K. Sean Buvala writes
My techniques to facilitate storytelling with adolescent boys.
It might be difficult to understand the benefit of storytelling to adolescent boys if the unique nature and difference of the teller’s art is not understood. Storytelling to this population requires some specific techniques.
1. Make storytelling presentations without precursor, introduction or warning. I refer to this technique as “stealth” storytelling. In other words, announcing that “we are going to have a story” may result in the audience of boys turning off their ability to listen. My stories to a group of boys just begin with little or no framing or introduction. To begin by saying, “I almost ran a drunk over in the parking lot last night” has much more power than, “Let me tell you a story that I think will help you…”
2. Tell personal, true tales. Boys benefit by hearing how adult men (and women) have handled the “shadow” or difficult hurdles of life. When a teller to boys, especially a male teller, can use a well-prepared, emotionally secure personal tale with a boy, that teller helps the boy to “eat the shadows” (Gurian 145) of his own life by not duplicating the actions of the teller or of the teller’s story. Rather the boy comes to understand the essential concepts that pain, suffering and joy are all part of the human experience.
3. Use simple direct language. Most world folk tales and fairy tales, such as those by the Brothers Grimm, Lady Wilde, Joseph Jacob and others model a clear, distinct language and tone. Simple terms allows boys who are “long thinkers,” or those who use a slower aural process (Delgatto 151), to have the time to understand and form the mental images of the stories.
4. Solicit the imagination and use common archetypes. As previously mentioned, storytelling allows for the use of images and archetypes with boys. Connecting world folk tales and myth allows the teller to elicit the images of King, Warrior, Lover, Magician and Explorer. Tellers who seek out these stories can often find a willing audience in young men. It is important that stories include balance for the archetype. For example a balanced archetype story would include shadow with light, anger with forgiveness, and despair with hope. Nearly every story that can be told, both personal and world myth, incorporates at least one of these archetypes (Ellis and Niemi 11).
5. Strive to engage boys through dialogue to discover the meaning, implication or moral of the story directly from the boys instead of making a conclusion for them. There may be a desire on the part of the teacher, coach, leader or minister who chooses storytelling to always say, “And here is what the story means.” We do a disservice to all of our audiences when we pronounce to them the meaning of the story. As a teller, I often have audience members talk to me after a performance and remark upon their own interpretations of a story I have just told. Often times, their insights are far removed from the insights I derived from the story. This is a good thing. Tales, world or sacred, have been passed down for hundreds of years. Who properly owns the correct interpretations of those stories? The need to give the “right” conclusion as a teller is sometimes an issue of control. It is as if we say to ourselves as tellers, “I am the authority,” when in actuality we are as much interpreters as our audience. We actually assist boys when we let them draw and work through conclusions of stories, even when multiple tellings might be needed. It is actually a gift and character-building activity to engage boys in dialogue about the story experience. “We help him learn to look inward, identify emotions, and express them in a way that leads to improved connections to others instead of alienation.” (Barker, Kindlon, and Thompson 70)
6. Expect that adolescent boys will listen differently. In the opening of this paper, I shared a story of a young man who found that “listening sideways” was the best way to absorb the tales to which he was listening. Adolescent boys, by nature of their own metabolisms, tend to shift frequently, “listen sideways,” and may at times appear to be focusing anywhere else but on the storyteller. Many adolescent boys will play with items in their hands while listening, perhaps even appearing to be involved with the ball, the pen, the rubber band or any other myriad of objects they might have at hand. This is a natural part of the process young males use to absorb information. As a storyteller, I observe the same types of behaviors with pre-school audiences. I have never felt the need to keep pre-school children from moving about and I have applied the same level of expectations to my audiences of teenage boys. And, like many preschool audiences, adolescent boys who are truly caught up in your story may tend to blurt out what they think about the characters as you proceed. Being able to absorb and incorporate this type of input may improve the story’s power with your audience and deepen further the “first power’ of story, that of imagination. It is a sign that there is a breakdown, if even momentarily, in the “boy code” prohibiting emotions and participation in imaginative moments.
I believe that it is our goal as educators, ministers, parents and other concerned adults to help young people, boys and girls, to grow up to be fully human, in touch with their emotions, physicality and values. In American society, we certainly have created conditions where boys can grow in their physical strength and skills through organized sports. Sports do provide an acceptable outlet for aggression and the need for physical improvement. As adults, however, we have in storytelling the same type of ability to help a young man grow in his values and emotions. Through the use of well-told, intentionally-chosen, often-repeated and challenging stories, we help adolescent boys grow and mature emotionally to complete manhood.
Sean describes the collection of stories in his head as “life and legend” representing the mix of stories from his experiences, myth and legend from many cultures, sacred stories and observations of shared life events. As a storyteller, Sean primarily works with teens and adults and schools and libraries use him all the time for younger children. He describes his style as somewhere between “in your life and in your face” depending on the needs of the group he’s telling to/with at any given gathering. Sean recognizes the ability of story to change the lives of the listeners, as he see stories change his own life as a teller.
Sean has been presenting and storytelling “on the road” since 1985. He’s traveled to perform and present workshops in dozens of states and to hundreds of organizations in those states. His audiences have ranged from just few people gathered in a living room to several thousand teens and adults. Both national organizations and local groups have experienced Sean as a teller and workshop leader.
Sean’s experience also involves training and design for the telecommunication and hospitality industry. He’s done customer service instruction/team development for companies ranging from government, to faith based organizations to major corporations.
Sean is an author and recording artist. He’s had a number of magazine articles published and is the Executive Director and Founder of storyteller.net. He’s produced several CD’s of storytelling and theater with many more on the way, including a Volume II of stories intended for teenage guys. Sean’s CD, stage, storytelling and theater presentations have included such productions as “Burn,” “One Fool Experience,” “Seven Raven: Unvarnished Tales from the Brothers Grimm,” “Voices from the Noise,” and “Calling Out a Rising Sun: Stories for Teenage Guys.” There have also been many hundreds of presentations custom designed for the sponsors who’ve used Sean in the past.
Most important of all- Sean is the father of four daughters and husband of one wife. He lives in the Phoenix, Arizona area. His wife says that he is a great cook.
You can see more about K. Sean Buvala at Seantells.com