A Serendipitous Adventure in Storytelling

By Glenda Bonin

boninIn the past two years, my storytelling repertoire has expanded to include audiences of elders – some in vigorous health, and others dealing with a variety of medical conditions and memory loss. For the most part, these audiences are associated with senior living communities or private assisted living sites. I have identified and served five audiences in this demographic: (1) active older adults; (2) seniors living at a group site in order to enjoy activities and meals in the company of others; (3) individuals attending day-care services; (4) older elders requiring some form of supervision and medical assistance, and (5) residents in need of memory care services.

At first I was not certain I wanted to provide programs to seniors in assisted living communities, although my current age now places me squarely in this age group.  My early experiences of telling stories as a volunteer in nursing homes in the 1980s were less than satisfying. At the time, it seemed to me that the audiences were not prepared to hear stories, and I was left with the impression that a storytelling session was considered a convenient opportunity for the staff to take a break.

In 2014, I received a call from a woman who asked me if I would be interested in telling stories at an assisted living and memory care site in Tucson, Arizona. I explained that my storytelling work focused on children, students, family groups and large community events. The caller, Sandy, was persistent. Once she told me her story, I agreed to consider her request.

She told me she had recently placed her mother in an assisted living facility. She noticed her mom had little or no interest in bingo, sing-along sessions, craft projects, and soothing live music. Sandy said she thought her mother would respond better to some form of creative, verbal stimulation. She hoped storytelling might work because her mother had taught English Literature until her retirement. Since words and language had been the primary interest of her mom’s teaching career, Sandy believed stories would be the answer to an unmet need.

I did a bit of research about creative aging and memory loss, and agreed to see if what I had to offer might have value for someone like Sandy’s mother. I donated a storytelling session at the site where her mother was a resident. As I prepared for the performance, I decided to bring along some story-related artifacts to see if these items might provide something extra for the residents to enjoy.

Sandy was with her mother during that first story session. Fourteen residents, two staff members, and the owner of the facility were in the audience. I was delighted with the positive response. After the show, the owner asked me if I would consider doing a weekly program at three of his residential sites.

I spent two months doing research, and I attended as many workshops as I could find to become more knowledgeable about elder issues, creative aging and memory loss. From May to December, I delivered twenty-nine different story programs to three different assisted living sites. The weekly pace was quite a challenge, but well worth it since these weekly sessions made it possible for me to have programs to draw on as my customer base grew.

If you have an interest in telling stories to an underserved and growing population of appreciative listeners, I invite you to attend my workshop, “How to Successfully Deliver Storytelling Programs to Senior Living Communities,” during the July 21-24 2016 National Storytelling Network Conference in Kansas City, MO (storynet.org/conference). I am eager to share the lessons I learned after being approached with an unexpected and serendipitous request to create a program for a teacher living in an assisted living facility.

So far this journey has been pure joy for me, and I sincerely hope that after learning about my experience, some of my storytelling colleagues will be inspired to go back home and develop their own story programs to serve this receptive audience.

About Glenda

Glenda Bonin came to storytelling in a round-about way. She discovered a love of theater when she was in high school, and learned quickly that a good story made good theater. Glenda told stories as a volunteer at a New Jersey library when her children were young, and subsequently developed a part-time business as a children’s entertainer. She’s made her living as a full-time storyteller since 1996 and continues to find new ways to develop as a professional. Glenda is equally comfortable telling stories with her puppets to 5-year-olds, recalling western history tales at local ranches, and sharing personal reminiscences to folks in senior living communities.

Contact Glenda

Website:  www.StoryWorksGroup.com
Phone: (520) 629-0270 or (520) 235-4171


Hear Our Voices

By Cindy Rivka Marshall

marshallHow do communities or organizations encourage understanding and respect of human differences? Those of us who deeply understand the potential of both story sharing and story listening have a lot to offer.

I use personal storytelling as a tool for diversity work. I have strong faith in the power of story to build bridges across differences. I have developed models for groups that can help to break down barriers and connect people across differences.

The fourth annual “Hear Our Voices” event was held in early March at a Boston area high school. Devoted to increasing understanding of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ,) the program included speakers, some of whom are members of the school community. They shared anecdotes from their personal experiences and received appreciations from listeners with a structured response technique. Small groups of students and staff debriefed after the program in facilitated sessions.

