A class at Brandeis University helped Jordan Hill realize that there is something special about connecting with people by telling a good story. Hill has lived in Tucson for two years, and is a regular at local cultural and kiddie events. Hill will perform today, Thursday, July 22, at the Santa Cruz River Farmers' Market, at the northeast corner of Speedway and Riverview boulevards, from 5 to 6 p.m. For more info on Hill and his future events, visit jordanhillstoryteller.com.
When did you first start telling stories?
I was in college at Brandeis, studying literature, and I took a course on storytelling. ... My professor lived an epic life and was a great storyteller. He came from an Afro-Caribbean tradition. And the grad-student (assistant) for the class was half-Brazilian and half-Irish, and came from that tradition. The first story I told was an Irish folk tale, a fairy tale about a man who was convinced he couldn't tell stories ... who ended up in the Valley of the Fairies. They take him on this crazy adventure, and prove to him that he can tell stories. The experience of telling that story was electrifying. Like the man, I realized I could tell a story, and it was pretty cool.
How did you become a professional storyteller?
I had no plans after school. I ended up randomly teaching at a Jewish day school in Dallas, Texas, telling stories on Friday at a Shabbat gathering, and then at lunch, and the students loved it, but it was rough, because I was still figuring it out. That year, I jumped on a plane to South Africa, where I was born, and I traveled for a year and a half. People would ask me what I did, and I'd say, "I'm a storyteller," and they'd ask me to tell a story. It took on a life of its own. Because of the adventures I had in South Africa, I called myself a professional storyteller.
When you go to a venue, do you go onstage with a goal in mind?
There are often themes that I want to get across, but often before a performance, I'll go off into the corner. My goal is to get my ego and myself out of the way as much possible and be a channel or conduit for the essence of these stories. That's because I believe in the power of these stories. I don't know what kind of impact they are going to have. I try to feel a sense of the magical and the enchanted. I value that highly.
Do you find that most of your audience is usually children?
Yes, but the kind of storytelling I love is the kind kids love, too. It's actually a great lesson working with kids. Their attention spans are up and down, and if they don't like it, they let you know, which is great. It calls on you to learn the tricks of the trade. With adults, that's not so much of an issue. I do feel like adults have a rigidness, where I'll tell a fairytale, and they don't give it the kind of attention it deserves. But kids will just go for it.
What's your advice on being a good storyteller?
Some people are just better than others, formally and informally. There's always that one friend who can't finish the joke without ruining the punch line, but that can be worked on. But I think there's something more fundamental: Being a good listener helps you be a good storyteller. You also have to allow yourself to be possessed, to give yourself to the story. The more they can do that, the more powerful the connection to the audience.
Do you think storytelling benefits a community?
Continued engagement with the imagination and creativity is always a benefit on a personal level and spiritual level, and even on a problem-solving business kind of level. The more people can be in touch with their imagination past 9 years old, the richer their lives will be; the better the world will be. Our lives are stories, our memories of the world around us and the people. The more we take ownership of those stories by saying, "This is serving me and the people in my life, and this story isn't; I am the storyteller of my life, rather than being the victim of my circumstances," it's more empowering.