Andrea Lovett brings the art of the storytelling to the South ShoreBy Tiffanie Williams
Photography by Scott Eisen
Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of entertainment. Its power lies in is its simplicity; one person has a story to tell, and a crowd has assembled to hear it. Each month, people from across the South Shore and beyond gather together at the back of local bars and inside community halls to participate in this ancient oral tradition. As each speaker takes a turn behind the microphone, the anticipation electrifies the room. What ensues is pure magic.“The tellers are like gems in a treasure chest, you never know what you are going to get,” says Andrea Lovett, cofounder of the story slam series massmouth Inc. “A good teller with a great story takes you somewhere and back. I love seeing someone new take to the stage, embody their talent and take off. It’s amazing to see.”
Storytelling events entertain sold-out crowds throughout the country. The allure of these events can be traced back to the success of a New York-based organization known as The Moth. Since 1997 this flagship storytelling program has been holding regular story slams, which showcase the real-life tales of notable luminaries as well as everyday people. The Moth Radio Hour, which debuted in 2009, now airs on more than 200 stations nationwide, broadcasting story slam events that take place in major hubs throughout the country and abroad.
The momentum of the storytelling craze eventually made its way to the South Shore, thanks in large part to the Lovett’s passion for the craft. Lovett, who has been a professional storyteller since 1992, has a repertoire of over 200 stories and has performed and held storytelling workshops regionally, nationally and internationally. The Abington resident helped kick-start the New England storytelling movement when she and Norah Dooley, established massmouth Inc., a Massachusetts-based non-profit committed to increasing the visibility of storytelling. A second branch of the program, massmouth south, was created to bring storytelling events to more South Shore venues. Performances have been held at various local venues including The New World Tavern in Plymouth, The James Library in Norwell, and The Commercial Club in West Bridgewater. The group’s mission is to bring the art form to more audiences through live as well as recorded performances and allow people from all walks of life to tell their story.
The Storyteller’s Story
Lovett, who grew up in South Weymouth, learned the power of words at an early age. Both of her parents enjoyed sharing stories at the dinner table and in the sixth grade, she had an assignment that required telling a story in front of the class. Lovett’s ease at presenting her story coupled with her classmates’ enthusiasm and level of engagement launched a lifelong love for the craft and a passion to fully develop her talent and inspire others to do the same.
Lovett later studied with renowned storyteller Jay O’Callahan of Marshfield, co-founder of the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling (LANES). It took her about eight years of building her craft, contact base, and curriculum for workshops to be able to work as a full-time storyteller. She now teaches storytelling classes in schools, runs workshops, Story Slams and performs her stories in venues for all ages throughout the state.
“Andrea is an innovator. I believe she brings out the shine in people, helps them to connect with their own poetry, creativity, and humor. To have someone this creative in the world who also has strong people skills, is very powerful, and that is what you have with Andrea,” says O’Callahan. “She knows that everyone has a story and that they just have to learn how to share it. She brings her warmth and vitality with her as a performer, educator, connector and mobilizer.”
Stories in the Spotlight
Storytelling is an art form. Every facial expression and body posture of the speaker helps to make the stories come alive. There is a general theme to each story slam event, which is posted in advance. Participants put their name in a hat and ten are chosen to present their five minute, true story. The stories are told, not read, so the audience is immersed in the story. Scripts and notes are not allowed.
Each story slam has a guest host who tells stories in between performers. Lovett also adds trivia questions throughout the event to occupy the audience while the judges calculate scores. Participants are judged on the construction of their story, their performance, and the story’s connection to the event’s theme.
“Tellers ignite the crowd with their words. The crowd connects with the teller and imagines the story as it is being told. This connection between the teller’s words and the images imagined by the listeners creates energy between the two. The story is the fusion of the words and images dancing together,” says O’Callahan.
While the idea of speaking in front of a crowd can be intimidating, actually telling a story can be a rush. Kim Miot, News Director of Plymouth’s PAC TV community news first discovered her love of storytelling while listening to The Moth Radio Hour during her commute to work.
“During my drives, I would try and figure out how I would tell an interesting story; what from my own life would connect with others,” says Miot. When she heard about a scheduled massmouth event, she knew she had to go. “Initially it was scary getting up in front of everyone, but I felt so drawn to the idea of sharing a story. I also love the idea of the connection that storytelling fosters.”
Story Slam 101
For those looking to learn more about storytelling, Andrea runs a workshop called, How To Develop A 5 Minute Kick butt Story. This two hour workshop is a great introduction for beginner storytellers into the art form of storytelling. Students learn how to cultivate a story from personal experience, the essential elements of a story and performance techniques. Each workshop includes a mini story slam so that students may practice performing. Lovett enjoys watching her students discover their creative voices, develop their stories and watch their skills evolve.
Vision for Future
Storytelling is a skill that can be appreciated by people from all walks of life and all ages and Lovett would love to see storytelling become part of the curriculum in all schools. Telling a story before it is written, she says, helps students learn how to build a story. She would also like to see story slams continue to grow in popularity so that more people can be exposed to the art of storytelling.
In an age dominated by text messages, emails and tweets, storytelling is a return to a more intimate form of communication. Standing behind the microphone and looking out at the sea of faces in the audience, there is no technological curtain for a person to hide behind. And for wordsmiths like Lovett, that’s just the way they like it.
For more information about massmouth events and list of upcoming storytelling events, visit www.massmouth.org/massmouth-south/
Lovett’s Top Storytelling Tips
Start Strong – A great first line of your story demands attention and engages the audience into the story.
Solid Structure – A good story follows an arc, with a beginning, middle and end.
High Stakes – Make sure what is most important to your main character is always clear as this is what gives the story relevance.
Know your story. Outline the essential plot bullet points and rehearse your story by telling it to others. The mark of a great story is presented to the audience as it is the first time it is being told.
Finish Strong – Make sure your ending is strong and clearly defines the end of the story.
Have fun. Take a deep breath and remember that this is supposed to be fun, and it will be.