posted by Ian Summers on September 20th, 2006
The second in a series of articles about storytelling
Spontaneous oral storytelling exercises my creative mind. And when I became a father, I couldn’t wait to tell stories to my children before they went to bed. Those stories were pure improvisations. My children loved them because they came from our every day experiences. Others were fantasies where the children were encouraged to suspend disbelief and to accept the world as I presented it. The stories were often interactive and participatory. I remember inventing a fantasy world without television which prompted my daughters to reinvent radio drama as a storytelling device. Neither child had ever heard a radio drama. Children love radio drama because it invites them to complete the stories in their mind’s eyes.
What if storytellers presented only the basic facts? A plot for a movie might read something like this:
posted by Ian Summers on September 17th, 2006
Drama is enjoying a comeback on public radio. It stimulates our imagination and demands participation. Radio drama demands highly visual storytelling. My family did not own a television set until the mid ’50s. Imagine the disappointment when I saw what characters like The Lone Ranger and Tonto, The Green Hornet and Cato, Amos and Andy, Boston Blackie or The Fat Man looked like. It destroyed the fantasy. Similarly, in the mid-seventies, I designed a calendar based upon the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Readers wrote letters criticizing the artists’ renditions. They preferred to use their imaginations. On the radio Amos and Andy were played by two white men who wore black face when they performed although no one could see them. Charlie Chan the great Chinese detective was played by Caucasian actor Ed Begley. Children were usually played by adult actors. Women were sometimes played by men. Boys were played by women. Sound effects geniuses created wonderful illusions like the sound of someone being turned inside-out.
Children are excellent at spontaneous storytelling until well meaning caretakers burst the bubble of play insisting they be more productive and grown up. Watch children play together when you turn off the television and hide the video games.
When I was a boy Saturdays were filled with creating. I’d start by listening to my favorite radio programs, Jack Armstrong — The All-American Boy, Archie Andrews, Henry Aldrich, and The Buster Brown show hosted by Smilin’ Ed McConnell with Buster Brown, his dog Tige, Froggie the Gremlin, Squeaky the Mouse, and Midnight the Cat. Smilin’ Ed narrated stories that usually dealt with one of four heroes: Baba, an Arabian boy with a horse, Ghangi, an Indian boy with an elephant named Teelah, Little Fox, a Native American boy, or Kulah, who had a jug genie. They were as real to me as my brother.
At noon my gang would get together. We’d flip baseball cards until we decided what we would play — guns, war, cowboys, cops and robbers. One week I would be a good guy. The next a crook. We knew what it felt like to be a horse galloping across the plains. We ran with one arm held in a kind of rabbit paw posture simulating a rider holding the reins and the other slapping our sides to create the sounds of hoof beats. Sometimes I would be shot with a pointed finger which was as good as any toy gun. I’d roll on the ground and die dramatically. Moments later I’d be back on my feet saying, “I’m a new guy now.” Storytelling allows us to recall the uninhibited days of our childhood and to get back in touch with the spontaneous child within.
Spontaneous storytelling is not necessarily about creating high art. It’s like cooking a meal without a recipe. You take little of this and a little of that. Improvise. You will make some mistakes, but the stew is usually edible. Sometimes it’s tastier than another, or more subtle, or mysterious. It is always heartwarming. Don’t worry about getting it right. Mistakes lead to new discoveries. Woody Allen said, “If you get it right too much of the time, you must be doing something wrong.”
posted by Ian Summers on March 21st, 2006
I received a telephone call one afternoon from a photographer’s rep. It was the 80′s. I was a Creative Director. Few of us used answering machines. Voice mail was yet to become common place. There were switchboard operators. I had a secretary whose job description included screening telephone calls. I was expecting a call from my wife. My secretary was on her lunch hour. I answered my own telephone.
“Ian Summers,” I said.
“Um. Um. Um!” She stammered. “This is Lucy Arnez.” (Not her real name.) I think she expected a gate keeper.
“How may I help you, Lucy?”
“I represent Jack Spratt (Not his real name either.). A photographer from Teaneck. And we were wondering whether you were the person who buys photography.”
“What kind of work does Jack do?” I asked politely.
“A little this and a little that. Honey. We sent you a post-cawd a few weeks ago. I think we could make you look good. You and Jack could make some magic together.”
My jaw dropped.
“Whoops. Uma. Uma. Uma. I lost my place. Whom did you say I was calling?” She asked. I detected no embarrassment.