Layton resident and Utah Storytelling Guild President-Elect Rachel Hedman has been helping stories find that kind of life all across the nation. For the last 15 years she’s told stories everywhere from a national CD to libraries full of children, carefully finding the ones that the eager ears before her need to hear.
“The storyteller always tries to tell stories that work for the audience before them,” said Hedman. “But there’s always a sharing of self in those stories.
“The story that’s chosen always tells a lot about the storyteller.”
One story that strikes that balance is “Thyme and Relish,” Hedman’s entry to the recently released “Frog Kisser” collaborative storytelling CD (available online at www.amazon.com). Hedman’s entry, which features a 12-year-old boy who turns into Dwarf Long Nose and hopes to reunite with his mother, puts a slightly different spin on the collection’s tales of transformation.
“The classic frog prince story often focuses on romantic love, though transformation can occur just as quickly for parent/child relationships,” she said. “Princes are not the only ones who want some love.”
The personal part of the story comes from Hedman’s recent fascination with stories based around familial relationships, which is at the heart of both her “Frog Kisser” story and the “Family Famine” series she offers through her website, www.rachelhedman.com.
“My husband and I have wanted to have kids for eight years,” she said, adding that they’re in the process of adopting. “When you want kids, you pay a lot of attention to family relationships.”
Hedman also has a relationship to her stories, which she learns by heart before sharing with others. After selecting a story, she prefers to read it at least 12 times, or if it’s not available in book format she runs it through her mind that same number of times.
“If after that many times I still enjoy the story, it’s probably a keeper,” she said. “If there’s more than one version of the story, I try to read as many as possible so I can put my own spin on it.”
Hedman then storyboards the story for herself, using only limited words so she doesn’t get too tied down to certain phrases. The storyboards, which never go with her to the actual telling, are only a part of the learning process.
The goal is a soul-deep familiarity with the story and the lives caught up in it.
“The characters in the story need to become your friends or your enemies,” said Hedman. “If you walked into a grocery store and saw them, you could recognize them immediately.”
Of course, there’s also the need for an audience, a particularly important goal for storytellers who make their living as professionals. Though Hedman is currently working toward a masters degree that will allow her to speak to more university audiences, she feels that the most important thing is keeping connected to the people who are looking for the stories she has to tell.
“Storytelling is all about relationships, such as the ones between you and the audience and you and the story,” she said. “You also need relationships with directors, principals, and other people in charge of the kind of venues where you can tell stories.”
She prefers to build those relationships through face-to-face meetings, though when distance or other factors make that impossible she prefers to hold pre-story discussions by phone rather than e-mail.
According to Hedman, the more personal communication helps her better understand the situation and ultimate goals of the person she’s talking to.
“That way, we can chat back and forth and I can get a sense of what they really need,” she said. “I like to give them a chance to tell their story.”
As for Hedman, she knows that her own story will always be intertwined with the ones she shares with others.
“I recently looked back at the first story I ever told, ‘Big Kihuo, Little Kihuo,’ and I’m seeing it differently than I did when I was a teenager,” she said. “At this point in my life, there are some more things I can bring to that story.”