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You’d feel this crummy if someone let you go over the time limit at a story swap. Moderators are your friends!

Simplia was having an epiphany. Sagacia merely nodded sagely.

“Yep,” said the wiser of the Simpletons. “When you sign on to host an event — even a little one like a story swap — you’ve got an audience to take care of.”

“I thought that was the storytellers’ job,” said Simplia.

“Well, it is,” her friend agreed, “as far as their part of the program is concerned. But the host…” Here, she pushed a letter addressed to Outraged in Oakland over to Simplia’s side of the table. “Read this. Mary Hamilton says it a lot better than I can.”

Dear ones, someone will no doubt run over the alloted time — it happens. However, if you announce at the beginning of the swap that the ten minute time will be strictly adhered to, and that the two of you will begin leading the applause at the ten minute mark whether a teller has finished or not, you will set up expectations that will have everyone knowing in advance what to expect, and breathing easier as a result. Remind everyone not to panic over such applause, because any teller can be found later by any audience member who wants to learn what else happened in the story. And then, do that — no matter who is up or how wonderful the telling is, just begin applauding and walking toward the front at the ten-minute mark. That way, you will not appear rude by anyone’s standards — including people who may be attending their very first story swap, and Outraged in Oakland, who may simply be incapable of shortening the story, will still be off the stage in ten minutes … (a)nd others who may indeed be capable of shortening a story, but would love to tell the first ten minutes of a longer fairy tale can still participate. …

Oh, and it is also kind to have a time-keeper who will give a one minute warning. …

“Wow,” said Simplia. “So swap hosts can’t just zone out in their imaginations and forget themselves in the stories.”

Sagacia said, “No. But because they’re willing to be vigilant, Outraged in Oakland can relax in the knowledge that he won’t go overtime, which, according to Elizabeth Ellis can be the kiss of death when producers of bigger events are shopping for talent.

Anyone can make a mistake and run over occassionally. I imagine if we were honest we’d have to say that it has happened to all of us at least once… Our community has many really good tellers in it who do not get as many opportunities to tell as they would like. Some of them have not figured out that it is because they can’t tell time…. As a producer, I am reluctant to hire anyone who has a reputation for not adhering to the time allotted because it throws the entire event out of kilter. As a storyteller, I hate working with people who show so little respect for their fellow tellers. And, I’ll close with a heartfelt apology for every situation where I ran overtime!

“I wonder if I’d have the chutzpah to interrupt a storyteller in the middle of a performance, even if they were going overtime,” Simplia said. “I’d feel so rude.”

“Maybe you’ll change your mind when you read Mark Goldman’s letter. I hope he’s just being hypothetical. One way or the other, though, it should give anybody courage to keep a program flowing according to schedule.”

Dear Outraged in Oakland,
Thanks you so much for attending our recent Storytelling gathering and Story Swap. …We know that your name was drawn from the hat and that you were definitely scheduled to tell your story at the Swap. Unfortunately, you were unable to do so. We …were saddened by the behavior of just a few individuals…. It was regrettable that the first two tellers to participate BOTH told stories that were 27 minutes and 17 seconds in length. This, of course, left no time for you or any other tellers to share their story. We do apologize… Thanks again for your understanding.

“Point taken,” Simplia said. “That hypothetical program director sounds like a total wuss for letting not just one but two people run overtime. But how would you keep people from getting mad at you for cutting them short?”
“Read this one,” said her friend. “You couldn’t get mad at the person cutting you off if they did it with Tony Toledo’s humor and good will.”

For four years I have been hosting Speak Up Spoken Word Open Mike in Lynn, MA. We have the finest in 16th century time keeping devices: a five minute sand hourglass. People know to watch the remaining sand. If they are still talking at 5:30 I stand up. At 6:00 I am moving toward them. At 6:23 I put my tongue in their ear. I don’t really but that’s what I tell every body. I thank the speaker for sharing adding, “And next week there’ll be more of this grand adventure to hear about.” The teller sits down quick. … I have had audience members tell me they felt like cheering when I was observent of the time and gently cut off an over time speaker. …

“And what’s this one that just came in?” asked Simplia.

It was a note from Adam Hoffman: A half hour is long for any spoken fairy tale. People can only listen for so long unless there’s music or some kind of visual accompanying. I wouldn’t tell any fairy tale over 15 minutes, personally. Have you considered cutting it down or picking another, shorter tale that you love? 

“Hmm,” she mused. “I wonder if he’s ever heard… Who’s that Canadian teller? She just did a… oh, what was it? And that other one, in Kansas…”

Sagacia, preparing to read one last letter, adjusted her glasses and cleared her throat. “Funny you should mention,” she said. “The very most recent comment is from that other one, in Kansas.”

Actually, people can listen for a long time, though this isn’t the venue for a long story. The images within the story need to be strong, of course, but music and props aren’t absolutely necessary. Consider that Jan Andrews et al. just told 12 hours of the Odyssey, and many of their 138 listeners stayed for the entire story. On a more modest scale, my version of Tristan and Iseult is 95 minutes. Though I give a break at 55 minutes, the last time I told the whole story, the audience told me that they didn’t really need a break (I did, though). —  Priscilla Howe

Simplia and Sagacia scooted their chairs away from the table, gathered up all the letters and smushed them into a final envelope addressed to Outraged in Oakland.
“Let’s get to the post office before they close,” Sagacia said. “Then we need to go home and start packing for that conference. I don’t want to miss this swap.”

This Friday, June 29, at the National Storytelling Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, The Fairy Tale Lobby will be hosting a fairy tale story swap at 10:45 a.m. Everyone is invited. Listeners just need to show up at the appointed time and enjoy themselves. Tellers are invited to do likewise and to also drop their names into our magic hat. We’re looking for fairy tales, and the drop dead time limit is 10 minutes. Shorter stories/excerpts are perfectly acceptable. After the swap, we’ll repair to a nearby restaurant called First Watch for lunch. We’ve warned them that there might be several of us descending at once. If you’d like to each lunch with us and continue the conversation, please let us know by leaving a comment below, by replying on the Fairy Tale Lobby Facebook page, by emailing fairytalelobby@talesandlegends.net, or … your own preferred method of communication. 

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Mrs. Edgar Lucas, translator. Arthur Rackham, illustrator. London: Constable & Company Ltd, 1909.