Since its inception in 2013, I have had the privilege of consulting on the design of the program and have trained the staff, provided prompts to the speakers, offered behind the scenes story coaching, edited the flow of the stories, and most importantly, helped to create a safe space for marginalized voices to be heard.

One year, the prompt was: “Tell about a time when you kept silent about your LGBTQ identity.”

Avi, a confident young professional, returned to his former high school to tell this story: “The summer after junior year, I was part of a volunteer trail-building crew in the White Mountains,” he said. “One evening, this guy, Josh, said he couldn’t imagine being friends with gay people, since they’re all so feminine and flamboyant, and he jokingly started talking with a lisp and dangling his hand. I remember thinking, you should say something. If ever there was a good situation to prove him wrong, it’s now. I remember my heart pumping quickly, because I actually was considering coming out to the group. But in the end, I got too scared and didn’t.”

When asked to offer appreciations, one student stood and said, “I resonated with Avi’s story about how it feels when some part of you is invisible to others. My dad has a disability, but I don’t usually talk about it.”

Another teen stated, “Avi’s story made me realize I shouldn’t assume anything about the people around me. I’m going to stop making gay jokes.” Many students nodded in agreement.

At the end of the program, the Head of School said, “You’ve given us a new modality. It helps us to shift out of the rebuttal and debate mode into empathic listening. It encourages us to listen from the heart rather than just the head.”

While the model I describe here was used to address LGBTQ issues, it can be applied to other identity issues such as race, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, disability or ethnicity. Hearing personal stories, particularly those of people who have been silenced, marginalized, or targeted, has the potential to open the hearts of the listeners and create change—change in attitudes, policy and social change.

Of course, changing attitudes and working towards equity is an incremental and complex process for any group. Story sharing programs alone cannot satisfy the need for systemic change. But I am eager to continue offering these programs to help make communities safer for all.

Cindy Rivka Marshall will be offering a participatory workshop “Hear Our Voices: Build Understanding Across Differences” at the NSN Conference. It will be a chance to experience some of the techniques described here and think about ways of bringing this work into your own communities.

About Cindy

Cindy Rivka Marshall aims to “reach, teach and change with stories.” Her consultation and training in the use of story modalities addresses the needs of congregations, schools, organizations and individuals. Along with performing stories, Cindy facilitates groups to share stories and coaches individuals to craft stories, with the goals of enhancing learning experiences and building community. She runs the Dancing Tree Story Workshop in Needham, MA and has produced several award winning recordings of her stories.

Contact Cindy

Website: www.cindymarshall.com
Email: cindy@cindymarshall.com


Professor Pickle Looks In The RORRIM

By Mike Speller

SpellerIn the afterglow of the wonderful buffet published in Storytelling Magazine’s “Coming Home Laughter” edition, I am proud to say NSN chose the Professor to share his Humor Kourse at the upcoming summer conference/workshop.   So now I have plenty of material to copy, paraphrase, and claim as my own. I am joshing, of course!

Seriously, how do you follow that compendium of comic artists? Pardon moi, comic Storytellers. I aspire to their levels of creativity, confidence, and arte del commedia. However, I am confident I have something different to offer you, gentle reader. Do not say ‘tragedy’…I expect more of you.

First, let’s get our terms in order. Somebody’s dictionary defines Comedy as the end-product (ie, skit, play, Presidential race); Humor is the ability to create and/or perceive amusing things a.k.a. comedies, big or small; and Laughter is a violent physical and audible reaction to comedy, usually involving milk out the nose.

I shall now expel, uh, employ my flimsy knowledge of the periodic table, and my graduate degree in hard-knocks to share four elements that make Comedy possible: Inspiration, Timing, Execution, and Response.

Inspiration. Some people are born Humorous, some achieve Humor, and some have no clue.
To those of you born funny…well, la dee da. With great humor comes great responsibility! Spontaneous wit is wonderful but don’t rely on your Phillips screwdriver to change that light bulb (metaphor at play there).

To the working stiffs who achieve Humor, I applaud you. Through accumulation of comedy intake or the proverbial light bulb going on overhead, if you can make it funny here, you can make it funny anywhere.

