Brother Wolf: An Interview by Stephanie Benger

Audience SB: When did you first start podcasting your show “The Art of Storytelling”?

BW: I started that podcast in April of 2007.

SB: And you’ve done over a hundred, haven’t you?

BW: There are 103 online, with 17 more waiting to be uploaded.

SB: And is it mostly an American audience?

BW: I view the podcast as an International project. 44% of my audience is overseas. I’ve been working really hard to connect with international potential audience when they’re in the United States.

SB: So, the podcast is a big part of what you do?

BW: Yes, definitely. One of the things that’s started happening recently is that people are starting to come and say “interview me,” but it really doesn’t work that way. I’ve only ever done that twice, and both times I regretted doing it….
One of the things I struggle with is that a lot of podcasts that are very successful aim at an audience that is very tech savvy, but my target audience (storytellers) is almost the opposite. What that means is that the build is much slower than with other projects of these type. It’s one of the great frustrations of the project for me. And recently I re-branded it, which makes that process even slower. That’s why I’m always quick to say to anyone “if you like listening to it, let other people know, or people at your institutions know,” That’s the biggest way my audience grows…

SB: And I actually brought that up when speaking with Dale Jarvis as well. He’s quite successful at using social media, he does a lot of traditional storyteller-type reaching out to people as well, so he’s getting a kind of synergy going there, but he often has to think about bridging the gap between people who are traditional storytellers and are often over 40, and potential storyteller audiences who might not even be aware of the storytelling world unless he reaches out to them using social media.

BW: You use the term “traditional storytelling” a lot. I wouldn’t describe most of the storytellers I know as traditional storytellers. I would say “performance storytellers I know” or “community storytellers,” but I wouldn’t say “traditional tellers” unless I was talking about Native Americans, people from Africa, like the Griots from Africa, places where they still have a living tradition. Though it’s true that most of them are over 40 because it takes many years to master the tradition… Community storytellers doesn’t get as much respect in the U.S. and you can see this in their promotional materials, which often don’t even use the word “storyteller.” The storytelling brand is badly damaged; it’s associated with children and librarians reading books to children. That’s why I recently re-branded my podcast. (From “The Art of Storytelling with Children” to “The Art of Storytelling.” —SB)

SB: What do you think listening to stories does for people?

BW: I think that human beings are community animals. Not in the sense of lower, but in the sense of us being biological. Storytelling arises out of that need to build and structure community. When we know the people in the room, we’re really creating opportunities for connecting with them. In diplomatic relations, there’s a technique for using storytelling to prevent the hotheads from getting out of hand. Tellers are used to using metaphor and simile to speak to each other.

SB: What has being a storyteller done for you?

BW: The creator of the world makes us storytellers – it’s part of why I’m on earth.

SB: Would you say that storytelling is your calling?

BW: I would go beyond a calling; it’s part of the very fiber of who I am.

SB: How did you get started as a storyteller?

BW: When I was 8 and my sister was 4 I told her class the story I made up of how the old man’s shoes flew off and the class was all terrified, they loved it and wanted me to come back. This is what I always return to. But that’s not really important – what I think you want to hear is… Let me tell you three pieces of advice for a storyteller; the three things that made me a lot better as a storyteller.

SB: Okay, what are they?

BW: 1) When you tell your first story to a new audience, it’s always a story you’ve done many times before. Never start with new material. Always show them who you are in your best setting. That was the biggest step for me. Your second best story is your last one in a performance.
2) I stopped explaining everything. Bad tellers, they leave no stone unturned, no thing unexplained.
3) To be good you have to be practiced. I have a local/closed group, we’ve been practicing for five years. Sometimes it’s just a matter of doing it a lot. You need to focus on one genre and really do it.

SB: How does technology and storytelling interact?

BW: I feel like there’s been a real revolution in terms of technology in the 21st century but I think lots of people are having trouble wrapping their heads around it. Hardly any storytellers are aware that you can use Tunecore, CDBaby or CafePress and you can sell your storytelling CDs one at a time. If you have an amazing story… if you have a following of 300… then chances are half of those have iPhones or iPods. We’re leaving money on the table. We are missing opportunities to build relationships with audiences. We could do what Disney does. There’s so much crap out that… but it’s so loud and so viral… Susan Boyle, for example. We think we can’t compete, but because of Google we can compete. We’re better… we’re SO much better.

SB: I will interview Margaret Read MacDonald next week.

BW: Oh, she’s great. She was one of the very earliest supporters of this show, one of the first people I interviewed. So in a sense she’s been a real early adopter of this technology.

SB: Thanks for talking with me.

BW: My pleasure.


Writer’s Bio: Stephanie first learned the art of storytelling in 2005 and has been telling at schools, libraries, cafes and festivals ever since.
She specializes in Alberta history, tall tales, and biographies, but her repertoire also includes silly, salty and spooky stories from many parts of the world. Stephanie is a member of T.A.L.E.S., The Alberta League Encouraging Storytelling, and can be contacted through them. This interview was conducted as part of her graduate course work in 2009.

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