I use props a lot in my stories, not all stories mind you, but I do think that they add to the story and storytelling. Three questions come to mind - why? what? and how?
Here's a why list:
• props can enrich and add layers to stories
• props suggest - characters, places, actions, cultures
• props can make storytelling easier and more enjoyable for teller and audience
• props are often light and fun
• they usually add variety and can add surprise
From my point of view, a prop is only worth using if it enhances the story or the telling. They are a bit like the pictures in the picture book, only partly mind you, because it is really the storytellers voice, language, expression etc that really creates pictures for audiences.
Well, first of all, my props have to fit into my prop box - my old tin trunk, which often functions as a prop itself. It becomes a pirates treasure chest very often, even if I don't tell a pirate story.
Next I prefer multi-functional props. One of my favourites is my whirly, a length of corrugated plastic pipe, which is usually the wind but there are so many stories, traditional and improvised, where the wind is useful. It's the wind blowing around the rigging in my pirate stories or the wind blowing around the mountain in 'Dragon Girl' or the wind blowing around Thomas Rhuag's cottage in 'The Seal Catcher'. It can be other things however. It becomes the sky god in 'Osebo the Leopard'. This is a really good example of the usefulness of a prop. I think it provides a better and more impressive description of a sky god than any words I might try.
One of the interesting thing about props is that, if they are any good, then they soon become multi-functional. My tambourine is a good example. It's perfect for Christmas stories especially any story where some one sings 'Jingle Bells'. It didn't take me long to find other uses for the tambourine. It makes a pretty good crash of waves or a splash.
Props are even more useful if they suggest things other then the obvious. An African drum suggests Africa and is Osebo the Leopards drum which the other animals try to get. Chinese bells or cymbals suggest China and make a really good start to a Chinese story. I stretch this to a Vietnamese story or a Tibetan (sorry I would if I told one) or an Indian story. I further stretch their use to suggest - 'some thing magical', 'the Fairy Queen' etc.
As loathe as I am to suggest a recipe, I going to suggest 'use sparingly' is an appropriate direction. I don't want to become any more of a 'props roadie' than I already am.
A second direction might be - 'the younger the audience the more useful they become'. This is particularly so because really young children might not follow all of your words but can find a prop like a train whistle and shaker accompanying a train story a lot of fun. They will also enjoy glove puppets especially with good sounds and songs.
A third direction might be - 'use them cleanly and efficiently'. Mucking around with props is really distracting. Put them down when you're not actually using them and pick them up cleanly when you do.
My Favourite Five
1) my tin trunk
2) my kookaburra (painted ply wood - thank you Suzanne Holman) so far only one story
3) blue shaker and wooden huon pine train whistle from Salamanca Markets
4) bag of hats and caps - 'Caps for Sale' and plenty more
5) my Djembe - so African, so much energy and fun - lots of stories
What's your Favourite Five list of props?