To the clueless? Nobody’s perfect. The comic savant and the laborer alike can always add to their repertoire of methods (NOTE: THIS is a subliminal pitch to register for my workshop!), so if all you do is buy a light bulb this time around…at least you’ve got one.

Timing. …Wait for it….Thank you! It applies not just to a pause between words but judicious follow-up after a serious event.

Execution. Whether you’re writing or speaking your Humor, there’s two aphorisms you should know. The first comes from the film “My Favorite Year” (c/o I wish I knew): “Dying is easy, Comedy is hard.” Second, comes from Mr. Shakespeare, et al: “Brevity is the Soul of Wit.”

Granted, you may think this premise or that punchline is enough to make an assassin pee his pants, but the true test is reallllly…

Response (Did you see that coming?). One joke/bit/schtick is merely a barometer. For consistent response and rapport, your sense of humor and its end-product must be compatible with your audience as a whole (usually requiring some form of research or NSN workshop, I daresay).

Professor Pickle is not a scientist—most of you already know there’s at least five elements on the periodic table. He is not a surgeon—though his jokes can be cutting. The Professor is a practitioner of comedy and/or humor who believes he can help others relax about the subject of Humor and create the good stuff when the need arises. And there’s always a need.

About Mike

Mike Speller began his professional acting career educating kids for CLIMB Theatre, laughing with Fanny Hill Dinner Theatre, improvising with TheatreSportz, then opening Walt Disney World’s Adventurers Club. He’s been featured at the Sterling (IL), LaCrosse (WI), and Ray Bradbury Festivals; and is honored to contribute to the NSN mind-meld.  Join his humor workshop at the 2016 National Storytelling Conference, 7/21-24 in Kansas City, MO.

Contact Mike

Website: http://www.storytelling.org/speller/


Unearth a Family Story and Share It

by Carolyn Stearns

stearnsIn the back of the closet, an old box in the attic, a jewelry box long forgotten, these are the places some of your family stories lurk. I have focused a portion of my work on unearthing these remnants of stories and fleshing them out. There are jewels of stories waiting to be told once more. There are family members whose memory has been relegated to a name and a date. Through telling their story, their life still teaches lessons and impacts the next generation of the family. You can honor a family memory with a story.

My historical family story quest began with my Great (x4) Uncle George. I inherited his writings, notes and a few artifacts. I have known about Uncle George all my life, but I never “KNEW” Uncle George. He was born in 1835, our lives did not intersect, that is, until I read his writings. Here was a glimpse direct from his thoughts. I am sure the care he took in writing his memoir was because he wanted his story told.

That was where my education in historical family stories began. It doesn’t matter if your family story is from 1960 or 1775, there is a process to bring it back to life. History is often considered a dry subject by students. Storytelling has the power to breathe life back into the dry data of time and event and make them personable encounters with another era. Just as CPR revives a person, I revive a family story.

My workshop, “My Roots are Showing; Collecting and Telling Family Stories” at the 2016 National Storytelling Conference (July 21-24, Kansas City, MO) invites participants to delve into family story and craft a tale that will reintroduce the family and your audiences. You don’t have to be a storyteller to appreciate a good family story, or to tell it. These are the stories children need to hear on the way to a baseball game, or school. These stories are to share when the relatives come for a visit.

You don’t need a famous relative to tell a great family story. With my process you will walk back through time and gather the pieces that fill out your story. You will also have prompts to help you gather stories before they are lost to time. Sit down with our elderly generation and collect as many story seeds as you can before they disappear.

How do you tell that story? How do you use your voice and body to make the story more realistic? What can you give your listeners to be sure they are not just hearing the story, but experiencing it? In my workshop we will interact with each other as we try different ways to breathe life into your story. Come with or without a story, I have the prompts to stir your memories. If you have a story you want to tell, a memento, a photo you want to use as a starting place, meet me at the National Storytelling Conference.

Everyone has some old stories that wait in the recesses of time and memory. I have the story CPR to bring them back to life. My roots are showing in my stories, those long ago relatives struggling in a world we don’t recognize. Let me help you unearth your roots, collect and tell your family story.

