Wilmington is in the books. Because I am in a generous mood, I will say the audience numbered 8 people, including Kirsten. But the fact is, people came and went, and there were never more than 4 people sitting down at any one time.
Most of my listeners did not come for the storytelling. Most were there buying books, and probably had no idea there was a storytelling performance scheduled for that day.
At three o’clock, I stood there looking at a dozen empty seats, and wondered if I should just start talking. It was a tempting thought; after all those hours spent practicing in front of an imaginary audience, it would have been a fitting end to the tour if I stood there and did an entire set for the benefit of a dozen empty chairs.
But it wasn’t like the store was empty. A handful of customers were milling around, so I approached the nearest couple and asked if I could tell them a story.
They were reluctant. They only came in to look for a graduation present. They told me who it was for, but I forget. Finally, I promised them I’d only do a couple of short ones, and they agreed to come sit down.
The minute they sat down, another lady took a seat a few chairs away. I guess she didn’t want to be the first one to sit.
I had three real audience members now, and I was ready to roll. But before I could decide on a good opening story and launch into it, the first couple insisted that I tell them a little bit about myself.
As Kirsten pointed out afterwards, both of these things – changing the order of the stories and complying with the biographical request – really knocked me out of my rhythm.
I have a couple of tales that I like to start with, because I know them best and because I think they help set the right tone for the audience. After that, the stories tend to arrange themselves into a certain order: if I’ve already introduced Jimmy Fingerbutton, then it’s easy to jump into a story about his latest invention, etc. But if I change the order, then I have to rethink all the segues, and sometimes I even have trouble remembering how a story begins – it feels like I’m starting in a different place.
As for the biographical request … well, I’ve had this conversation with a number of smart people who know what they’re talking about. I get that people want to know more about me. I just don’t understand why.
Abner Serd is an amazing storyteller. His tales have the power to capture the imagination. I know, because I’m the guy standing behind him as he’s writing his stories down, and time after time, all I can say is, “wow! Where did that come from?”
If another storyteller promised to spin me a yarn as good as one of Abner’s best, then the last thing I’d want to hear is a boring recitation of the author’s curriculum vitae. I’d want to hear the story, and then another, and another, until they shut off the lights and locked the fun house doors. Is it really just me who feels that way?
Anyway, for the last two days, I’ve been telling everybody who would listen who I was and what I was doing. But at that moment, when I was in Abner mode, I struggled to recall the most basic information. All those facts were locked away in a different part of my brain, and I simply couldn’t switch back and forth.
I muttered something or other, then gave them The Tale of Jimmy Fingerbutton and the Anti-Gravity Pack, followed by Wolverskunk. Then my audience decided they really needed to get back to shopping, and I lost all three of them.
I rounded up a woman and her little girl who were browsing over in the children’s section, and I told them The Tale of Young Alice and the Biscuits. I don’t think the little girl liked the story – or maybe she just hated the thought of stale biscuits. She made the most adorable grimace just as I was finishing the story. I couldn’t help but burst out laughing, which kind of ruined the mood. They didn’t stay to hear another story.
Then a young man came in (he looked young, in spite of the gray stubble on his chin). He came right in and asked if he was too late for the storytelling, so I said absolutely not, and gave him The Tale of Abner and the Little Tiny Man. By this time, there were lots of customers browsing around in the store, but the young gray-stubbled man and Kirsten were the only ones seated and listening. I tried to make eye contact with some of the shoppers; they feigned disinterest while remaining close enough to listen.
Kirsten prevailed upon me to do Gert the Flirt as an encore, and then I called it an afternoon.
All in all, it wasn’t a bad performance. I think I handled the come-and-go audience as well as could be expected. I did much better at not raising my voice to talk to the stragglers. Maybe next time I can get somebody to introduce me, and that will solve the “tell us about yourself” conundrum.
Abner and I are not expecting to have a lot of connectivity out on the Trail, so this might be our last blog till we get home. Thanks everybody for following along with us! See you back in civilization.