Story: The Three Little Pigs
Puppets: Wolf, Pig (for #2)
Props: Assorted Instruments (for #3)
Equipment: Scanner and Projector (for #1)
Presenters: One / Two / One plus kids
Audience: Family Storytime (mostly 3-6 years)
Our Family Storytimes usually feature two tellers doing three stories around one theme. But I recently heard about how the Oklahoma City Storytelling Festival has an event where several tellers each tell their own version of the same story and thought…why not? So last week we did “One Story, Three Ways,” with Brad, Sheila, Terri, and myself all presenting.
Planning and deciding on how to tell took some collaboration. First we talked about how to even interpret the “three ways” idea. Should we do use variations of the story (like Trivas’ Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf) or tell the same basic story using different presentation styles. After lots of brainstorming and some discussion around “why are we doing this again?” we wound up with: basic story each time, different ways of presenting. We wanted to show how a simple, well known story can be new and fresh depending on who's telling and how. And to highlight the subtle power of folktales, which endure as they are reshaped and retold through centuries. Plus we wanted to challenge ourselves a bit, and have a lot of fun as tellers.
I kind of cheated because I already had my story, a puppet version that I’ve done way too many times over the years but I never get tired of. Brad had several ideas he was looking at, but waited to see what Sheila and Terri would come up with in order to see what was the best fit. Sheila and Terri talked about a drawing version for a while, played with combining drawing and projection, but then settled on a two-person telling, with mistakes, aided by projection.
So they started out: “Once there were three…bears!” and a scan of the cover of Byron Barton’s Three Bears appeared on the screen behind them. As the audience let them know that was wrong, a big red “not right” icon flew in to cover the image (officially called a “prohibitory sign” I just learned…it needs a catchier name). This continued as they got things wrong along the way. The wrong items were built around the pattern of the story, so each time the pig made a house out of……then you’d see the wrong image (igloo, gingerbread house, house of cards) followed by that prohibitory sign. Then we’d follow it up with the right thing, scanned from Paul Galdone’s version of the story. The other spot they used this was: “along came the big bad….(bunny, kitty, and especially funny: baby). We love Google Images! Terri and Sheila are excellent team tellers; they rarely stick to a script and “playfully” surprise each other so each time is fresh. I did the PowerPoint clicking for the story, so they were free to interact both with each other and with the images; the audience saw the images first, then the tellers looked behind themselves at the screen and responded. This way of telling it worked great as a kick-off to the program. The kids had a great time, but also we established the key elements of the story, which the next two stories would be built around, but in different ways.
For my version I use a wolf puppet and a pig puppet, no stage. I tell the kids that I’ll tell the story with only a few words, since they know it already, and that if they watch how the puppets move and listen to the sounds they make they’ll be able to tell when a pig is building a house and when the wolf is huffing and puffing. And since I only have one Pig, he will have to play the role of pigs number 1, 2, and 3, and they’ll know because his sounds will be different. Pig 1 makes squeaky noises, kind of a high pitched hum (which kills my throat, but it’s worth it). I start the puppet high, have him “walk” around a bit while humming, then he sees something and says “Straw!” Then he acts out building a house, still humming. Wolf, who is just behind my back to this point, pops out with a sort of a ruff, ruff (but more wolfy than doggy) sound, looks around, and spots the pig. Using their sounds and basic motions, Wolf knocks, Pig refuses to open, Wolf puffs, blows the house down, then leaps up and descends right above Pig…where both freeze for a moment, then Pig zips away and Wolf misses him. After a brief pause, the pig puppet returns up high, as Pig number 2 this time. Same pattern, only Pig 2 whistles for his sound. Pig 3 is the “scat pig,” making sounds like “zip zop zoobee, scoobi-di-do….” That sort of thing. A few extra flourishes, like Pig 3 saying a hearty “Yeah!!” after completing the house and a “Neener, neener, neener!” when Wolf lands in the pot, make this Pig especially fun to do. When you’re doing the scat pig, you move your body around a bit more too, because your body motion cues informs your puppet characters as much as your voice and puppet handling. The story works from preschool through at least 5th grade, and adults seem to enjoy it a lot too.
So after those two versions, Brad came up with a perfect finisher. He told the story using seven child volunteers and an assortment of instruments. There were different house building sounds for each pig. Two kids shook tambourines each time the kids were scared. One tapped a drum for the Wolf’s knocks and another hit a cymbal each time a house collapsed. Brad used a harmonica for the huffing and puffing, while Terri added guitar sounds to signal the approach of the Wolf to each house. Since everyone definitely knew the story by then, the audience could focus on the cute kids, on Brad’s energetic storytelling, and on the sounds. The children’s timing was amazingly good, and when it wasn’t quite right, Brad and Terri deftly guided them. The key to a story like this is really the interaction between storyteller and kids, including the choosing of volunteers and showing them what to do, which can be as entertaining as the actual story. Brad did a great job of making that playful, fun and easy, building anticipation for the performance. It was a very satisfying finale. We may have to make this an annual theme.
Since we do our Family Storytimes four times in a week, we always have chances to iron out rough bits as we go. For example, on our first performance we didn’t reveal the story we were doing, but let the audience realize it during the first story. So Sheila and Terri played around with that a bit in the beginning of their story. We decided to drop that, though, and they shortened their story a bit so we could fit it all into 30 minutes. Also my timing on the clicker got a little better. Brad made one minor adjustment to his story after the first session: duct tape markers so each volunteer would know where to stand (and to stay there). Our Tuesday Night crowd always gets the slightly rougher version, which also usually runs long, but I don’t think they mind too much….
We got good feedback from this one. Some kids mentioned one version that they liked the best, but all seemed to enjoy seeing how a story can come alive in so many ways. And I think parents at least appreciated the challenge involved in coming up with the three ways. All of our Family Storytimes use varied telling styles, but I think that element stood out more this time. We gave out sheets to cut out pigs and a wolf for stick puppets afterwards, hoping that kids and grownups will be inspired to try their own ways of telling the stories.