About Carolyn

I live at the intersection of arts an agriculture. I perform all types of stories but am drawn to stories from history. My historical family story CD, George Henry Story – The Man Who Painted Lincoln was recipient of three awards. My workshops range from Family Stories to STEAM Ice Cream: engaging participants in the STEM curriculum with the Art of storytelling, alternative energy and making ice cream. I am part of the 9th generation to live on the family dairy farm, Mountain Dairy in Mansfield Connecticut.

Contact Carolyn

You can find me on Social Media, Twitter, Facebook, You-Tube, Instagram and LinkedIn.


Our Stories, Our Community: Foundation approach to storytelling in communities

by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

PangTwenty years ago I sat in the concrete surrounds of the mental health ward next to my brother with nothing to say. I couldn’t talk to him about the beautiful sunny day outside, about awesome surf conditions, or my nephew’s first soccer game that was coming up. All of these were unobtainable to him locked up in that ward against his will. I saw the moon out early, which reminded me of a story that our grandmother used to tell us. How the moon…

And so began my life as a storyteller. When I shared stories with my brother I found a safe way to communicate. I also found that everyone in the institution loved stories. Stories were a magnet and something that we all needed in life.

Stories are how we shared, found common ground and delved into difficult conversations. They connected us, despite our version of reality being so far apart.

Ultimately my brother committed suicide and that day I threw in my job as an economist in a leading international firm to become a full time storyteller.

I trained up and got out there. I felt committed to the gold and honesty of storytelling, not only in performance but also as a tool for healing and connection.

Over the years I have created and run numerous community storytelling programs, a few of which I will outline below, all of which served to build a sense of self worth, identity and community.

Bilingual story sharing: ran for three years in highly multicultural schools and regions. It was aimed at 9 to 10 year olds with the explicit purpose of bringing in the wider community and valuing ‘homeland’ or ‘non-English” knowledge of all people.

Storytelling for resilience: funded by the Juvenile Justice courts, this was a five year program that targeted disadvantaged schools and youth at risk. This program used stories to explore and discuss resilience and goal setting.

Digital stories of migration and connection (one year fully funded with art gallery display and digital materials)

Teaching storytelling skills to children’s hospital workers/therapists.

I have taught English using TPR storytelling and percussion over eight years and ongoing, run storytelling programs for parents of people with mental illness, newly arrived women and teens and new mothers.

The projects I currently run are:

  • Indigenous communities engagement: Indigenous Australian story sharing project for reconciliation. This is the collection of regional Indigenous stories, sharing these stories and the creation of a theatre experience.
  • Our journey our stories is a story gathering and performance project that I run in the second half of the year with newly arrived refugees. In 2015 they were all Syrian refugees between the ages of 11 and 21 yrs.
  • Weekly storytelling and percussion workshops for users of a mental health day recovery program/centre.

While every community and group is unique I have found that I can use the one framework or structure to approach community storytelling. This framework has been developed by trial and error over the life of all the projects above. To my surprise I have found a consistent approach that works with adjustments according to age/group/literacy. Theoretically the structure I have developed is also influenced by three other fields, namely improvisation theatre, music therapy and theatre puppetry.

I am exited about coming to the USA and Kansas City for the National Storytelling Conference, July 21-24. It is an honour and great opportunity to present the framework for community storytelling that I have developed to you and to share in our experiences. I hope to see you at the workshop I will be presenting.

Stories connect us all. When we share and listen to stories we share a piece of ourselves and we form links with others. I look forward to developing new links in Kansas City.

About Lilli

Lilli can only be described as a dramatic, involved and passionate storyteller. She will create worlds and journeys and characters that take over your imagination and win your heart. Lilli tells stories in English and uses a range of languages and instruments to honour the country of origin, so be prepared to clap, dance, sing, creep and enjoy. Join her and share in the beauty of storytelling at its best.

Lilli has travelled Australia and the world performing including at The Opera House, Dreaming Festival, in Peru, Colombia, Singapore and many other stages. When the stage lights aren’t on she is working consistently with community; mental health centre, with recently arrived refuges and facilitating Indigenous story gathering and sharing.

Contact Lilli

Website – www.thestoryline.com.au
CD available – Vamonos with Stories
Touring theatre shows available – ‘Señor Rabbit’ and ‘Curious Jac’