On the definition
For the definition of oral narration I refer to this tremendous text which Pablo Albo wrote in the preamble to the AEDA statutes: "Oral narration is understood to be the artistic discipline covering the act of telling stories face to face, using exclusively or primarily the word, in direct and reciprocal contact with the audience. Oral narration has its roots buried in the tradition of telling stories, and in the present day this remains the case, but within a performance context."
Thus the storyteller is that person who tells stories to an audience face to face.
I prefer the verb tell to narrate. While narrate is limited to "tell, refer to what happened, or to an event or fictitious story" DRAE (Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy, the verb tell includes other interesting nuances: 1/ just as narrate "refers to what happened, whether true or fabled", 2/ it also processes the facts (perhaps catalogues them) and 3/ it includes the sense of "take into account, consider". This final point is truly relevant when telling stories as, from my point of view, it is not possible to tell stories without taking into account who is listening: yes, the story is told through a single voice, a single look, but taking the public into account. It is what Pablo formulates in the first definition as "in direct and reciprocal contact with the audience".
On the characteristics of the storyteller
In the book, Narration, a tremulous profession (Narrar, oficio trémulo) ( Atuel), a long interview which Jorge Dubatti had with Ana María Bovo, I read for the first time the concept of the spontaneous narrator. This term refers to those narrators who handle the rudiments of oral culture naturally. A classic example is the person who in any family gathering ends up taking the chair and relating events and jokes with grace and acceptance by other family members, and in fact in many cases the group is waiting for the moment when the narrator begins to speak.
But having the ability to tell a story does not mean that the job is done. In addition to this ability the rudiments of the spoken word have to be employed, and the tools which help sustain the story before an audience acquired.
The following characteristics, from my point of view, are important when telling stories.
- Voice. To have one's own voice in order to tell from that voice. To articulate one's own discourse, coherent with the narrator, and thus add veracity to the act of narration and to the words spoken. It is more than a question of honesty (that also): it involves seeking and appropriating the voice. The storyteller is voice.
- Looking. Looking which shows and shows us. Looking is a link between the audience and the storyteller. Through looking we see what we are telling, show what we can see, and also see who we are telling to. On this point Estrella Ortiz, in her magnificent Count on the stories (Contar con los cuentos) ( Palabras del Candil), speaks of telling stories as like opening a window. The narrator can see what is through the window and tells the audience what can be seen; which the narrator is visualizing the scene, the public is also visualizing the story. In another way Pepito Mateo, in his The Oral Narrator and the Imaginary (El narrador oral y el imaginario) (also published by Palabras del Candil) speaks of the storyteller as a cinema director who shows this or that shot from the story being told while each member of the audience runs a little interior cinema (in the mind: that is, they visualize the film). But we also speak of looking when we are seeking stories to tell (tales, accounts, events, etc.). The storyteller has to look: at the public, at the story, at life...in order to be able to tell.
- Memory. The memory is the room in which stories happen. The memory serves both for the question of the repertoire (how many stories do we know/tell) and for questions of the weave of each story (the knowledge and handling of the internal structure of each story we tell). Equally the memory enables us to store up verses and narrative "modules" which can fit into different stories. [Further information on the story and the memory, in Spanish].
- The game. I like to think of the act of narration as a dance; the teller and the listener dance together as one. The ability of the two dancers (or of one and the partner who is led) allows the music to flow and the dance steps to leave the established set pattern in order for the game to commence. When I say the game I want to say the capacity for improvisation, contextualization, freshness (how good it feels when air blows into the story and moves the curtains), allowing the story to flow naturally in harmony with the demands of the public, the story and the narrator. To tell is to put the flesh of words onto the skeleton of the story, and this natural flow, this feeding of the story with words, allows us to create anew each day a story with more or less variations and differences.
- Respect. I believe that respect is a basic part of the endeavours of the storyteller; respect for each and every one of the elements that come into play during the act of narration, respect for the story being told (which implies deep knowledge, including the archetype and any variations when dealing with traditional tales); respect for the author or various authors of the text being told (which means mentioning the author of a text we are using and, when possible, asking for permission to tell the story); respect for the audience (it is obvious but it must be repeated again and again, it is irrelevant whether it is an audience of children, youths or adults, it must always be respected, which means not resorting to the simple or easy, but delving into the depths and enriching our work, being honest...); respect for the work of colleagues (which means not copying repertoires or styles but depending on one's own search and one's own voice); and respect for the work itself (respect it, dignify it, spread the good news of the spoken word, cooperate towards the successful development of spaces and an increase in audience size, etc.). Respect, always respect.
- Reflection. Reflecting on the narrative act itself, about what one tells and how one tells, and about what others tell and how they tell, feeds the voice itself. Knowledge and reflection about oral narration throughout history and down the generations also provides food. Reflection is continuous growth, an incessant search; it is living through continuous surprise. Reflection also implies an evaluation of the work done, which is a fundamental ingredient for the growth of the individual narrator and narrators as a whole.
Translated by Matthew Sean Robinson