Thoughts About Developing a Theme-Related Show

Years ago, as a mother with five young children, I became a volunteer storyteller

for a small community in New Jersey, and I loved it! I didn’t realize it at the time, but those years with the library helped me learn other skills that eventually made it possible for me to spend 16 years as a part-time magician, puppeteer and clown for children’s parties.

 By 1996 I reviewed my various talents and experiences and decided to launch a new business as a professional storyteller. Because I had so loved telling stories as a volunteer for a library, I explored the idea of joining the ranks of paid performers for summer reading programs. 

I discovered that many library systems conduct group auditions for potential performers to ensure quality and good value for their patrons. These auditions often take place a year or more before the season begins. The trick is to find out how to get on the list for auditions in your area, and the best way to learn about the local system is to talk with your neighborhood librarian. 

Many libraries across the country subscribe to the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP), a professional, cost-saving approach for libraries wishing to present a comprehensive theme for print and program promotion. A visit to the CSLP website provides information about the current theme for different audiences (pre-school, children, teens, and seniors). Performers who prepare shows to complement a specific theme and audience are in a good position to be hired by libraries subscribing to CSLP.  

It is not unusual for libraries to start plans for reading programs as early as a year before school is out for summer vacation. It is vital for library performers to be thinking about a summer show well in advance, particularly if you want to develop a program with a CSLP theme. Most library summer reading program schedules are firm no later than March each year. This is why I consider what I might do next summer even before the current reading program season is over.  

Some librarians elect to do what they have done for years by providing a mixed bag of reading programs. In many cases, a CSLP show will still work for these libraries, but if you have several other programs ready to go, you might be asked to present one of these shows instead. 

From my point of view, the best part of the CSLP collaborative is the opportunity to take a program to different communities. If you like to travel, an audience-tested  CSLP show can make it possible for you to go on tour in your own state or to other areas around the country. It’s a bit tricky, but by securing block bookings it is possible for a performer to keep expenses down, charge reasonable, competitive rates and still stay within library budgets.

Over the years, I have created and successfully presented theme-related shows about dragons, pirates, creativity, bugs, pets, water, and healthy choices. This year, the reading theme is “Dig into Reading,” so I have prepared a new program, “Squirrely Shirley Digs Up a Treasure Chest of Trouble,” a storytelling/puppet show for children and families. 

I am in currently the midst of getting ready to start my third summer storytelling tour. As I look back on how I began traveling from state to state during the summer months, I realize that my touring with a show happened more by accident than by intent. All it took was a call from a CSLP librarian in an area where I wanted to visit. I feel particularly grateful to have enjoyed this opportunity for so long. 

This summer I will be on tour from Tucson, Arizona to Washington State, and from there I hope to go to Kalispell, Montana. The final part of this tour has not yet been confirmed, but I am an optimist. I’m looking at the possibility of performing at summer camps and other venues to help make this part of the tour happen. I will keep you posted.