What is Storytelling?

"What is storytelling?"

This is a question that was asked by an audience member after a show I did. This is a WIDE open question. To the general public, storytelling is a little librarian reading to kids draped over beanbags. To a salesman it is a tactic he uses to make a big closing. To a parent it is a fabricated tale to get out of trouble. To the ancients it was a way to pass on values and heritage. To people at festivals it is an escape from the normal hum drum.

This particular question was asked by an audience member at a storytelling concert...so we know in what context he was asking it. I gave my answer...and thought I would post it here and see what you thought.

I look at the world of storytelling like a wheel.

Dinner table stories of the day, dreams whispered to a baby, memories spoken to a bride before they take the aisle, front porch tales from my grandma, children telling make believe, a squealing girl on the cell phone telling her friends about her date or families sharing stories on a long trip. These are just a few of the examples that make up the hub of the wheel. It is a type of storytelling that cannot be performed or boxed and sold. It is  the very center of humanity. It fuels each and every day and is the basic, bottom line of communication that keeps us glued together as a society.

Now, out of that hub comes many, many, many spokes. None of them are wrong. None of them are better than the next spoke. They all are attached to the hub and they are all needed to keep the wheels on straight.
Performance telling, tall tale telling, Folk telling, therapeutic telling, applied telling, educational telling improv telling, telling with music, narrative dance (yes, I said narrative dance), telling for entertaining, telling for healing, telling to bring peace, reading stories (yes I said reading stories), comedic stories, historic stories, fairy tales, story in marketing, digital storytelling, storytelling pod casts, storytelling open mics, fringe festivals....should I stop? 

I could go on and on and on.  Now, some people may disagree with me and say that one of these spokes does not belong.  Who decides what is and is not, storytelling? If my story makes you laugh, is that bad?  If my story makes you cry, is that bad? If my story was written hundreds of years ago, is that bad? If I stand in front of a mic with an audience, is that selling out? If I sit at a campfire making something up to a bunch of badge hungry Boy Scouts, does that count?

We say storytelling is an art form. Well, art cannot be contained by borders and rules.  That is what makes it art, it is interpretive.

I say...bring it on. There will be new spokes that appear and disappear, new forms of telling and new styles of storytelling that come and go. It is all a part of something much bigger. I am not threatened and I don't want to debate...I say bring it on.

No matter what pops up in our 'storytelling' world the main thing is that it will lead the listener back to the hub.
And they will be inspired to go and tell a story. And that is what makes the big wheel of this world go 'round.

Which is all I really care about.