The Teller in Residence Experience

Meet guest blogger, Storyteller Adam Booth.  Adam just finished his week as teller in residence here at the International Storytelling Center.  We asked Adam to share his thoughts on being part of Storytelling Live!

I’ve always believed that storytelling was about community. When I was a boy, storytelling meant my extended family was gathered around my great-grandmother and her sister. As part of the West Virginia Storytelling Guild, it means being a link in an inclusive network, united by a shared passion. And in Jonesborough as TIR, it resounded with the magic word of the week: trust.

In speaking with townsfolk, ISC staff, and new friends I met in nearby cities, my conversations kept coming back to trust. How do we successfully grow an audience? By bringing along folks who have a trusting relationship with someone in attendance. How do we use story for social change? By establishing trust with our words and record of action.

As featured teller, I found that I was entrusted to bring solid, well-crafted, artful story to many first-time audience members who tried story on a whim. I felt that the ISC trusted me to represent several kinds of storytelling traditions from across Appalachia. And once I came to understand that many audience members were seasoned listeners from the Jonesborough Storytellers Guild and the nearby area (where proximity has produced great listeners), I gained their trust to take them to depths reaching beyond where they were used to going in story. That’s the magic of storytelling: allowing someone who might be a total stranger to become your tour guide to an unknown world for a period of time.

I was honored that the audience went along with me on many adventures. As my friend Andy relates from one of his own teachers, we first laughed together so that we could then explore the challenging and sublime together. I looked at the week of concerts as one big event rather than five isolated events. The first few concerts comprised tall tales and personal stories, but once I gained trust the more difficult stories revealed themselves. I was comforted to know that I wasn’t alone on those expeditions; we went together as a community to explore stories of environmental atrocities and problematic social constructions. Were the tough stories everyone’s favorites? I’m sure they weren’t the ideal stories for everyone, but we were able to go together to explore more treacherous and stretching regions. And I’m also sure that for the right people in the audience, they were the stories that needed to be heard. I know that on those last few days the difficult stories were what I needed to tell.

I left the week with several impressions. I loved being in Jonesborough and found that I was actually telling to a national community who revealed themselves through the week as being from a dozen states. But in the midst of that national community was a small town that knew me as a special visitor from day one. I felt significant, which motivated me to deliver great work back to the town.

I also came to more fully realize that I want to develop more stories that are difficult — challenging to hear and difficult to tell. Part of developing storytelling artistry is honing one’s skills as a leader in words and metaphysics. I felt that as TIR I could demonstrate such abilities but also learn that I have plenty of room to grow. I left Jonesborough with ideas for many new stories and I think much of that is because I had a platform to explore trust. Did I grow as a teller? Sure. But it seems that my concept of being a storyteller grew even more. And I’m encouraged to find those tellers who will guide me safely along their own narratives, so I can learn more about how I want to practice the craft. I believe Jonesborough is one set of crossroads to find such a community of tellers.

Adam Booth