I&A is proud to feature monthly guest posts from the Firehouse Five!
Guest post by Jane True
To paraphrase, necessity is the mother of discovery. So when a writer stumbles and breaks both bones in her writing arm, the opportunity is ripe for discovery of oral media. Thus I recently became aware of the popularity of storytelling. Following is a brief interview with Duo Yang, a friend living in Chicago who has recently started performing as a stand-up storyteller. I hope you find it interesting!
Oral storytelling has been around since the stone ages. When did it have its recent resurgence?
Live storytelling has been a time-honored tradition, being one of the first forms of entertainment and whatnot. In the past 2 to 3 years however, large, well-organized storytelling events have been on the rise.
Where is it most popular–regions, cities, venues?
Chicago and New York are the two places where live storytelling is very popular right now. With that said, any place with a healthy writer or actor population can readily host storytelling events. As for venues, small theaters and bars are the most common venues, and larger events can fill larger venues such as Park West in Chicago.
Who is doing it? Writers? Actors? Stand up comics?
Anyone with an interesting story is welcome to tell it, but actors, improvisers, and stand-up comics do tend to represent a good portion of the performers.
Who is the target audience?
Most storytelling shows focus on true stories, so I guess anyone who is entertained by true tales of other people’s lives is the target audience. Furthermore, many shows have community-building elements such as potlucks and crowd voting built into them, so I suppose those who are attending are also making meaningful connections with the storytellers and other members of the audience.
How does it differ from print stories? Do you adapt it to the audience? How improv is it for you?
A good story is only half of what makes a good storyteller: the performance itself is also important. By watching storytellers performing live, the audience forms a more tangible connection with the storyteller. While some storytellers have impeccably rehearsed and timed stories, some prefer to be more extemporaneous.
How much do you plot out ahead of time?
Personally? I type out my story, read through it a few times and analyze the recordings, edit the story a bit, and that’s it. I tend to know the story I want to tell, but how I tell it differs from time to time.
What is the most common subject matter?
Some shows have predetermined themes such as serendipity or pets, but an interesting phenomenon (and maybe this is just confirmation bias) is that during shows that do not have predetermined themes, themes tend to emerge. Relationship with parents is always a popular subject, as is high school life.
Where do you get your ideas?
Life! Since the stories are on true events, they’re based on parts of my life that I think other people will find interesting.
How long have you been doing public storytelling?
Not too long. I think I told my first story to an audience this February.
Is most of your material non-fiction? Your personal history/your friends? Is the content usually reality based, or does anyone do dystopian or fantasy storytelling?
All of my material is non-fiction and are based on personal experiences. They’re 100% reality based, though I do tend make a lot pop culture references — know your audience!
What is your personal goal when you tell a story? To entertain? To sway opinion?
Mostly, to entertain. Sometimes, writing a story helps me clear my head and formulate my thoughts. I know some people are mortified of public speaking, but telling your story in front of an audience can be therapeutic.
What do you feel are the most important qualities in a good storyteller? Is it more important to be a good performer than a good story writer?
Both! A good story is the foundation of a good storyteller, but the teller must also be able to connect with the audience. Charisma plays a role, but delivery is also important: you can have the best written story in the world, but if you deliver it in slurred speech nobody understands you can’t expect the audience to be on your side.
Do you use props? Or do others use them? Or is the performance strictly verbal?
It depends on the storytelling show. Some shows do not allow any props, but the more memorable ones I’ve seen featured props. One storyteller told her story and brought 30 ukuleles (thirty!) and turned the latter part of her story into a collaborative group performance. The audience learned a few chords and sang “Hey Jude.” It was amazing.
Thank you, Duo!
If you’re in the Chicago area, come hear Duo tell his stories on the second Wednesday of the month at Stage 773,
1225 W. Belmont Ave.
Author of My Skiing Sister, starring Toby—a freedom-seeking 18-year-old, and his sister Clare, an awesome skier who has autism, a seizure disorder, and one heck of a sense of humor.