It's a question I have to ask myself from time to time. The quick and easy answer is because I enjoy doing it, so I have to ask: why do I enjoy it? Again quick and easy rears its head: because I like sharing the stories with others. That's not the whole answer though, as any storyteller knows. It's more complicated than that.
When I began telling stories, I just wanted to be able to engage preschoolers by using puppets and other props besides books. I loved reading aloud, but there were times when the book limited my ability to interact with the children. And sometimes they just got tired of listening and sitting and wanted to do more. So I began incorporating other methods of storytelling into story hour. I used flannelboards, fingerpuppets, movement activities, and music. Then I found a little ant puppet with a story on its tag (many of the Folkmanis puppets come with a story). I was hooked. I learned that story, and another and another. I began expanding my range to include older children and longer stories. Eventually I added family adult audiences too.
There is nothing quite like a group of people of any age listening together and sharing a voyage of the mind into the story's realm. When I see audience members looking at each other to share the joy or poignancy of a moment, I know the story has succeeded. When I see children's eyes with a faraway look, staring an me without blinking and then sighing with satisfaction at the end, I know the story has succeeded. When I see the audience explode with laughter, I know the story has succeeded.
Entertainment is important to our health. We need opportunities to escape the humdrum, to experience new ideas. Storytelling can carry audiences across oceans and time to distant lands and worlds long past, to imagined places and fantastical events. At the end of a session, it can feel like we're disembarking from a flight and getting our land legs under us again.
Of course, there is more than entertainment value in storytelling. We can explore other cultures and find new understanding and appreciation of the ways of other peoples; we can puzzle through a mystery, learn history, and discover unexpected facets of our own culture. Old myths come alive in a storyteller's mouth; stories that might have seemed dry and difficult to read gain sudden luster when told with vocabulary that fits our modern tongue.
Still the question remains, why do I want to tell stories? Beneath all the very good reasons above, the fact is that I want to share, and I want to see the art of storytelling pass down to new generations. As electronic media engulfs our lives, I want others to experience the simple joy of telling or hearing a story, told by a live person and not by an iPod, computer, television or other device. I want stories rich with years of aged patina to continue developing their gloss and avoiding the lacquer of shiny temporary hype that strips their deeper meaning and trivializes their relevance. Communication, person to person, is critical to our mental and physical well-being; instead of passively watching as we do with television or movies, when we listen we actively engage with the story and the storyteller, creating mental images unique to our experience. No video game can equal the richness of the inner tapestry we weave as we listen to a story.
This is not to say all electronic media is bad! I am using it right now to convey my thoughts. There is a time and place for everything. I want to make sure that storytelling and story listening are not crowded off the stage by technologies that purport to be the "new" storytelling media. The storyteller, with voice, gestures and eyes uses some of the oldest technology as he or she practices the art.
It is a technology that requires only two people, the teller and the listener, but it's a technology that can engage thousands using the simple gift of the human voice to transcend time, gender, distance, economic barriers and the daily human struggle. To bring people together in a common bond, a shared moment of community, to remind myself and my audiences that we all share this human condition--that's why I tell stories.