Listen to a conversation between a student and the professor of her theater class.
So, Professor Baker…about our next assignment you talked about in class…
Yes, this time you’ll be in groups of three.
Each of you will have a chance to direct the other two in a short scene from a play you’ve chosen yourself…
Right, and, well… I’ve been reading about story theatre, and…
Ah, story theatre. Tell me about what you’ve read.
Well…it’s a form of theater where folk- or fairy tales are acted out.
It was, uh… introduced by the director Paul Sills, in the 1960s.
In Sills’s approach, an actor both narrates and acts out a tale.
So, like, someone will appear on stage, and then they’ll start narrating a tale about, say, a king.
And then the same person will immediately switch to and start acting out the role of the king. With no props or scenery.
Sills. Y’know, I actually saw his first story theatre production, in 1968.
He did the fairy tale “The Blue Light.”
Really? So…whatever gave him the idea to produce that?
Well… As you know, back in the late 1960s lots of people in the United States were disillusioned with the government.
Sills was grappling with how to produce theater that was… relevant in such times.
Then he happened to read “The Blue Light,” and he realized it had just the message he wanted.
See, in the story, a man who’s lost all hope as a result of the unfortunate events in his life completely turns his life around…with the help of a magical blue light.
So, the blue light in the story symbolizes a way out of seemingly unsolvable human problems.
And for Sills, that light symbolized an answer to the political turmoil in the U.S.
But weren’t you…um, audiences…bothered that the actors were performing on a bare stage?
Well, story theatre is a departure from traditional dramatic theater…with its realistic, elaborate props and scenery.
But Sills could make us “see”… say, a big, tall mountain…through the facial expressions and body movements of the actors—and their telling of the story.
We were all swept up, energized by such an innovative approach to theater—even if one or two of the critics weren’t as enthusiastic.
Cool. So, uh, anyway… What I really wanted to ask… I’d love to try doing story theatre for my project, instead of just a scene from a traditional play.
Hmmm… That’s possible—a -a short tale can be about the same length as a single scene… Which fairy tale would you do?
Actually, I was reading about another director of story theatre? Rex Stephenson?
You know—he produces plays based on folk tales as well. Maybe I could direct one of those?
Ohhhhkay, yes—Rex Stephenson.
Now, Stephenson’s style of story theatre is a little different from Sills’s— He’ll use simple props…a chair will represent a mountain…but the significant difference is with the narrator…the narrator will play only that role.
Let’s talk about why…