Rules of Mezrab Storytelling

Two weeks ago I found myself on the top floor of a London Cinema/Cultural Centre, for a night of true stories. Where before I always thought Mezrab mucks about with its storytelling nights, I suddenly realised we have a very distinct style that sets us apart, it’s a style that grew over the years and we believe in. It’s not a moment too soon that I realised this; in the coming weeks I have to organise various events for the Dutch storytelling community. These events will highlight what makes our approach different. Here’s what I have so far:

1) There is no stage, it’s all a stage

Storytelling is a collaborative event. It happens between you and your audience. The more distance you create, the harder it will be to work together. Stages are about creating distance. Also, the less you rely on proper stages, the more comfortable you are telling stories in unconventional places: standing on a bar, next to a tree, crouching under a table. But where ever you do it, make sure to see the eyes of your audience. You need to hear them breath.

2) Listen to your elders, listen to your minors. Tell stories to your elders, tell stories to your minors

You have more in common with someone from your age bracket and social class in a different continent then you have with someone from your street who is half or twice your age. When you only tell stories to your age peers you might end up talking to your self, telling stories filled with inside jokes, only relevant to those like you. Older tellers have experiences younger listeners have no idea of, younger tellers come from a generation with dreams and ambitions older listeners can only guess at. Break the age barrier.

3) There is no professional, there is no amateur

There are few things as satisfying as listening to a first time storyteller and realising you have much to learn. The passion of anyone speaking about something that matters to them is hard to replicate. A storyteller can try to be better than the best storyteller he’s ever heard or seen, but must be open to learn from the absolute beginner.

4) The artistic is the personal is the political

Back in the day every story had a social message. Wether it was to take care of your kids even if you couldn’t feed them, or to stay on the path in the woods, lest ye be eaten by wolfs. Even today, in the middle of the personal story fad, every single personal story is part of the bigger social context. Anyone who thinks old mythical stories, political tracts and new personal experiences are not related has not been listening to what’s been told. Same goes for the distinction between true stories and “story” stories.

5) Bring something new to each event

All stories are created on the spot, so trying to copy a previous performance is a fool’s game. Knowing this, bring something new to every event, even if the backbone of your performance is a story you’ve told a hundred times.

So, Mezrabians, what did I miss, where did I go wrong? Which rules do you hate? Give me your feedback! By the way, I hope you know me well enough not to think we’ve actually set up strict rules to storytelling. These are discussion points, some issues to think about and be inspired by.

8 thoughts on “Rules of Mezrab Storytelling

  1. Thanx Sahand. I’ve sent the no-rules on to the members of the Achill Writers Group I belong to. Right away there came positive respons, Peti

  2. I think in a group event with open storytelling, you have to think of time. Don’t take up too much of it. It’s hard to know what too much time means — I know. So hard and fast rules are hard to make. But I’d recommend that people take up less of it.

    Another soft and slow rule I would make is that there is nothing too personal to share during storytelling. It’s the personal that makes the connection. So while you wouldn’t want to betray the confidences of others, you could betray the confidences of yourself.

    1. Oh absolutely, though I’m not sure how to incorporate that into a rule. But time awareness, or rather audience awareness (how much can they take, not just of my stories, but all the other stories coming) is definitely a critical skill to develop.

  3. This so beautifully expresses all that is special and wonderful in Mezrab, and gives me some nice pointers in my own telling. You’ve already hinted at it, but perhaps it is worth elaborating:

    Spontaneity is king
    Each story only happens once between a given group of people, in a given space at a given time. It has its own intelligence so be prepared, as a teller, to let it to take you places you did not plan to go. While practice is useful, over-preparation will take the life out of a story. The storyteller is a listener too, and your listeners will reward you for giving honest, spontaneous and amusing impressions of a story that you are also experiencing for the first time.

    1. You’re right, Simon, Sahand, Egherman. No over-preparation, always aware of your audience, respecting their ‘capacity’ to absorb the stories and the time curve they can keep on. Listening is an effort as well as the storytelling is.

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