My Storytelling Journey

Jana Segal

I started attending Tucson's Teller of Tale's storytelling meetings three years ago. As a part of each meeting we would go around the room introducing ourselves. Every time I would say, “I'm here to enjoy the stories and hopefully get inspired to do a story some day.” This went on for years, until one day... they stopped having introductions.

It had been so long since I had been in a play - since before the kids were born. But I finally got that ol' itch to perform again. So when master storyteller Glenda Bonin offered a storytelling workshop, I dug out my one-woman “storytelling” musical, Magic Shoes, polished it up, and e-mailed it to her. Knowing my theater background, Glenda cautioned me about trying to act. Storytellers TELL their stories off the top of their heads. Enchanted by the story, she agreed to let me read (and sing) it at the storytelling workshop anyway. With all the carefully crafted description, we discovered that it was really more of a one-woman musical than a storytelling piece. I watched in awe as the other students actually told their stories – hoping to become inspired to do it too. Someday.

Someday came sooner than I expected when Glenda asked me if I wanted to work on a story for the professional studio recording of TOT members. While listening to other members practice, I finally got inspired! I remembered Sharlot Hall's 1880's Christmas story, “The Fruit of the Yucca Tree” that I had adapted for my short chick Western, Desert Angel. I was excited about revisiting that touching story. So I condensed it and revised it and started memorizing it (which I wasn't supposed to do) and got cold feet. I told Glenda I wouldn't be able to do it. It had been so long since I had even memorized a monologue.

Glenda gently encouraged me. She suggested that I read the story for the recording. And I sure hated to miss this opportunity to be recorded on a CD with professional storytellers! She made it so easy for me. I practiced it on my own. Then she timed my story as I read it over the phone. She said it was a lovey piece. I wasn't sure if I was ready, but thanks to Glenda's support and incredible patience, I got through it. I am proud to be on a professional storytellers' CD.

Since I was already practiced up, I volunteered to read the story for the Tombstone historians and enthusiasts at the Tombstone Territory Rendezvous. Unfortunately, some of us went dancing the night before and I must have been shouting over the music, because the next morning my voice was horse and barely audible. Afraid that no one would be able to hear me, I tried to arrange for a microphone - with no luck. When I got up to the podium, I found that I couldn't see the words on the page. I had to wear my new glasses. (Which also made me feel old since last time I was on stage I didn't need glasses.) A friend in the front row said that I looked nervous for a moment as I adjusted my glasses. The next thing I knew, it was over and the audience was applauding. Historian Casey Teffertiller graciously commented that I had a gift!

After that Glenda said it was time for me to do actual storytelling – not a reading, not a memorized monologue. She said I knew my story and I should just “tell it” at the annual TOT Christmas party. At Glenda's suggestion, I made an outline and tried to visualize the story. Lounging on our host's sofa, my fellow storytellers took turns telling their favorite Christmas stories. My story would fit in perfectly! I opted for more bean dip instead.

I discovered that I knew it better than I thought when the dialogue kept running through my head. So, after recovering from the shame of not performing, I agreed to do the storytelling performance to promote the Teller of Tales CD at Bookmans. I decided that it was alright to memorize the dialogue because of the distinct old timey dialect. It shouldn't be that hard because it was the same dialogue I knew from my short film. And I worked at paraphrasing the rest. I wasn't at all sure that I was ready for this. I was scared to death that I would forget a line and lose my place. But with my son Vlad there for support, I ran the story through in my head on the bus ride to Bookmans. Vlad helped me on with my 1880's apron and I went for it. There were sections I forgot, but in the grand tradition of theater, I kept going. And then it happened. I started telling it to the two little kids in the audience. (Vlad tells me the kids laughed.) I know their mom hung on every word! Then, just like that, it was over. Glenda asked if I wanted to do it again. Heck, no! I barely go through it!