Welcome to the National Storytelling Blog! Within our membership, we have people with expertise in all facets of storytelling. Here we offer their insights and highlight their stories for you to enjoy, learn, and connect.
by Elaine Muray
At the end of July, I will have the honor of providing a workshop at the 2014 NSN Conference entitled: The Prism of Performance: Bringing Light and Color to the Stage. This workshop, designed for all levels of tellers, will help them to learn some staging techniques, tricks, and exercises used by by some of the best stage performer. Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to move…whether it be dancing, cheerleading as a teenager, or my love of performances which use the full scope of the body to communicate intention. My influences primarily come from the stage of physical theater, with my biggest influence coming from the Eastern European theater, who use the full palette of tools in their work. Specifically, my biggest influence comes from the Caucuses and the work of Georgian performer/director Paata Tsikurishvili (artistic director of Washington, DC’s Synetic Theater), with whom I’ve worked with for over 15 years. Paata’s collaborative approach and his insight into how and when to best incorporate physicality, have been one of the greatest gifts I have received as a performer.
If you are looking for new ways to approach your work, the workshop will cover areas not often covered in the storytelling art form. We will cover space, timing, texture, rhythm, prop management, and much more. This is not a mime workshop, but rather an opportunity to discover how to use your body and the stage in the most efficient way, so as to best move your story forward. The workshop is designed to work with all levels of physicality as well as experience in storytelling. Time permitting, participants will be able to share snippets from their work, and receive input from the collective experience of some of the best.
I am looking forward to sharing the gifts I have received in my own development as a storytelling. Won’t you join me on stage?
Elaine Muray integrates movement and narration to deliver tales from around the world as well as personal stories. She has performed at the Australian Storytelling Festival, the Northlands Storytelling Conference and the Jemez Storytelling Festival. In 2008 was chosen by her then Pacific peers to perform at the NSN All Regions Concert, representing the 5-state Pacific Region. Elaine hass been directed from some of the best in physical theater, including Tony Montaro and James Donlon. The majority of her work is a result of over 15 years directing by the director of Washington, DC’s Synetic Theater, Paata Tsikurishvili, who hails from the country of Georgia, and whose “mark” can be seen in most of her pieces.
by Terry Foxx
My 9 year old granddaughter is traveling the world with her parents for two years. The other day on Skype she asked me the question “How did you become a storyteller.” So I wrote her this blog letter:
To my precious granddaughter, Sydney:
You asked me a question: How did you become a storyteller? I have pondered your question because I think it is an important one.
The other day I attended a program for teens. They asked “Why is it teens are lonely? Why is it they are distressed?” They have 100s of Facebook friends. They even sit right next to each other and text.
But dear Sydney, texting is not talking. Texting is not listening, empathizing, caring, hugging, and crying together. The words may be there but the human contact is missing. We need to hear and tell our stories. If we don’t tell stories, we begin not to care and are mean to each other.
It is only recently I have thought of myself as a storyteller. As a college professor, I always liked to illustrate my lectures with stories of science, of challenges, of epiphanies. But I never thought of them as stories. I called myself a scientist, a researcher but not a storyteller.
Everything changed in the year 2000. As a scientist I had studied fire ecology and the influence of fire on the ecosystem for many years. That year the Cerro Grande fire raged across our mountain. Twenty thousand people were evacuated. Cell phones were a rarity. We did not know where our friends and sometimes our family members were. Were they in a shelter? Were they with a kind soul who took them in? Were they in a motel? Many lost their homes but everyone was grieving. Everywhere we went we heard the stories of kindness of neighbors and strangers, of loss, and of gratitude.
When we were allowed to return back to Los Alamos, everyone had a story. Everywhere we went, to lunch, in church, in the hallways, stories were told. That is when I realized the importance to storytelling. Children in one school made a quilt and on that quilt were stories of their loss, their anguish, and their realization about life. One child said “I learned it was O.K. to cry.”
My talks changed from pure science to science and story. I realized grief extended beyond the loss of property but also it was about loss of a beloved landscape covered by trees. I began to take people out to see how nature heals, to tell nature’s story. How nature gives us hope. I went to other communities to tell our stories of loss, of grief, of hope.
I changed my view of myself. I realized the only way a scientist truly can express their science to the non-scientist is through story. I began to say “I am a storyteller but I am also a scientist.” Science is about the head and story is about the heart.
Today when I give a talk, I no longer just look at only the science, the head part, but try to incorporate our human understanding and give heart to the subject through storytelling. I recently gave a PBS Science Café talk on ravens. The combination of the science of these funny, intelligent creatures and their perception by humans today and in the past gave them more interest and depth. One small boy went away telling his grandmother, “I thought they were just birds.”
Today people introduce me as a storyteller, a scientist, an artist, and a writer. I no longer feel uncomfortable when they call me a storyteller. I know where true healing comes from. As a scientist, I know we can solve problems and give answers to many things, but science does not often change the heart—that comes from storytelling. Listening and caring for each other. Experiencing another’s pain, successes, joys, and sorrows these are all universal human experiences.
The other day, you asked your parents the question, “Why people are so mean to each other?”
Sydney, because I see people mean to each other, that is why I am a storyteller. You are traveling the world. Because of your travels, you will have many stories you can tell. Experiences that are now stored in your little heart. Hopefully, when you and I tell stories, we can help people learn not be mean to each other.
