Storytelling, for me, is unique in that everyone involved with it must be present in ways that many other mediums do not demand. In an art with as much potential for intimacy as storytelling, one must always be aware of where one stands in every possible respect. The question becomes not only “how am I standing – how does my physical body reflect the space around it?” but also “what is my spatial relation to the audience?” or “what is my position on this matter?”

How do the people in the room with you affect the space you all exist in? 

Art imitates life – successful storytelling is enormously conscious of the ways that it interacts with other people. “Expert storytellers can increase an audience’s involvement in a story through various techniques that will cause them to identify, or sympathize, with the characters.”

This is something called aesthetic distance, which, when maintained, becomes the determiner of success. Does one keep the audience at arm’s length, shut them out completely, invite them to join in the telling? All of these can be effective if they fit with the aesthetic of the story.

“In many ways, the storyteller’s relationship with his/her audience parallels the storyteller/character relationship.” – [Source]

One relates a story to another because a story is something to be related because doing so creates a relationship between a teller and a listener/watcher/experiencer. There’s no getting around that. One becomes an object in space that cannot help but be intrinsically, sometimes inextricably tied to others.

Whether that bond continues to exist beyond the end of the story is partly up to you.



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3 Responses to distance

  1. Quin Rich says:

    This is a very powerful concept. If an audience member can form a solid bond with a story or a character, then not only can then gain more from immediate storytelling experience, but they can carry their personal meanings from that experience throughout their life. Much like a good book can allow us to create a lasting relationship with a character, we can also come to identify with the being who inhabit an oral tale. The difference is perhaps more in degree than in kind; an oral story provides with a sense of that character’s voice, physicality, bearing, and temperament that a written narrative does not. However, enough imaginative flexibility in left so that a listener can shape their own perception of the character, unlike in a movie where the character is presented in full, with an appearance, fashion sense, body type, and other physical features, as well certain nuances of posture, behavior, speech, and similar traits that would be better crafted by the listened if a true bond is to form. As such, a storyteller would be wide to give enough description to their characters to make them almost tangible, but not enough so as to fix what they must be in their listeners minds.
    –Quin Rich

  2. Veronica Santana says:

    This was very interesting to read since most of the storytelling I feel comfortable doing is personal storytelling. So, thinking about characters and audience connecting to them makes me want to continue to challenge myself to do storytelling beyond what I do. Which is just speaking from my own experiences or events in my life. But this also then made me think of how I apply these ideas to my personal storytelling. Which would mean I am the main character in my stories. I have definitely thought about how entertaining my story is, how funny it is or poignant. But I have never given a lot of thought on how I am presenting myself to the audience. Am I allowing or do I want my audience to connect with me in my stories? Or am I trying to stand out as different from them? This also touches on how I envision using storytelling as an organizing tool for empowerment an social change. If I am the character that can be identified with, then my stories can more effectively educate those who listen to the issues I am passionate about.
    -Veronica Santana

  3. roshard13 says:

    I really appreciated reading this post after 1) attending and participating in AGO and 2) listening to and living through Professor Sowell’s story about her journey to Nigeria. I have been interested in oratory practice for a long time due to its ability to touch the heart and soul in a way that is different from that which derives from reading a captivating novel or watching a enchanting movie. The simple fact that this artistic form of expression is one which brings the audience in contact with the teller has a lot to do with the reason why oratory practice can cultivate intimacy in a way that other platforms for storytelling cannot. Storytelling, as I have grown to learn this semester, has the potential for a level of intimacy that other oral art forms do not because it uniquely requires everyone involved to be present with one another. Though, I didn’t realize that I was utilizing aesthetic distance in my storytelling, I really do try to focus on how I allow my listeners identify with and relate to the characters in my story. It is my belief that stories allow us to connect with things in the world, and in our lives, that we often overlook or distance ourselves from. However, the effective use of aesthetic distance in storytelling can cultivate awareness and critical thinking about these issues and ourselves. A storyteller who is passionate and devoted to this practice, can almost always use any story to engender questioning, cultivate curiosity, and most importantly leaving their listeners with a sense of hope.

    In her performance last Wednesday for the Interdisciplinary Arts Department’s celebration, Professor Sowell successfully utilized distance in her personal tale of reconciliation. Each of the performances delivered—poetry, monologues, etc— were powerful, yet there was a different level of intimacy that was created in the room when the platform changed to storytelling. We were no longer watching a performance, but instead reliving her experience with her and this was the due to very intentional decisions made on her part. Moving the microphone to open the space for movement removed the barrier that separated her as a performer and us the audience. Her introduction and dedication made it obvious that she was sharing a part of herself with us which quickly deemed it necessary for us to be present and with her. And her strategic use of metaphors, imagery, and physicalization to develop the theme of “feet on solid ground” each helped to provide us with multiply point to identify with. This incredibly moving and captivating story illuminates the unique power of storytelling and the role that aesthetic distance plays in cultivating relationships between the storyteller and audience.

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