Voyageur Storytelling: Canadian Storytelling Ideas

Voyageur Storytelling's

Canadian Storytelling Exposé


Part II

Canadian Storytelling Ideas


Canadian Storytelling Ideas is one of a set of pages concerning Canadian Storytelling, the others being:


Profile of Canadian Storytelling (page)

Canadian Storytellers (page)

Canadian Storytelling Groups (page)

Canadian Storytelling Festivals (page)


The Performing Art of Storytelling


We begin by acknowledging the definition of "oral storytelling" set forth by Storytellers of Canada ~ Conteurs du Canada (SCCC -- web site):


Oral storytelling is the art of using language, vocalization, and/or physical movement to reveal the elements and images of a story to a specific, live audience.

"Telling" involves direct contact between teller and listener.

A central, unique aspect of storytelling is its reliance on the audience to develop specific visual imagery and detail to complete and co-create the story in their minds.


The teller's role is to prepare and present the necessary language, vocalization, and physicality to communicate the images of a story effectively and efficiently .


This is a bit awkward, but then so is any other formulation that does the job correctly. All arts worthy of the name are complex; their definitions, if definitions are required, must be so too. Unfortunately, definitions are required in storytelling, because the art is not well known or understood, and the term is used (often quite legitimately) in diverse ways for activities that are not the performing art we practise.


The only incorrect, or at least unnecessarily limited, part of the SCCC definition is the implication that the audience inevitably relies on "specific visual imagery and detail to complete and co-create the story". That is certainly one way to listen to a story, but not the only way. Spoken or chanted or sung words are complex sounds; they can be received and processed in many ways, in storytelling as in other pursuits. The listener does not need to translate them into pictures in order to achieve understanding, whatever that means in the specific context. We might also quibble about the word "unique". We ourselves do not make any claim for the uniqueness of our relationship with the audience. All live performing arts require collaboration with the audience.


Getting back to the definition:


The art we are talking about is:

"narrative": that is, it deals in "stories" which are, in general, dynamic representations or images of characters in events that happen, or could happen, or can be imagined as happening, usually but not necessarily in temporal sequence;

"verbal": it uses words and arrangements of words;

"sonorous": the verbal elements are communicated primarily as sounds, and as visual images, if at all, only through sound;

"vocal" or "oral": the sound is produced by mind, voice and tongue working together; and

"aural"or "auditory": it is received by the ear and processed for both sound and sense through that channel.


To accommodate the reality that a story remains untold if no one is present to hear it, we prefer to call the art "Oralaural Storytelling". Its icon might plausibly look like this, which we call the Flowering Oralaurel:



Some storytellers seem to rebel against the idea that the telling of a story is a "performance". They think that performing means adding embellishments inappropriate to the pure art they are trying to achieve. Richard Bauman (in "Verbal Art as Performance, 1977") asserts, correctly we believe, that: "Performance is a mode of communication that consists in the assumption of responsibility to an audience for a display of communicative competence." Every storyteller does that, regardless of style. Performance, with its accompanying responsibility, is intrinsic to the act of storytelling itself, and cannot be denied.


We therefore rise and give you:


Canadian Storytelling

that is

Oralaural Narrative Performing Art

richly rooted in cultural matrices of Oralauralore

breathed into life by the oralauralairs of the relevant Muses

crowning those who scale their heights with garlands of oralauralaurels

speaking in Canada the language of Boreal Oralauralese

in all the wondrous variety of its diverse vocabularies.


Canadian Stories and Storytelling


A story can be easily identified as Canadian if it originates in Canada, or has been adapted by a Canadian teller, even if the story is culturally specific. Beyond these common-sense ideas lie forms of Canadian story that speak more deeply to our shared national realities:


a place of wild, northern, sparsely populated, breathtakingly beautiful Nature: cold, warm, wet or dry according to the place and season;


people living with that Nature, comfortably or uncomfortably, amiably or with hostility or fear;


a heterogeneous North American Culture (now largely urban), with three primordial stems (each diverse in itself) -- Aboriginal, Francophone and Anglophone -- and with a rich and growing set of fellow voyagers;


people living within that Culture, comfortably or uncomfortably, amiably or with hostitiliy or fear.


Our common vision is the celebration of our lack of common vision, our lack of need for conformity to a common vision. We live a national life of quiet disparation.


That, at any rate, is our idea of what "Canadian Storytelling" might sound like, if it could be said to exist. We are, of course, as other arts sometimes do, drawing a distinction here between Storytelling In Canada, which could sound like anything a storyteller chose, Storytelling Of Canada, which strikes at the heart of the matter, and Storytelling About Canada, which could explore any other part of its complex anatomy without necessarily striking at the heart. We would expect any discussion of Canadian Storytelling, in this sense, to be quite as lively as for, say, Canadian Painting, in which the competing claims of the Group of Seven and the Automatistes, among many, clash with the cries of other artists and critics who say that the whole notion is foolish, perhaps even offensive to art. We would reply that, although any conclusions need not be taken too seriously, discussion of the subject is fully worthwhile as an aid to understanding and a stimulus to creativity, which any dogmatic claim on any side would tend to stifle.


Some of our other ideas, quite possibly contradictory, can be found on our Voyageur Storytelling Experience page.


We'll have more to say on this subject as this page evolves. We hope that other storytellers and interested people will send us their ideas.



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Voyageur Storytelling, February 2012

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