Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Archive for the tag “Storytelling in families”

What to Do About Those Disney Princesses

In improvisational acting, one big rule is that when another actor does something, you say “Yes! And…” This means that you embrace the prompt that the actor gives you : Yes! Then, collaborate by adding something of your own to it: And….

Joy Martin-Malone from the MamaPop blog wrote a piece that appeared in the Huffington Post. To this I say “Yes! And…”

I love her article and urge you to give it a read. I love it so much that it is preventing me from doing my sacred exercise ritual because I have to write this post NOW.

Her article is about the striking parallel between Disney princesses and drag queens (big hair, fancy gowns, dressing up). It is also about the author’s discomfort as a parent of young girls who adore Disney princesses and their glitzy paraphernalia, princesses who share perfect looks and wait around for rescue from princes and their assorted ilk. She says that where drag queens revel in humor, Disney princesses wait and worry; at other times they wake up singing with animals. But unlike drag queens, they lack spunk. Martin-Malone worries how that imagery affects her children. About such princesses, she writes that “[t]hey are a perpetuation of the stereotype of the weak, dumb woman who obediently waits for a man to come along and make her valuable. Between the two I’ll always promote the big-wigged man crooning “I’m Every Woman.”

Yes! And….

Much of the imagery that Martin-Malone disdains is borne of visuals. Movies and accompanying products like dolls and princess apparel are examples. Because they are visual, these images get FIXED in the minds of those who view them: the princess must look or dress a certain way, sometimes she must even behave the way we saw her behave. The power of the picture is very strong indeed.

So what can you do about it?

Tell the stories yourself.

If the stories are told in person, face to face, by parent to child at home, in live storytelling performances, by librarians or teachers without picture book accompaniments – if visual representations of the princesses in a story are NOT physically shown to a child, then that princess can look and act like anything the imagination can conjure.

Together, the storyteller and the listener can fashion the princess into anyone. A princess can look like Mommy, she can look like the child, a friend, a relative, a babysitter, a drag queen, anyone! Princesses can be from any cultural background and they can have spunk, compassion, drive, or whatever your parental heart desires. Stories contain powerful role models; you don’t have to let Disney be the main storyteller in children’s lives! Take back that power and draw princesses with your own lips.

As professional storytellers, Barry and I take this responsibility seriously. We carefully craft our stories to describe princesses (and all characters actually) in broad enough terms so listeners can thrust themselves or others they know into the role. A broad description opens the door for them to do this while hearing the story and later in imaginative play. It also allows listeners to be creative and morph their princesses in future play sessions or when they tell the story to others.

An upcoming blog post will share ideas for how to describe such characters in broad terms. Be on the lookout for that. In the meantime, tell stories to the young ones around you. Later, when you look at the pictures in books and movies, you and your children can talk about how each visual representation of a princess is only one representation out of the limitless human imagination.

Copyright 2013 The Storycrafters

iPads Notwithstanding, Talk to Your Children

It’s all over the internet this week. A four-year old child in England is being treated for iPad addiction. http://ow.ly/kpXd1

According to various sources, she is not alone. Many young children spend four hours a day playing with electronic devices. Commentary about this is flying around the web like angry birds are flying across screens in the chubby hands of toddlers.

Similar discussions probably erupted with the dawn of the television age as well. And that is why a storyteller wants to pipe up now.

The arrival of television coincided with a dramatic decline in oral storytelling. People stopped sharing live stories in community with others in favor of hours in front of a television. Many people have never heard of storytelling. That is why there was (and is) a resurgence in the art.

Barry and I saw this in action when we went to rural Jamaica many years ago to learn about traditional Caribbean storytelling. Instead of the romantic image of tales told by fires on moonlit beaches, we encountered people getting their stories from glowing boxes in their kitchens. Television service arrived in that part of the country 5-10 years before we did, and storytelling was gone, at least for a time.

Today, we are lucky to live in a time of momentous electronic innovation, making the era of television’s birth, by comparison, a mere blip on the screen of history. And with the brilliant onward march of technological change, comes other sociological change. But I ask you: do we dare lose those things we know while embracing others that we are uncertain of?

Storytelling has been part of human life for thousands of years; it endures for many reasons. A pertinent one here is that oral interaction is important for children’s brain development. (For an online article that mentions this, see http://ow.ly/kr9wk, but do also check out books by Jane Healy for more detail).

Children need to be spoken to. They need to hear words uttered by human beings. Words soaked with emotional content, words that have meaning. Telling live stories can give children what they need. It strengthens their connection with the teller, with language, with humanity, and with other listeners. Storytelling matters.

It is my fervent hope, whether parents allow young children to use electronics or not, that they make time to talk to their children, sing to them, and tell them stories. Looking into the eyes of children as they listen to stories is a visual vortex more engaging than the dazzling digital delights of an electronic gadget. They will feel the same way too.

We’d love you to comments, but something funky happened in the blog settings and the comment page went away. Will work on a fix… in the meantime send comments by liking the page, sharing, following the blog, and hopefully this bug will go away soon.

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Copyright 2013 The Storycrafters. All rights reserved.

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