Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Campfires Spark Storytelling

Stories have always been important to human beings. Ancient people painted story pictures on cave walls. They carved stories in stone. But just when and how did oral storytelling take place?

People have long thought that some of it occurred around the campfire or hearth. Michael Balter, writing for Science Magazine, reports that recent research suggests that the campfire setting sparked the human storytelling impulse.

By studying an African hunter-gatherer tribe that only recently settled down to agricultural, village life, anthropologist Polly Wiessner noted different styles of narrative communication among them. It all depended on when and where tales were told.. During the day, stories were more likely to be about topics like economics and land issues. But as days stretched into evenings by the fire, people’s talk turned to social institutions, people in other communities, and traditions.

Storytelling is the oldest form of social networking.

The idea that the campfire setting is an incubator for stories won’t surprise campers and counselors. Countless imaginations (and marshmallows) sizzle while listening to ghost stories around a fire.

That age-old human tendency to enjoy stories in the evening continues even today. We attend theatrical shows at night, we sit around supper tables telling each other about school or work, and we share bedtime stories with our children.

It is an iconic, romantic image – people sitting around a fire listening to stories. It is also now documented that language-rich worlds are kindled by the warmth and glow of a fire.

As a performer who has told stories in every context imaginable, from campfires to hospitals and parking lots, I would like to offer an additional insight. The intimacy and sweetness of the campfire setting, combined with the full-bodied, live presence of a campfire audience, gives storytellers and listeners the focus and comfort that can set everyone’s imagination on fire.

There is nothing like an in-tune, authentic audience for encouraging communication and creativity.

That said, I will keep this topic in mind the next time I struggle with writing. Perhaps the darkness of night and the roar of a fire can help to burn my writer’s block to ash so that creativity, like a phoenix, can rise.

It’s worth a try, at any rate!

And then there is that other night light that connects us to stories. It is a cooler light. A bluer light. A light that brings us stories of friends on social media and makes it possible for us to binge on Netflix. Is this screen-based, mediated connection to stories an outgrowth of storytelling around the fire? Does it inspire connectivity and imagination and sustain the storytelling impulse? Or is this storytelling of a different kind? Let’s chat this up!

Comments below. Ready? Go!

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Copyright 2014 The Storycrafters

Photo Credit: Jon Sullivan

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