Recently I was performing at a 'Book Festival' in Youngstown, OH. I really enjoy these kinds of venues. Usually, when I perform, it's for a captive audience. The children HAVE to be at the assembly program. They are marched into the 'cafe-gym-a-torium', and they sit in very specific places on the floor. (You can still smell the the stale odor of old pizza and gym-sweat in the room.) But I can pretty much guarantee how the performance will go and how the audience will react.
HOWEVER, the public spaces you tell stories in, at a festival, can vary widely. You might be standing in a field, or under a tent, or on a street corner, or in a mall (Malls are the worst, by the way. Malls were never designed for public speaking. They are designed to make sure you can't hear anything and the audience will never be able to concentrate on anything you do because there is so much sensory distraction from everyone and everything around you. Please! Please don't make me tell a story at a mall. I'm begging you! Can you see the tears running down my cheeks as I write this?!) At a festival you don't have any idea who the audience will be, how old they are, and how much funnel cake they have consumed before they come to hear your story. The thing that makes me laugh the most are the parents who bring their 11 month olds to hear the story. Most 11 month old children don't want to hear a person talk. They want to wander about. They want to explore the space. They want to show off their walking abilities. They usually don't understand the words you say, nor the moral lessons you are trying to convey. But some parents are absolutely convinced that THEIR 11 month olds are well equipped, unlike your 11 month old, to dive into the shaded nuance of the folktale. So, they set them free and let them go toddling about while your telling stories. Then laugh, with pride, as their child stumbles over my feet, just as I'm getting to the serious part of the story. The thing is, I still don't mind. It's kind of fun to improv my way around these little drooling distractions.
A more satisfying audience, at a festival, are the pre-school children for whom I don't normally perform. They just surprise me. They often, whole-heartedly, buy into the fantasy aspects of a story with no jaded attitude. In the pictures below you will see such a child. She volunteered to play the Chipmunk in a story I tell called "The Bear and the Chipmunk". (I think there's a recording of the story in a previous blog.) She was maybe three or four years old, and acted out the character with near 'method-acting' conviction, and the contrast in our sizes was wonderful.
Look at her!!! Those little paws! She kept sticking her little front teeth out through the entire story! Reason 75 why I will never stop telling stories: That kid!! Sometimes it's the audience that makes my job so much easier.