When eager new storytellers contact me for advice, they are usually interested in finding out what steps they need to take to eventually be able to charge for their services. Most of these folks understand it is necessary to polish performance skills until someone is willing to pay them a fee. There really isn’t a short cut from wanting to become a storyteller and working professionally as one. It takes work, time, focus and passion about what it is you want to accomplish.

Many years ago, I was a performing clown, and I had to teach myself the basics since the option to attend Clown College did not exist yet. Furthermore, I lived in a rural area in New Jersey, and I didn’t have a network of performers to call on for advice. So, I drew from what I had learned when I took theatre classes at Portland State College and the Portland Civic Theatre (Portland, Oregon). Then I read every book I could find on the subject at my local library. I found a local magic group, and convinced them to teach me how to become a magician. After months of study and practicing with these folks for a while, I decided I was ready to see if I had what it took to entertain as a clown.

Here’s my alter-ego, Whispers the Clown.
This photo was taken before a show in Tucson, AZ.

I put out word that I needed audiences, and soon my calendar listed all kinds of volunteer jobs: library summer reading programs, sidewalk sales days, school shows, church benefits, hospital visits, Blue & Gold Dinners and birthday parties for neighborhood children. After each experience, I wrote down what worked and what didn’t in a notebook I kept for this purpose. Some notes listed more in the “what didn’t work” column than on the “what worked” side. At the time I didn’t realize I was ”paying my dues,” aka gaining valuable experience and developing sound professional habits.

Over time, I managed to improve my skills and polish my performances until I reached a point when I felt confident about asking for a fee. I found that once I started to charge for my services, requests for benefit shows became less frequent. Best of all, many of my past customers were now comfortable about paying me, since they already knew my work.

From that early experience of learning how to be a performing clown, I developed a sense about how to take the dream of accomplishing or doing something to a point where it is possible to move beyond the dream and into reality. In my next post, I will discuss what a new storyteller or any starting performer can ask for when people call and say they have no budget, but they can provide an audience that will be great for “experience and exposure.”