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  • Writer's pictureSteve Otto

MO-TELL Member of the Month: Steve Otto

Steve Otto has been involved with storytelling for many years. He credits Joyce Slater for getting him into storytelling when she told him she found this class in storytelling and he should take it. Since Steve was engaged in community theatre at the time his reply was “Joyce, I am an actor. I don’t tell stories to little kids.” To which Joyce said “Steve, I really think you should take the class.” So, he took the class and discovered he liked storytelling because he could use his own words and imagination in telling a story vs. trying (emphasis on trying) to remember and recite lines written for the

character he was playing on stage.

He took storytelling classes for about a year then came his big break. Jim “Two Crows” Wallen had taken the leap to become a full-time storyteller and invited Steve and another teller to join him in telling stories at a local park. Steve said this was the first time he told stories to a non-storyteller audience. This experience was what firmly set the hook and led Steve to continue to learn about storytelling. Over the next several years he worked on learning stories and how to tell them. He attended the NSN Festival and Conferences where he studied the tellers and learned how they used their voices to captivate audiences.

Then his employer, The Federal Government, offered an early retirement option and Steve, after a long discussion with Virginia, his wife, decided to take the option. He has been telling stories as his only job since then.

If you know anything about Steve you know that he loves, absolutely loves with a passion, telling scary stories. He says for him the quickest and easiest way to get the audience’ attention is to start with a scary story.

He has two pieces of advice for beginning or experienced storytellers.

  1. You must have a large enough repertoire of stories to satisfy a wide range of audiences.

  2. The most important thing is to tell your version of the story. Many people may tell the same stories from literature or folktales. You, as the storyteller, must tell the story your way and not the way someone else tells the story.

As you can guess there are so many it is hard to pick a favorite, but one sticks out in his mind. He was hired to tell stories to a group of middle schoolers but there was an issue. A group of parents had pre-filed a motion prohibiting the telling of ghost stories in the school. It cut out his favorite type of story to open a program, but he had other stories that would work. He walked into school that morning and met the literature teacher who asked about his Edgar Allen Poe stories. When Steve replied that he thought he could not tell them at the school because they were prohibited, the teacher replied that Poe was literature, and he could tell literature stories. So, Steve led off with one of his favorite stories, The Tell Tale Heart. Nobody complained, even though it is one of the scariest stories he tells. As Steve put it “It’s amazing what a difference in perspective there is when the story is “literature.”

Steve Otto loves storytelling so much; he has promoted it since the first moment he told a story. He has helped other groups get started all over the state of Missouri and Kansas. He has taken his stories all over the United States and beyond. Because of all his work with storytelling he was awarded the National Storytelling Network’s Oracle Award for Leadership and Service.

Steve retired from the Federal Government (where I am sure he told many tales) and joined the ranks of excellent storytellers all over the land. He is one of the charter members of River and Prairie Storyweavers. He organized festivals and events for RAPS while he traveled and told stories at least two hundred days out of the year. He always has great ideas and tales to tell.

He and his wife, Virginia, live at John Knox Village, where he started the Eastern branch of RAPS.

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