Storytelling seems to be a simple enough craft, doesn't it? All that's required is to learn a few stories, go out and tell them, right? As with many things that look easy on the surface, the truth is a different story. Every storyteller I know loves their work, and most do a certain amount of ree or cut-rate performances. But it costs money to be a storyteller, and that is why we must charge for what we do. Some expenses are apparent: having a vehicle, travel costs for getting to performances, producing CDs or publishing books, telephone, computer, and publicity materials such a business cards and brochures. But there are other costs that might not be as visible to the person asking for a free performance.
For example: to learn stories, one must find them. To find stories requires research and time. Time costs nothing except the loss of what might have been done with it. And where are the stories? In books, online in databases, in people's memories. Hidden cost: the price of books, online access and travel expense to visit people for interviews, time (even figured at minimum wage, it adds up to a large amount per story).
To tell stories, all one has to do is find an audience, stand up and talk. Not. Telling requires practice and even training to learn about all the possible ways to tell, problems that could be encountered, best practices, voice care, and time management to name just a few potential topics. Most storytellers who are serious about their craft will attend conferences and workshops, be part of online discussion groups, and buy (more) books on storytelling techniques. Hidden cost: the price of (more) books, conference registration fees, travel.
There is also the storyteller's wardrobe. I can, of course, simply wear whatever is in my closet. Some storytellers do. But I think that those who hire me expect me to look a certain way--like a storyteller. That doesn't mean elaborate costumes (although some wear them) but it does mean that I need specific items in my wardrobe for storytelling. And for various seasons and settings. For example, when telling for an autumn event, the weather might be cool and rainy, dead cold, or 90 degrees. I have to have appropriate clothing for all possibilities, and even pack an alternative set just in case conditions change or the venue shifts to another site (supposed to be outdoors but a sudden storm sends everyone into an overheated building). For Christmas season performances, I want to wear something a little dressy and some shade of red or green; for October, fall colors and a lot of black fit my wordrobe scheme. In summer, I try to select what I wear to go with the libraries' summer reading theme. It's the same as a work wardrobe for those working in more traditional fields, but those who hire performers might not realize that the performance wardrobe, at least in my case, is separate from the other clothing in the closet. Hidden cost: clothing I would not ordinarily purchase, including acccessories.
Some storytellers travel light, and I do too for some programs. For others (library summer reading programs come to mind) I like to bring a display and often I use puppets and other props for children's programs. I also bring my sound system, even if it might not be needed. It's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Hidden cost: puppets and props, display items, portable table and table covers, sound system, and suitcases, tote bags and carts to haul it all.
House space, electronic equipment and furniture: my storytelling business takes up a lot of room in my house. I've bought cabinets, shelves and storage totes for my books and other materials. One room is about half storytelling stuff and the books spill over onto other shelves in the house as well. I bought a laptop so I can keep up with things while on the road and upgraded my cell phone to have internet access. Hidden costs: furniture I would not have needed otherwise, heating and maintenance of house space, and additional electronic equipment expense.
After reading this list, you might be thinking, why even do it if it costs so much? And you probably already know the answer. I love what I do and cannot imagine not doing it. And I would bet every artist and musician would give the same answer.