Posted by: MtnWoman Silver | January 26, 2018

“Once upon a time….” An Interview with Storyteller, Thiel Munro, About His Craft

 

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Thiel Munro by MtnWoman Silver 2018

Storytelling, according to Wikipedia, describes the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, sometimes with improvisation, theatrics, or embellishment. Every culture has its own stories or narratives, which are shared as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation or instilling moral values.

The first time I heard Thiel Munro tell a story to a small group I attend, I was spellbound. He was not only the teller; he was each character with different voices and mannerisms. I was lost in the story from the beginning until the last word when I bounded up exclaiming, “You can come back and do this any time!” I have now had the pleasure of seeing him perform several times. I hope you enjoy this insightful interview with him.

Q:  How did you become interested in storytelling?

A:  In 1985 my mother, Vanita Sellmer Moore, took a class in storytelling from Bob Jenkins at San Jose State University in California while working on her Masters in Theater, and we both started performing immediately. We were living in the bay area and were heavily involved with a network of talented tellers. I got lots of opportunities to tell at swapping grounds and some professional work. My first paid job was telling during the morning and afternoon at a bluegrass festival called The Strawberry Bluegrass Festival. I was 9 or 10 years old. 

Q:  When did you first start telling stories? If you remember your first time, how did you feel? How were you received? Was it a positive or negative experience?

A:  My first storytelling performance was opening for my elementary school play with two short stories in the fourth grade. The performance went great; at least I think it did.  I also had a part in the play. My family worked with a theater group called Children’s Theater Workshop.  I was doing enough acting and storytelling that it never seemed like too big a deal.  I had been working with CTW since second grade.

Q:  Formal training, if any. How did your education influence your storytelling?

A:  I have taken dozens of workshops with seasoned professional storytellers on what seems like every aspect of the craft.  Some of the tellers I studied under include Gay Ducey, Jay O’Callahan, Steve Sanfield, Bob Jenkins, David Novak, Dianne Ferlatte, Michael Parent, Jim May, Chuck Larkin, David Holt, Barbara McBride-Smith, and many more. Most of the workshops were 3 or 4 days long and offered lots of chances to be coached by my peers and mentors.  My bachelors in theater gives me more opportunities to tell and a greater appreciation for my craft.

Q:  Do you love reading? Do you keep a journal?

A:  I go hot and cold with both.  Sometimes I am ravenous and consume every play, poem, short story and novel I can get my hands on.  I also kept a thorough journal for about three years but haven’t recently.

Q:  Please tell us your process in choosing a story to tell (What are you looking for?), learning the story? When you tell a story, do you use notes?

A:  It’s sort of like explaining why a particular band is your favorite.  Some stories just have an x-factor that draws me in. I have also learned stories because I was putting together a performance on a particular theme and some by request.  I like to find the strongest images for me and then find a rhythm for the story. I tell it over and over to myself until it just feels like second nature. I then accept that it won’t sound like this the first telling or the second. It takes most stories lots of times in front of an audience before they find a good voice.

Q:  How is storytelling the same or different from acting?

A:  Acting is much more structured. Lots of people are counting on you to do the same thing, or relatively close to that thing you did every night before. As a storyteller, I have a lot more freedom not only in how I perform but in my material. While some stories I tell almost exactly the same every time, I have the freedom to adapt as it is necessary for each particular audience.

Q:  Do you use props when telling the story? Examples.

A:  Sometimes I juggle or play harmonica or percussion.  I find that juggling torches or playing harmonica is a great way to draw in a crowd before the show.  My mom often uses puppets when she tells.  I never have

Q:  Describe a success or failure. How do you judge yourself?

A:  A good friend set up a gig for me at the nursing home she worked at. She and I had a playful friendship. She told me, “Max is the meanest and most cynical person here. I put him in the front row. Have fun!” She smiled. During the performance, someone in the third row vomited. Someone walked out an emergency exit. The kitchen at the back of the room was banging pots and pans. A nice woman in the front row decided to come tell me about every 45 seconds what a great job I was doing and that she would be right back. Then, she would walk in a couple of circles and sit back down. It was a long 45 minutes. After the performance, I asked my friend how Max liked it.  She told me that no one comes to visit him, and that he felt like it was the first time he got to leave the home in years. So, even when it feels to me like I am completely failing, I don’t know what the experience looks like from the audience’s viewpoint. That experience humbled and inspires me.

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Thiel Munro by MtnWoman Silver 2018

Q:  How does where you live influence your storytelling?

A:  I have moved every few years my entire life. It usually takes me a little while to start feeling comfortable and to meet the right people. Eventually, I find chances to tell stories wherever I live.

Q:  How many stories do you keep in your repertoire? Do you have to practice all of them all the time?

A:  I have around 15 that I can tell pretty easily or with a little time recalling them. I have a lot more that are sort of lingering around. I find that I realize just how many stories I know when I am requested to tell them. I worked at a school for a couple of years, and I can confidently say I told at least 75 stories during lunch and recess.

Q:  How do story telling opportunities come your way? Are they paid or not?

A:  Word of mouth. I find that each time I perform, someone comes to me with another opportunity. Most of my performances are paid, but I have cut my rates pretty drastically for shelters, rehabs, places with tight budgets. I hate selling myself, but it is a necessary part of being an artist and respecting the craft you have nurtured. I need an agent.

Q:  As an artist myself, I know that creative people with a passion often need to supplement their creative income with a more regular job. Can you tell us how you have supported yourself at times?

A.  I have worked mostly as a waiter and a barista (coffee shop expresso maker) but have also been a substitute teacher and a paraprofessional in schools. I have managed a telemarketing call center and a pizza place, been a traveling salesman, and was once a character actor who walked around as Fred Flintstone at Kings Island.

Q:  Do you use your name or a stage name when you perform?

A:  My name is weird enough.

Q:  Any advice you would share with someone interested in becoming a storyteller?

A:  Go to some storytelling festivals and see what type of telling excites you. You could tell in sign language, with instruments, from your heritage, as performance art. You could tell just like you were in your living room or on a front porch, etc.  The options are completely up to you. Also, seek out local guilds. Local guilds provide lots of opportunities to tell. Trust me, they want to hear from you.

Q:  How can people connect with you?

A:  thielmunro@gmail.com 

Thank you, Thiel. I hope all of you who are interested in storytelling or becoming a storyteller will check out some of the well-known storytellers Thiel has studied with. Many are still conducting workshops. Also, I would love to hear from you about how listening to or telling stories has changed your life.

Here is a link for storytelling tips: http://storytelling.org.nz/?page_id=267

 

© MtnWoman Silver 2018

 

 



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