Ruth Stotter – Working with Props (and string) in Storytelling.

Press Play to hear Ruth Stotter speak on working with props in storytelling performances on the Art of Storytelling with Brother Wolf.

Press Play to hear Ruth Stotter speak on working with props in storytelling performances on the Art of Storytelling with Brother Wolf.
(Link was broken NOW fixed - sorry about that.)

ruth storyteller

Ruth Stotter Writes....
I love the idea that as a storyteller, you travel light. A "bag" of stories takes up no room and is easy to carry around. But I also love interspersing stories with props - both as a folklorist carrying on old traditions and as a way of adding a visual component. Puppets, masks, and origami are among my favorites. You asked why I am currently so intrigued with string stories and I will try to answer. It never ceases to amaze me that with a simple loop of string you can make hundreds of figures, and that these string designs can be used to tell stories.I think they were the first picture books. Tellers in traditional cultures twisted and turned the string to make illustrations to accompany their oral texts.

When I went to Easter Island, where they still hold an annual string story competition, I found that they were using a rough hewn string from a plant and told stories in the old Rapa Nui language, not the modern Rapa Nui, nor Spanish, which is the official language. In Fiji I met a man who easily copied my string figures. I found it difficult to learn his, as I am used to book illustrations. Besides stories, of course, the loop of string is used for stunts and magic tricks.

Organizing the String Gathering in San Francisco in 2004 I was happy to meet other members of the International String Figure Association. This organization sends members a monthly string figure-design as well as various newsletters and books. Several of the people who attended the Gathering brought power point presentations of their experiences collecting string figures from Yupik Eskimoes, Navajos, and various Oceanic Rim countries.

I was pleased to be invited to write the section "String Figures" for Storytelling: An Encyclopedia of Storytelling and Folklore, edited by Josepha Sherman. That led to my writing A Loop of String.

So, you see, my friends, all of my interests - origami, puppets, magic, folklore and storytelling - coalesce in this seemingly simple folk craft! I guess the bottom line (literally in this letter ) is that as a storyteller I find it challenging and irresistible to adapt and adopt string figures as part of my storytelling performance.

ruth storyteller2

Bio: Ruth Stotter's kaleidoscope activities in storytelling include telling stories at a local Rennaisance Faire for six summers, producing and hosting "The Oral Tradition" radio program on KUSF-SF for six years, directing the Dominican University storytelling program for 14 years*, teaching and performing in Portugal, France, England, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, India and Africa. She is the author of About Story, More About Story, The Golden Axe, Smiles: 101 Stunts and You're On!. She has chaired and presented papers at meetings of the American Folklore Society and for several years served on the ASF Aesop Committee, which selects the best children's books based on folklore. Her honors include the Reading the World Award from the University of San Francisco, a regional award from NAAPS, and most recently an Oracle Lifetime Achievement Award from NSN. She is listed in Who's Who in American Education, Who's Who in America, and Who's Who in the World.

M.A. Stanford University - Speech Pathology
M.A. Sonoma State University - Storytelling
University of California, Berkeley - Teaching Credentials

Left out:
Conducted workshops at National Conferences of NAPPS and NSN: Tandem Storytelling, Story Adaptation, Storytelling with Props, and at the 2010 conference July 2010, Storytelling with String. Performed at Storytelling Festivals in Canada, MA and California. Monthly performances for two years at College of Marin bookstore.

*Dominican University
Classes taught: Beginning Storytelling, Intermediate Storytelling, Advanced Storytelling (putting as program together), Pre-School Storytelling, Analyzing Stories, Storytelling with Props, Critique Clinic.
Workshops taught: Tandem Storytelling, Creating Original Stories

author of Little Acorns: A Guide to Marin County Plants
Kayaker - from island to island in Fiji, in Baja, Florida Keys and San Francisco Bay.
Hiker: walked from Zurich to Geneva over 5 mountain passes. Annapurna trek. Peru trek, John Muir trail form Yosemite to Mammoth
Married over fifty years with three children
Competitive Croquet player (and has won several trophies). Current handicap is 13.

about string stories:
Ruth finds it amazing that with a simple square of paper or a loop of string hundred of figures can be created and stories can be told and notes that both of these are traditional art forms in other cultures. In 2004, Ruth hosted the first String Gathering for String Enthusiasts in San Francisco, and stringers attended from 13 states.

