I’ve been calling librarians recently, and I’ve learned that almost nobody goes to storytelling events anymore. And those who do are parents with kids under the age of 5.
When I started 11 years ago, there were hundreds of people showing up at libraries and a variety of ages. Naturally I developed material that worked with a broad age range.
As much as I like telling stories to kids under 5 (and their parents), I do miss the diversity.
So, what happened? I don’t know. It’s not just me, because I’m talking to librarians who have never hired me. They say that magicians, musical acts, animal trainers and snake handlers draw big crowds. Storytelling, not so much.
My theories (and it’s all conjecture are:
- Storytime is targeted at the pre-reader crowd, so everybody assumes that storytelling will be the same…
- Parents have overscheduled their kids. This is something I’ve heard from the Librarians, but I don’t really know. 10 years ago, there were just as many overscheduled kids…
- The Internet, Cable and Video Games… Lots of kids do these things instead of reading (or going to the library). They’re exciting and fun. And the perception of storytelling is….
- Storytelling is “educational”. This is true–sometimes. When I perform in schools, my work is educational. When I’m at a library, however, it’s just plain fun. That said, if the storytellers of the world have niched towards being “educational” do you think a kid really wants to see us at the library
- Boring and bad storytelling that doesn’t deal with the reality of the audience. I’m not going to point names or accuse anyone here. Some storytellers (and even me at times) don’t deal with the fact that they have 20 kids under 5, 15 seven year olds, 3 nine year olds, 5 twelve year olds and 30 adults in the audience. They narrow-cast their stories to one particular age group and everybody else is (dare I say it) bored.
So, what the heck can I, as someone who loves to share my stories in libraries, do to counter-act this trend?
For libraries, I’m changing the name of what I do. I do Comedy Storytelling for Kids. Yep. Not a bunch of knock knock jokes (Although I might throw in a few). I do what Bill Cosby used to do (before he became “educational”). I tell stories that are funny. (Mostly).
I also have a number of other practices that help manage the crowd…
At the start of every show, I let the older kids know that I’ll be telling some stories for the younger kids, but that I’ll be telling stories for them, too. I let the younger kids know that they’re going to get some stories they’ll love. And then I tell everyone that listening can be hard for grown-ups, so if their parents get fidgety or start to talk, please feel free to take them outside.
More to come on this subject.