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How to Become a Professional Storyteller
Whether it’s the bedtime story you read to your kids or telling your best friend about something crazy that happened to you today, everyone tells stories. People have entertained each other by telling stories for centuries. However, some people actually make a living from it. If you have a special interest in folk and fairy tales and fables, you may want to consider being a professional storyteller.
More than just reading from a book, professional storytellers perform a story. They often use props, music and sometimes even choreography to tell the story. Stories are told from memory and can consist of known folk tales, fables, legends or original stories by the storyteller. Storytellers perform in schools, libraries, museums and hospitals.
Education and Training
Technically there is no required education to be a professional storyteller. However, many organizations for professional storytellers, such as the National Storytelling Network and the International Storytelling Center, offer workshops and conferences where you can hone your skills as a storyteller. If you live near a college or arts center that offers classes on folklore or theater, you may also find these helpful. The National Storytelling Network website provides a list of local storytelling liaisons for each state that can offer information on local workshops, clubs and guilds for storytellers.
If working nine to five is more your style, you may want to consider a career as a children's librarian in a public or school library. Some children's librarians incorporate storytelling as part of their duties. Becoming a librarian requires a master's degree in library science. A love for children's literature and experience working with children are also a must. Some public schools may require additional certification.
Flora Joy from the National Storytelling Network recommends that you start by choosing your first story -- a story that you love and are confident in your ability to tell. Remember, if your chosen story is not in the public domain, you will need to get the original author’s permission before performing for an audience. Find a good test audience where you can practice your storytelling. A local guild or club with members who are more experienced storytellers can be a wonderful first audience, as they can critique your storytelling skills and offer help.
Once you're confident in your story and performance, all that's left is promoting your services to the community. The Society for Storytelling recommends contacting schools, libraries and local arts councils. Have flyers or pamphlets describing yourself and your services printed and ready to send them.
Freelance storytellers usually set their own rates. The contacts you’ve made through your local liaison can offer guidance and advice for setting your fees when you're getting started. Keep in mind that storytelling income can be inconsistent, so when starting out, you may want to have another source of income to help pay your bills. As a librarian, you can earn an average of $57,550 a year depending on your experience and level of employment.
Leigh Bennett is a youth services librarian in Southeast Louisiana. In addition to managing the library's young adult and teen book collections, she develops and plans educational and recreational library programming for children, teens and adults. She has been writing for online publications for more than 5 years.