The Art of Storytelling: A Talk With April Armstrong

In a world where everything from natural disasters to the current jobs numbers are spun into everyday narratives, it’s nice to sit and hear simple, yet intriguing stories that unveil the mystery of how a leopard got her spots or how an elephant got his tusks.

Last weekend at the Warner Library, featured storyteller, actor and singer April Armstrong. To a packed audience of kids and adults, she shared stories that took the audience down to the banks of the Mississippi and to the faraway lands of West Africa and Zimbabwe.

Ms. Armstrong is a graduate of Manhattan School of Music and Columbia University's Teachers College. After her performance, she sat and talked about being more than a storyteller, the joys and challenges of pursuing her artistic goals, and what inspires her creativity.

The stories you tell come from other sources, how do you tell them?

There is a curious line we cross when we tell other people's stories; we always try to give credit where it is due. Of course, when we tell them, they become our own stories in some way. Every good storyteller puts his or her own spin on the tale.

You are more than a storyteller, how would you describe yourself?

When I am introduced to people or an audience, I usually say I am an actor and storyteller. But sometimes, that's not the way to go, especially, if I am being introduced at a singing function. Sometimes, I am a singer and actress. Or sometimes, I am a Teaching Artist and my artistry is theater. Or I am a musician, if I am around a bunch of other musicians. Then, my instrument is voice. Just depends upon the conversation.

I think the most encompassing field is being an actor, though. Because you can be an actor and still sing well, or tell a good story. But the truth be told, I will always be a singer first, in my heart.”

How has your training inspired or help you pursue your creative goals?

I trained as a classical singer. I am still singing classically, usually in concerts and in church. I love that part of my life, that "living in the music." And I have a Masters in Music Education, and I love that part of my life, too. I have used both my degrees throughout my professional career(s).
And believe me, there are times when the acting comes in pretty handy during a difficult class. I do not have a formal college degree in acting; I learned my craft with individual teachers in NYC, namely Elizabeth Browning-Sheehan, William Metzo and Wynn Handman. It has all been inspiring and none of it has gone to waste.

What can you share with aspiring actors?

I think the best thing to do is to just do it. Act in school and try out for everything. Act in Community Theater; take classes in the City. Go to an acting school. But most importantly, go see good theater. But, also see bad theatre to learn the difference. Do whatever others will allow you to do.

And then, when you want to get serious about it, find out what you really have to offer, discover your essence. The hardest part of acting class for me was when I discovered that I needed to use what was inside of me; that it wasn't about putting on some affect outside of myself. The really effective and moving moments