Tandem telling

What is story theatre or tandem-telling?

Storytelling with more than one person.  The story is told by a narrator with others acting it out with dialogue or through mime. The narration may also be provided by those who are playing the characters, animals, or inanimate objects.


What’s the difference between tandem-telling and acting?

a) actors ignore the audience, which looks at the actors through the invisible “fourth wall” at the front of the stage. The actors talk to one another. Only on rare occasions is this “wall” broken for specific effect (eg a soliloquy, where the actor addresses the audience directly.)  In tandem telling – as in all storytelling – the tellers talk to the audience. Often they invite audience participation.

b) Actors usually speak memorized lines. In Story theatre, it is more important to “know” the story than to memorize the story. So there will be both raw  and cooked moments – parts that are improvised, parts that are rehearsed (eg a rapid exchange between two characters leading two a specific dramatic moment.)

c)  In theatre, the actor submerges himself in the role. We talk about Lear disowning Cordelia, not Ian McKellen.  In storytelling, the audience is always seeing the teller. The teller may be speaking as the King, but we are always aware of him as – the  teller.

d)  In traditional theatre there may be someone in the “narrator” role. Storytelling, of course, uses a narrator, but instead of being separate from the action, the narrator is integrated into the story. A teller can flow right from narrator into character: “Once there was a rabbit with very large ears who had a problem. ‘I have such large ears that I can hardly hold my head up…’ ”

d)  Having two or more people on stage lends itself to a more theatrical  presentation. Tellers tend to use more physical movement and “acting” in the story – if only to give one teller something to do while the other talks!

e)  Story-theatre is far less dependent on the use of costumes and props than a drama. The narrator uses words to help the audience visualise the setting, and being free of scenery, allows the tellers to transform the space (the story setting) from a forest to the castle to the bottom of a well in seconds.  Not being tied to a particular costume enables the teller to be King,  crocodile and Sacred Mountain within the space of three sentences.


This is Eth Noh Tec, a terrific Asian-American tandem-team performing a Tibetan folktale.


You’ll see this telling is highly rehearsed, with a rhyming, rhythmic text. It’s inventively choreographed, so that the two tellers become greater than the sum of their two separate parts.


There’s no set, no character costumes (Robert and Nancy dress so you know they are storytellers – but not which story they are going to tell!)  Character is conveyed through voice and movement.


Note how they create still images to open and close their story, as well as highlight specific, key moments.

Telling with a partner enables you to


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