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Oral Pleasure

By Dave Fox
Seattle, Washington

Oral storytelling is a fading art in today’s society. As if the invention of the book wasn’t threatening enough, now we’ve got this thing called television. And then there’s the Internet, blogging, tweeting, and a modern mess of other distractions that have minimized the importance our culture places on an exquisitely told tale.

I first got interested in oral storytelling when I was invited to tell one of the stories from my travel humor book to a group that’s trying to bring back the craft of oral storytelling. I was fine with the idea until the morning of the event, when I woke up in a cold sweat, terrorized by the sudden realization that not only was this not a reading, but I also wasn’t supposed to use any notes.

Getting Lost: Mishaps of an Accidental Nomad - Travel Humor by Dave FoxBut once I was “on stage,” sitting on a stool in a closed gift shop with about 80 strangers watching me, something clicked. I got a huge adrenaline rush as I ran my mouth, spouting off about my arrival in England at age seven, smuggling my little brother’s blankie through customs, and watching from the back seat as my parents learned to drive on what we in America like to call the “wrong” side of the road. (Actually, historically, driving on the left makes more sense, but that’s a tale for another day.) There was something about rambling to the audience without the crutch of notes that helped the story flow in a more natural, human way.

Mike Daisey is a modern genius when it comes to on-stage storytelling. He does use notes, which seem to be more of a transitional tool than a crutch. (Turning the page means there’s a change in action.) I saw him live a year ago when he gave a talk on a topic I normally wouldn’t go learn about for free, let alone pay good money for. The show was ostensibly about inventor Nicola Tesla and his battle with Thomas Edison over Alternating versus Direct Current. Mike weaved in stories of the invention and marketing of Monopoly, the arrival of Wal-Mart in his hometown, and the ways people in authority like to scare us. The performance was seamless and riveting.

I’ve been sketching out my own storytelling performance this week. In outlining it, I stole one of Daisey’s techniques, segueing from topic to unrelated topic in a way that somehow flows.

My own, quasi-humorous performance will include: Emigration to America, modern travel stress, my little brother’s blankie, driving on the left, Napoleon, “Short Man’s Complex,” teenage rites of passage in Norway, post traumatic stress disorder, punk rock, the Vietnam war, chicken penises, and more.

And yes, I know you are aching to hear what I have to say about chicken penises, but it’s going to be a while before this is all ready for human consumption. (My performance, not chicken penises.) But the flow of it all is taking shape in my mind. Next steps: flesh out the stories, rehearse the stories, and find a performance space.

Stay tuned.

Published on Wednesday, October 7, 2009

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