Storytelling in The Street at Festivals and as Outdoor Theater and Storytelling With Magic.

Joshua Safford Storyteller ad entertaier at festivals

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Interview #054 Joshua Safford
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Telling to the street – magic for eye.

Joshua Safford writes…
I’m looking forward to discussing with Eric what it means to be a street Storyteller as well as the fusion between magic and storytelling. While I have performed in theaters, schools, cafe’s and more traditional storytelling venues, I most commonly perform for people under trees, in fields and on corners. This is actually a more traditional means of performing storytelling back when storytellers worked in the marketplace in the street or would travel from home to home singing for their supper. Largely I do this in the context of a Renaissance or fantasy festival but I have, in the past, taken it upon myself to just do storytelling in the modern street.

Why work in this storytelling fashion? Well for one it breaks the third wall in a very special way. One can actually reach out and touch ones audience members, clink mugs and adjust ones programming according to their expressions. Certainly this can be done in a theater but one gains a greater sense of control through a cluster instead of a crowd. And storyteller can pay greater individual attention to the storytellers audience. The storyteller can also judge them more effectively when storytelling with a tighter lens so to speak.

Picking the right story for an individual that you meet in passing can be very powerful. One is also afforded a greater selection of stories that you might want to tell by having the luxury of picking your crowd cluster or individual. You are not limited to what you are hired to do. You choose what to speak about and find the right people to tell it to. Or the people you encounter choose what you speak about. This sort of randomness is exciting. On a festival day I have no idea what stories I will be telling or where in a venue I will be telling them. I simply go for a walk with a mushroom stool on my head and I try and catch as many smiles as possible and turn them into stories. After they’ve enjoyed my tale they will tip me or buy some of my merchandise.

For some reason the threat of being turned down for a single story is far easier to deal with than being turned down for a full hour performance. There is less at risk because there is less to gain. Though sometimes the telling of a single story to a crowd passed by will sell several CD and gain good tips.

The Challenges of working this way are great. People that come to a storytelling concert or hire you for an event are familiar with what you do. Working the street at a festival people did not ask for you by sitting down. You are asking them and you cannot be offended when they say no nor can you take no at face value. A lot of things are going through their mind such as, if you suck this could be really embarrassing. Or you must not be very good otherwise you would be on one of the stages. It is a futile effort to explain to them that I choose to work this way, that stages have been offered to me and that I refuse them. You can’t explain to people that this is actually a very powerful way of experiencing storytelling; the only way is to do it for them. Then you must keep them there using charm, body language, and sound effects.

The strongest weapon one has an intimate storyteller is
to make it be about them more than it is about you. And you have the luxury of getting to nod with them as if you were in conversation. Because you are only five feet away this is natural. Some people are uncomfortable with someone working up close. You can either maintain eye contact to keep them until they are comfortable or shift to those that are. Sometimes you will encounter a group that is of split mind. Meaning several have the inclination to move on while others want to stay awhile. You can choose to play to the stayers or the goers. Sometimes they will go, but this is rare if I’ve set up the encounter right.

Other challenges include weather. Sometimes I have to work out in the pouring rain or sandstorms. You have to be a warrior to keep peoples attention. Fortunately they wouldn’t be out there in that situation if they weren’t warriors of happiness themselves.

Lastly how does one become paid for this sort of work?
First you must convince festival officials that this sort of work is valid. The second is that one should be tipped to the people you perform for, the passers by. A direct hat line such as is done in common circle street acts cannot be done.

Storytelling as outdoor theater in the street can be a rewarding experience fraught with challenges it has many rewards.

Other things I will be discussing will be the fusion of storytelling and magic. When it is effective and when it is not. The uses of visual focus.

I would also get into storytelling as a character and how that shapes your work.

Joshua Safford Storyteller ad entertaier at festivals

You can learn more about Joshua Safford, storyteller at


  • By James, May 11, 2008 @ 1:10 pm

    I enjoyed reading your post “Storytelling in The Street at Festivals and as Outdoor Theater and Storytelling With Magic”. What is the best way to open a random stranger to listening to a story? If a stranger is just standing in line, waiting– how do you recommend I approach them to allow them to hear me out?


  • By Katie, May 15, 2008 @ 12:37 pm

    I have always loved street theater. It is effective in working for political change when done well.
    As for telling on the sidewalk – Brother Blue has been a solid presence for decades in Cambridge. God bless him and his angel, Ruth!

  • By Denis Gessing-"The Ol'Storyteller, April 14, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

    I listened to this interview with Joshua on the loaded i pod of interviews. First time as a casual listener, the second and third times as a professional looking for tips as I will be doing a lot of line/street telling this summer. The interview was much appreciated in many ways, but mostly because of the re-enforcemnet Joshua offered to those of us comfortable with both telling and improvising.
    Will be getting in touch with Joshua soon. Thanks
    Denis (”The Ol’Storyteller) Gessing

  • By Brother Wolf, April 15, 2011 @ 1:11 pm


    If you enjoyed the interview you might want to take a listen to Brother Blues Interview on Street Storytelling – though less specific it is no less heart felt and deeply spiritual.

    All the Best

    Brother Wolf

  • By Jim Carr, October 3, 2014 @ 9:47 pm

    Dear Friend, Does anyone have CD or DVD of storytelling events? I am a Puppeteer and do storytelling with puppets and marionettes. I am also involved with Creative Ministries and enter into competition. Often I take story we all know and add scripture to enhance the Word of God. To share a blessing often is a blessing in return. Thank you for your reply.

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