You buy some of Ruth Stotter's Books on the Jackie Baldwins Story Lovers Website at


  • By Hauiti, September 23, 2010 @ 10:16 pm

    You travel light! I have found that children are quick to pick up string figures – and adults find it quite a challenge! There are very few left in my country that can tell stories accompanied with string figures (whai in our language) – some of the figures are universal but are unique in that they have names and associated stories – i would love to attend a story-telling session!!

  • By Lillian Rodrigues-Pang, December 8, 2010 @ 8:42 pm

    Hello Ruth,

    I have to say as an economist turned professional storyteller I absolutely loved your comments regarding teaching storytelling :-)

    Although it was your underlying theme of intention that hit the mark. Intention toward the prop/prop character. Intention towards sharing with the audience (yourself and the story). And intention/intensity of the vision (of the story).

    Thank you so much for your words here Ruth. Brother Wolf thank you for the opportunity to hear this interview. What fun stories you shared Ruth.


  • By Brother Wolf, December 14, 2010 @ 3:48 pm

    Your welcome – thanks for following the show and your interest….

  • By Uschi Erlewein, January 12, 2011 @ 10:19 am

    …since some days I listen your podcasts as a “storyteller´s bednightstory” and wanted to write some comments. so here is my first one.
    First of all, i tank you so much for doing this work, its truely inspiring!!! I am one of your “overseas”, located in Germany. I am a professional storyteller, specialized on stories from other cultures: I let the stories talk – if there is a need for further information i add that to the story, I rely on the images of the story itself and think there is no need for interpretation and explanation. so i “teach” without “teaching”.
    Beginning of the 80`s I started as a puppeteer,am still directing puppet-theater-productions. As a storyteller I love to use my body as a puppet, use movement and imagination – no puppets, I love it very basic. maybe one day i will go back to masks.
    In the moment I perform stories regularly in an anthropology museum. standing between originals from those cultures, I need to be very careful with any prop and costume, that it does not look like a cheap imitation of the original. Still I find it important to wear a costume, for myself to get into the right mood and as a visual signal and starter for the audience.
    Quite often I compare my work as a performer with sculpting or painting. Always cut off what is not needed, looking for abstraction and a clear line and form.
    The story tells its needs, to get a good shape. Whatever supports that and is typical for the atmosphere I use.
    And quite often 1 or 2 good objects are better than many. It´s the quality, not the quantity, that has effect. Especially in a world of opulence it is liberating to see that we do not need much stuff and material to create. Making something out of nothing!
    In puppetry we have this goal of never having an object on stage without using it. I think that is a good idea for storytellers as well.

  • By Nancy Sims, February 22, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

    Hi Ruth. I am a Speech-Language Pathologist working with little ones in a pediatric private practice in Colorado. I recently attended a Narrative Assessment and Intervention Workshop of Dr. Carol Westby’s a couple of weeks ago and during her presentation she discussed String Stories. I was so intrigued that I ordered your book: A Loop of String. Unfortunately, the book arrived WITHOUT the string. Dr. Westby showed us her string and made a point of showing us that the string for these stories is unique because it doesn’t have any knots, slides nicely, etc., and is of a particular length for the stories and stunts. I was hoping you might be able to tell me where I could get one or two of these special strings so that I can start practicing and sharing with my kids! Looks like such fun! Love your book and look forward to your feedback!! Sincerely, Nancy Sims MA CCC-SLP

  • By Scare Crow, November 1, 2012 @ 5:24 am

    Hi old lady!
    Please give me some suggestions on how to be a great storyteller…POWEEEZ!!I just want to get a high score for our project :) wakwakwakwak….hfbyibnvyuvhebnfhji

  • By Scare Crow, November 1, 2012 @ 5:26 am

    Hey Ruuuuuuttttttttttthhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!……………. >:)

Other Links to this Post

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

WordPress Themes