Patti Christensen–Storyteller

Patti is a professional storyteller with a rich, diverse background.  She
works in many different venues including bookstores, hospitals, museums,
Juvenile Hall, religious groups, festivals, scouting groups, senior centers,
as well as other school and social service settings. She believes in the
power of storytelling for all ages, preschoolers through Seniors, both in
listening and telling stories.  Patti is an artist in residence with the
SUAVE Program, a cultural and professional development program using the
arts to work with classroom teachers and students through Center ARTES, at
California State University at San Marcos, and was the Families for Literacy
coordinator for the Escondido Public Library Literacy Program.

Her BA in History taught her the magic of “making history come alive”. She
has Masters of Theology and Masters of Social Work degrees, which make her
uniquely qualified for work in different settings using story to speak to
important value issues.  Patti is also a founding member of The Patchwork
Players Story Theatre. Recent performances have included the J. Paul Getty,
San Diego Museum of Art and LEGOLAND California

 

What made you want to become a storyteller?

I always loved stories.  I grew up with a dad who was a storyteller as well
as read books to all four of us kids every night until I was in 8th grade.
We covered a lot of ground during all those years of stories.

The first time I saw professional storytellers I thought, “Wow, that looks
like fun.”  Then, I was asked to be part of a Girl Scouting event where
women in the community researched and then dressed up like a historical
woman and told her story.  I chose Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little
Women.  I had such a fun time telling her story.  Then the director of the
county historical society asked if I would be the speaker at a Women’s
History month event, and she would pay me $50.  I said, “Yes!” and was
hooked.  I knew I would become a real storyteller.
Was the journey difficult?

Any journey has its difficult and its fun times.  The hard parts early on
were learning new stories.  At first I thought I had to memorize them word
for word.  This is very hard and takes a long time.  Then I learned that
storytellers actually just learn what the events are, in what order did
things happen, and then tell it their own way.  This was so much easier.

I had a lot of help, including many great storytelling teachers and friends.
Most storytellers go to a lot of classes, trainings, and workshops as well
as read a LOT of books an listen to others tell stories.

A storyteller named Papa Joe says, “If you want to be a storyteller, tell
stories.  If you want to be a great storyteller, tell a lot of stories.”  I
really got a lot better when I was in charge of a preschool storytelling
program at a local bookstore every week for a couple of years.  I had to
learn a lot of stories because many of the families came back over and over.
That gave me a lot of confidence, and taught me how to learn stories fast.
What were some of your favorite stories growing up? What made those stories
so special?

I loved many stories.  One that my dad told over and over (and still tells
to this day) is Br’er  (Brother) Rabbit and the Tar Baby.  That story is so
funny, and it teaches an important lesson about never giving up, even when
you are in a really difficult position.  You may still be able to use your
brain and get yourself out of it.

I also really grew up on a lot of classic European stories like: the
Gingerbread Man, little Red Ridding Hood and the Three Little Pigs.  Last
summer, I was able to make digital recordings of me and some of my nieces
and nephews telling those stories together, from our hearts.  It is so
satisfying knowing that another generation of kids in my family is getting a
chance to know those stories that I grew up with.

I was recommend that families try telling some of those old stories that
they have read so many times…to put down the book and say them from memory.
This is so much fun and kids of all ages can be involved if the adults help
them remember what comes next.

I also loved hearing Christmas stories as a child.  Now, at Christmas time I
get to dress up as Mrs. Santa and tell stories to children.  This is such a
joy for me.   Mrs. Santa is an unsung hero.
Is there a difference between writing a story and telling a story?

Yes, many of the stories that I tell I also write down or made up in the
first place. The way that we write and we talk sounds really different.
Sometimes stories that are written down are not very “tellable”, they might
have so many details and descriptions that aren’t that interesting to hear
out loud.  And sometimes when you try to write down something that is really
clear when you say it, it sounds not very good in writing.

I enjoy doing both and know that most storytellers also work on their
writing skills, too.
What is the difference between a fable, a parable, and a fairy tale?

There are ever so many different types of stories.  You mentioned just
three.  A fable is a short story, often with the characters being animals.
The story has a moral or a lesson at the end.  A man named Aesop in Ancient
Greece developed the most famous fables.

A parable is also a usually short story that teaches a lesson.  Many times
these stories might be religious or spiritual in nature. There are many
parables that are in the bible that were told by Jesus.

Fairy tales are stories that often have some type of magical component to
them.  They often include settings such as a kingdom long ago and far away.
The characters are also often royal (such as kings, queens, princesses,
princes and knights) as well as magical (such as witches, fairies or
wizards).

There are also many other types of stories such as biography, ghost stories,
folktales, literary stories.
If you could be one character in a story who would you be and why?

There are so many characters that I would love to be.  I ALWAYS love getting
a chance to play princesses in stories.  Left over from liking dress up as a
kid.  I would like to spend some time actually being one of those
princesses, at least for a while.  Servants and getting my way sound like
fun.
What inspires you as a storyteller?

I am always inspired by the powerful stories that people share with me,
especially true life tales.

One of my most satisfying jobs as a storyteller is working on staff as a
storyteller at a children’s hospital.  Every Friday I go with my
storytelling partner and tell stories to the children there.  Many of those
children have very difficult health and life circumstances that they have to
cope with.  I feel very honored when I can go and hear their stories as well
as share some of my own. Storytelling is very healing, as important as
medicine and surgery.  I love being part of that healing process.
What advice would you give a storyteller faced with writer’s block?

My storytelling teacher Doug Lippman offers this advice, that you sometimes
need a safe person to listen a story out of you.  If you are really stuck
and don’t know where to go with a story, sit with a good listener and just
start taking.  There is magic in having a delighted listener just allow you
to explore.  This works very, very well.
What stories are you working on presently?

I am also working on learning new true stories about the state that I live
in, California.  I am also working on special stories about my dad and my
husband’s dad.

Because it is just about Halloween, I am also working on learning some new
scar and not too scary stories for that spooky time of year.

Advice?

When I was a kid, my report card often said, “Patti is a little to social.
Patti talks too much to her neighbors.”  Boy, wouldn’t those teachers be
surprised to find out that I now get paid to talk!

If you want to be a storyteller, you must read a lot of books.  Read, read,
read.

You can also listen to a number of stories and storytellers on-line.  A
great website to go to that has a bunch of stories (including some of mine)
is www.storyteller.net.  Listen to others telling stories will give you
ideas for what stories you would like to tell.

You can look at my websites:  www.pattistory.com  and www.patchworkplayers.com and
www.myspace.com/pattipanchita

These include a lot of photos, stories and information about my storytelling
work alone and with storytelling partners, James Nelson-Lucas, and Spanish
speaking friend, Panchita Acevedo.  Storytelling is so much fun, and there
is always a new story to learn or tell.
Copyright 2005-2011, Jolene Owen. All rights reserved. This interview is free to copy, publish and circulate. You may reprint or publish it without permission in any format. Please credit: Jolene Owen as interviewer. The views expressed herein are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the interviewer or the official position of the publishing company, its various departments and/or the Institute of Interactive Journalism. If you’d like to be interviewed, or would like to send our team an interview, or just send us lots of gifts and candy, contact us at: inspiring.interviews@gmail.com.  Please do not try to contact interviewees through the institute. We never release confidential information or fwd messages. No exceptions.

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About Jolene Owen (Editor-at-large)

Jolene Owen is an interactive journalist working in the transmedia sector. View all posts by Jolene Owen (Editor-at-large)

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