Grandma. (aka: Terry Foxx)
Terry is an ecologist, writer, artist, and storyteller. Stories written and told orally are means for Terry to express the sense of awe and wonder that she finds in nature and the world around us. Don’t miss Terry’s workshop at the 2014 National Storytelling Conference, July 24-27 in Phoenix/Mesa, AZ: “Touched by Fire: Igniting the Flames of Healing.” This workshop will showcase how storytelling helped people heal from evacuation and loss after a wildfire, which can translate to the healing process after any disaster.
by Adah Hetko, guest editor for New Voices (Katie Knutson)
The “Bayit,” the home of Jewish Life at Vassar College, sits right outside Vassar’s gate. On an evening in November, we set the Bayit’s parlor with a circle of chairs ready to welcome students, administrators, members of the surrounding community… and their stories.
The event was an interfaith story circle: a collaboration between Vassar’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and the Dutchess County Interfaith Story Circle. The November story circle was one of several storytelling events that I have had the opportunity to facilitate at Vassar during the past few months. As a teenager I trained with Children at the Well-Youth Storytellers for Peace & Understanding (jump-started by NSN’s 2006 Brimstone Award for Applied Storytelling). In college, I continued telling stories and engaged in interfaith organizing, but never combined the two. When I graduated from Oberlin College, and was hired as the Tanenbaum Inter-religious Fellow at Vassar, I was curious to see how I could use storytelling in my work to build community on campus and support students’ exploration of identity. Six months into this experiment, here are my thoughts.
Let’s return to the Bayit’s parlor. A change from the often tightly structured and hierarchical classroom environment, the circle of chairs was both welcoming and challenging. As the students and community members found seats, there was an initial discomfort. Then, they began to look into one another’s faces and smile. Once the storytelling began, full attention was given to each teller in turn. This intense focus generated a shared creative current with the energy flowing around the circle rather than from one speaker.
From this centrifuge, the stories flowed. The theme of the evening, “travel,” carried us from international flights and death-defying escapes to family road trips and summertime journeys. The first student to share a story later told me that she wasn’t sure how her story would be received. In the process of describing her transitions between home and college that included her religious practice, she became aware of the particularity of her experience, and adjusted her story to make it more accessible to the diverse audience. I thought that it took great courage for her to acknowledge the differences in the room, and make her story so accessible. Later, she told me that the process of sharing her story had actually given her courage. She had also gained a greater appreciation for the community surrounding Vassar. With this ethos of discovery, it’s no surprise that the evening was filled with laughter, an expression of both relief and delight.
So far, storytelling has burst the “bubble” of a tight-knit campus. Telling and listening to stories has helped Vassar students to reframe their experiences and absorb an enriched sense of what is relevant to their lives. Storytelling has empowered them to appreciate the present moment as well as one another, and the larger community. What more could you want from an education?
Following the story circle, a storytelling workshop, and a storytelling-infused Shabbat service, students were abuzz with ideas for using storytelling elsewhere on campus: to build community in residence halls, to personalize coursework in International Relations, and to help survivors of violence articulate their experiences. While I don’t know how many of these ideas will come to fruition, I’m glad to have planted the seed of story.
Adah Hetko, a founding member of Children at the Well Youth Storytellers for Peace and Understanding, has performed and facilitated storytelling in a variety of settings. Adah graduated from Oberlin College in 2013, and currently works as the Inter-religious Fellow with Vassar College Religious and Spiritual Life.
Told by Ken Galipeau
Click to listen
About the Story
This story comes from the most important and joyous time of my life. Though I grow up in New Jersey, having a summer place in Rhode Island next to my relatives, including Uncle Ish, was one of the best things my parents did for our family. My father commuted on a weekly basis from New Jersey to Rhode Island. The summer experiences and family love deeply shaped who I am today.
Ken Galipeau is a collector of stories, songs and poems that touch our hearts and funny bone. The stories and songs in Ken’s eclectic repertoire celebrate the wonder, absurdity, pain and joy of life, imagination, and the soul. He presents them with energy, enthusiasm, and a sincerity that makes you tingle through and through–the feeling you have after a belly laugh or a chill in the bones from a unsettling ghost story. Ken tells for all ages and specializes in family events and campfires.
told by Joanna Demarest
Click to listen
About the Story
Love of family, country, and the men who fight to preserve our freedom are the central themes of Unexpected Guests, a true-life tale of a 16 year old girl and her encounter with 8 Marines on a Florida beach. This humorous tale tells how, from that chance meeting, a family tradition was started of sharing Thanksgiving with men in uniform as a “home away from home”.
“One of the greatest joys of telling this story is that I have, on numerous occasions, had men come up to me afterward and say, thank you, I was one of those men that served that a family shared their holidays with or will reminisce about their time spent on the bases around Pensacola,” says Joanna. “It truly brings joy to my heart knowing that I have made a connection with those who have or are serving!”
From fairies to ghosts to historical women, Joanna Demarest will take you on an adventure as she spins tales old and new. She has been telling stories to children and adults for over 20 years. It all started when after reading every book on her daughter’s bookshelf she wanted something new, so she started creating fresh stories of her own. This passion for sharing her stories has been fueled by her nineteen moves within the US and overseas. Joanna specializes in American, Historical, Traditional and Southern Tales, Ghost Stories, Storytelling Workshops, and her own unique Ladybug Stories©.