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Saturday, August 13, 2016

4 1/2 Factors in Summer Storytelling

If ever there was a summer when heat affected storytelling, this has been it.  Oh I know Michigan's temperatures are cooler than most of the U.S., but it has been more persistent than usual and we're not used to it.  I grew up in St. Louis -- that's Missouri (or Misery as I am sometimes teased), not Michigan, a town I only discovered after settling here.  Summer was my favorite time of year, after all it meant school was out.  It was common there to say "It's not the heat, it's the humidity."  Be it the humidity, the dew point, the heat index, storytellers ignore it at their audience's and their own peril.

Four and a half main factors must be considered in summer storytelling.
  1. A lot of summer storytelling is at festivals.  It's a great way for festival goers to relax and cool down even if the festival isn't specifically a storytelling festival.  Yes, it's important to have a sound system and avoid competing noise if a story is to be heard since outdoor areas don't help the voice travel as far, but many venue planners overlook the importance of shade.  Remember this is a time for attendees to sit back and relax.  Also the teller may enjoy a spotlight onstage, but the sun is not going to encourage the teller in a similar way to keep going.
  2. A breeze is an added and, sometimes, needed benefit.  One un-air-conditioned library's fan made all the difference.  The audience were absolute angels and this teller eventually realized what was helping them and moved over to share in the welcome blast of air. (It was obviously fairly quiet, but even a noisy fan can be talked over and, whether indoors or out, moving air is helpful.)
  3. Hydration.  You know you should do it.  You know the beverages that work against it.  Bring your own to be sure, but hope the venue offers it...for both you and the audience.
  4. Clothing can make a difference, too.  When possible it should be light and, if in the sun, still covering.  (I don't do well with sunscreen chemicals unfortunately.)
Clothing deserves extra attention.  

Historical garb is its own set of adjustments.  Historical and ethnic storytellers must investigate how the people they represent handled severe heat .  This summer I've told as myself for summer reading programs and elsewhere, plus wearing The Pride of Scotland tartan at our Highland Games as I'm a member of Clan Stirling, and in two types of historical outfits, the Civil War era and in a World War I uniform.  Sometimes I've done other ethnic storytelling programs, but not this summer although hot lands like India wear blessedly light weight, loose flowing outfits and my friends who tell African tales similarly dress for the weather.  Some summers I've been a Hired Girl or a One-Room Schoolteacher and definitely chose outfits those women would have worn in summer.
This past week I did my first "Hello Girls " public program about the bilingual phone operators of World War I.  I knew the uniform was a must, but at first didn't know they had both winter and summer uniforms.  Their uniforms were modeled after the Army nurse and they cost $300 to $500 (that's more than $4300 to over $7200 in today's money).  The army didn't provide it, the women either made it themselves, had it made by a local dressmaker, or by the big east coast department store tailors.  That was a sizeable donation on the part of the women and it's no wonder the town of Emmett, Idaho threw a benefit for Anne Campbell Atkinson.  Even at that, the women rejected part of the uniform that didn't show . . . the woolen underwear and black sateen bloomers.  I'm so glad they did!  I'll not need to show those bloomers.

There are many photos of the operators at their World War I switchboards with their jackets off.  While waiting to enter with a helmet and gas mask on, I wondered if I would need to do that for the program.  Fortunately there was air conditioning and, once I made my entrance in protective gear, I was able to handle the summer weight uniform.  My initial uniform is definitely winter weight.  The jacket started its life as a teenage Civil War reenactor's "sack coat."  I hunted until I found matching navy wool for the skirt, belt, and pockets.

Gentlemen, be you Civil War reenactors or members of a Scottish pipe and drum band, I would definitely be looking for uniform options beyond the dark heavy woolen jacket.  Thanks heavens for the kilt in summer, eh?  At the Highland Games I noticed, more than in the past, some bands had short sleeved uniform shirts to replace the traditional jacket.  As for Civil War ladies, there was an incredible number of layers.  I know I don't have all of them, certainly not a corset since I don't travel with a "fainting couch" nor smelling salts.  Still I do enjoy explaining about the cotton boycott (so, gentlemen, avert your eyes while I show the ladies my shorter pantaloons!)  All the rest, I can assure you is cool muslin.  Besides all those lacy slips, that enormous hoop guarantees people stand a bit apart from each other and ventilation is even better than a kilt, just stay away from campfires.  Fortunately hand fans are very appropriate for any woman, especially for historical storytelling.  (Back to the second factor, breezes, some performers carry their own small electric fans.  I've always believed in seeing to the comfort of my audience first, but let's face it, stages are elevated and heat rises.

Now about that 1/2 heat factor I promised.  None of us are getting any younger and experts say older people are more subject to heat stress than the young.  If you do overheat, get in the shade or a cooler area, maybe even air conditioning, sit down and drink some cool water (ice water isn't as easily absorbed).  Put some of it on your loosened clothing and wrists to further cool down.  If somebody wants to give you ice, use it on your skin or clothing.  I presume your location won't let you take a cool shower or bath.  Back when we were talking about the heat index -- remember it's higher in the sun -- or the humidity, if it's over 60%, your sweat isn't going to do as good a job cooling you.  If this doesn't give you relief in 15 minutes, you need emergency medical help as heat exhaustion can easily move on to the more serious heat stroke.  Even if you do avoid heat stroke, experiencing heat exhaustion means you should probably take about a week of extra caution as you will be more sensitive to the heat.  I remember seeing the late Kathryn Tucker Windham fading onstage in a hot tent at the Michigan Storytellers Festival one year.  Fortunately another storyteller, our emcee, Papa Joe, recognized what was happening and acted quickly.

If you have other suggestions for this topic, by all means let me know.  My email is at the top of this blog, I'm on Facebook, too, so if you can't get through here, those are two fairly easy ways to reach me . . . heaven knows the spammers certainly can.  Hot or cold, storytellers need to be reachable.  There's also my website, , which needs my attention on its Historical page now that my Hello Girl program is available.  I think next week I'll offer a Keeping the Public in Public Domain story looking at how blessed we are if we survive heat without a forest fire.  John James Audubon, yes, that Audubon, told a great first-person story about surviving one.

Until then, do whatever you can and try to KEEP COOL!

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