytellers who are invited to participate in festivals, workshops, performances, and conferences? From the producer’s perspective, here are some suggestions for the best qualities and most helpful behavior for storytelling professionals:
Respond as soon as you can to our calls, e-mails or letters of inquiry of availability, invitation, or for information. I cannot tell you how many hours of frustration and delay are caused by this one area that separates the “professionals” from the “amateurs.” Please be considerate. Most festivals are on a tight schedule and need answers in a timely manner.
Please have professional black/white photos as well as color photos or slides. Action photos instead of headshots are the best kind. The quality of the photo determines the placement of the article in many newspapers. A superb color photo or slide will make the front page of the Arts & Entertainment Section almost every time!
It also greatly helps if you have written your own biography containing many paragraphs describing different aspects of your career. The producer may then pick and choose the paragraphs to use for their marketing campaign. This saves the producer from reading through many newspaper articles trying to pull out pertinent information about you. It also ensures that the information is accurate and current.
Read the materials that are sent to you right away then review them just before participating in a festival. Since you are performing in a lot of different venues, it’s important for you to know, understand, and agree to what the festival director is asking or to handle it early on. If you review this information before you arrive, in most cases there won’t be surprises because you will have already been asked or told.
Be clear about what your needs, wants, and expectations are and what you require to give your best performance. If some of those cannot be met, then negotiate arrangements that are fair to both you and your host.
Come prepared to give your host the energy and commitment required to do your best. Don’t schedule other gigs during your committed time in order to be fair to your host (before or after the festival is negotiable). Enjoy yourself but not at the expense of your energy or performance.
Be a good guest and considerate of your hosts, but also don’t be afraid to be aware of improvements that would help make a better event and be willing to share this with your host. Most are very appreciative of a suggestion given in a helpful manner after the smoke has cleared.
Be flexible, but not too flexible. Any event usually involves a lot of people and sometimes various sites, which will undoubtedly require some give and take or minor last minute changes. You should not, however, be expected to re-create or revise your program or any request that is unreasonable or unfair to you. It may be a case of adjusting and then using that as a “teachable moment” to save future storytellers from disorganization or discomfort.
Stay within your time limits. To producers, audiences, and other storytellers, this is one you’ll lose friends over if you abuse it too often. Occasionally you’ll have to “go over” but make sure you are fully aware of other tellers who will share your time and what you are doing to their ability to do their work.
Show appreciation to your hosts for having the faith in you to extend an invitation to their event. Thank them during the event, and even go so far as to point out things you really like they are doing or that occur during the event (positive re-enforcement). One of the best things you can do is to write a brief note after the event thanking your hosts for the opportunity to perform. Many an exhausted director has gotten renewed energy from this one kind gesture.
Nan Kammann-Judd is the former Director of Special Programs at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (annual budget $1,000,000+). She directed a College Credit in High School program (6,000 enrollees); served as the Missouri State Director of Elderhostel (3,000 annual participants), and the Director of the community-wide St. Louis Storytelling Festival (15,000-25,000 participants each year).
She served on the NAPPS Regional Advisory Committee for 4 years, and then the NAPPS/NSA Board of Directors for 6 years. In addition she has received two storytelling regional leadership awards and has been named the honorary chair of the 2003 National Storytelling Conference. She currently resides in Chicago where she writes and publishes from time to time.