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’


Show Don’t Tell – Decoded

by Doug Lipman

lipmanIf you’ve hung around storytelling (or acting or writing) long enough, you’ve probably heard the familiar instruction:

“Show, don’t tell.”

This maxim points toward a helpful idea: in order to make a scene or sentence maximally vivid for your listeners, you need to “show” what happened, rather than “tell” ABOUT what happened.

Here’s a simple example of “telling”:

Version 1. Sheila’s apartment floor was a disgusting mess.

In contrast, here’s one way to begin “showing” the mess:

Version 2. Sheila kicked the pile of dirty clothes out of the doorway. Unfortunately, they skidded against the night stand, dislodging the pile of dirty dishes stacked on it. Crash! ..

As you can see, Version 2 can help a listener imagine the exact nature of the mess, rather than simply accept the vaguer “was a mess.”

Three Problems?

As useful as “show don’t tell” can be, it is fuzzy advice, with three serious problems.

Problem #1: You need both

“Show don’t tell” makes you think that “telling” is always bad. In truth, only certain parts of your story are worth being “shown”: the parts that your listener needs to imagine fully in order to experience the central drift of your story. Everything else should be “told.”

In other words, suppose you are a painter and have been told that bright colors stand out most, so you paint everything in bright colors. The result? Nothing stands out.

Problem #2: It’s not black and white

“Show don’t tell” suggests that either you are “telling” or you are “showing.” In fact, both represent adjustments that can be made in various ways. The real power is to understand the range of choices available to you, then to choose the best adjustments that suit your purposes.

Painters don’t just use white and black; they use the entire scale of grays.

Problem #3: It’s two different choices

“Showing vs. Telling” is not a single choice. It actually consists of two different adjustments:

a. Concreteness. Notice how these three sentences get progressively more concrete:

Her floor was cluttered.

Her floor was strewn with dirty clothes.

Her floor was strewn with a full week’s worth of dirty jeans and t-shirts.

A “cluttered floor” is more concrete than “a mess”. But specifying that it’s cluttered with dirty clothes is still more concrete, etc.

The more concrete the description, the more vividly your listeners are likely to imagine.

b. Interpretive Language. “Telling” can involve words that interpret the actions or descriptions in the story for the listener—rather than letting the listener interpret for herself. Notice how the language in these three sentences gets progressively more interpretive:

Her floor was cluttered.

Her floor was dirty.

Her floor was a disgusting mess.

“Cluttered” is less judgmental than “dirty,” which, in turn, is less judgmental than “a disgusting mess.”

The less you interpret for your listeners, the more likely they are to create their own interpretations. If I tell you what to think about something, you might or might not accept my interpretation. But if you interpret it yourself, you become actively committed to the understanding you create.

Clarity—At Last!

Now we’re in a position to correctly restate “show don’t tell”:

Adjust each piece of your story, so that every piece is optimally (more or less, as required by your goals for the story) imagined and interpreted by your listeners.

More-concrete descriptions will be more vividly imagined.

 Less-interpretive descriptions involve the listener more in interpreting for themselves.

Now that you understand what “show don’t tell” really consists of, you can work to perfect the separate skills – and you can teach those skills to others.

About Doug

In 1970, Doug Lipman accidentally began telling a story to a group of highly resistant, emotionally disturbed adolescents; within moments, they ceased resisting. Since then, he has used training, writing, and coaching—in many settings, industries, and countries of the world—to help people discover the transformative power of storytelling.
Doug is the author of award-winning books, including Improving Your Storytelling and The Storytelling Coach: How to Listen, Praise, and Bring Out People’s Best. He has performed across the U.S. and Canada and as far away as Austria, Belgium, Singapore and New Zealand. Doug was a founding board member of NSN.  Don’t miss out on Doug’s workshop on “Perfecting Your Hidden Storytelling Skills” at the 2016 National Storytelling Conference – register today: storynet.org/conference.

Contact Doug

Learn more about Doug:  http://www.storydynamics.com/



by Kate Dudding

duddingSome people say there is a lot of evil in the world these days.

Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

I witnessed one example of evil when I visited Oklahoma City in 2005 to attend the National Storytelling Conference. One morning of the conference was devoted to visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the site of the bombing of the Federal Building on April 19, 1995.

Standing outside the Memorial, I saw on the left, a large grass plot, with many bronze chairs on it, some large and some small.

On the right, I saw an old tree, gnarled and asymmetrical, but covered with green leaves.

Behind that old tree I saw a number of new trees, all the same kind and the same size, obviously planted at the same time.

All around, I saw office buildings, and in the distance, neighborhoods.

Then I went into the museum. I saw film taken from a traffic helicopter minutes after the bombing. The middle of the Federal Building was just gone. I learned that the grass plot was the exact footprint of the Federal Building.

I saw The Gallery of Honor, with photos and mementos of each of the 168 victims. I learned that there was a bronze chair on the grass plot for each of the victims, 149 large chairs for the adults who were killed (including three pregnant women), 19 small chairs for the children who were killed. (Unfortunately there had been a daycare center in the Federal Building.)

I learned about the 850 people who had been injured and how that old, gnarled, asymmetrical American Elm tree, originally in the parking lot of the Federal Building, had been named The Survivor Tree in their honor.

I learned about the over 10,000 rescuers and volunteers who came to the site after the bombing, and about the one rescuer who was killed. I learned how those new trees, called The Rescuers’ Orchard, had been planted in their honor.

I learned that over 300 other buildings in Oklahoma City had been damaged by the bombing and that one third of the population of Oklahoma City knew either a victim or a survivor of the bombing.

Then the National Storytelling Conference had three people speak who had been affected by the bombing.

A survivor said, “It seemed like a normal morning. Then at 9 am, there was a tremendous noise, everything shook and it was suddenly completely dark. I tried to get out, but nothing was where it had been. My coworkers and I started calling out, and together we found the way out of the building and into the light. A man walking by looked at my face, and took off his shirt saying, “Lady, you should press this against your bleeding face.’ He stayed with us, finding where we had to wait. Since we weren’t badly injured, we sat on a curb for our vehicle to come. There weren’t enough ambulances in Oklahoma City for everyone who was injured. So hotels were asked to send their curtesy vans to help. I got into one of those hotel vans. The hotel van driver asked, ‘I was told to take you to the Veterans Hospital. Does anyone know how to get there?’ Luckily, one of us did.”

“I stayed overnight at the hospital. They stitched me up using over 100 stitches. Then my family arrived and I went home.”

“A friend called a few days after the bombing. She asked, ‘Can I do something for you?’ I replied, ‘Thank you, but my family is with me. I’m fine.’ The friend almost desperately asked again, ‘Isn’t there anything I can do for you?’ It was then that I realized that my friend needed to give, so I needed to receive. I said embarrassedly, ‘Well, my kitchen floor needs mopping.’ ‘I’ll be right over.’ My kitchen floor has never been mopped that thoroughly.”

“Then a neighbor, someone I knew to wave to, but not much more, came to my door, and offered to cut my lawn for the rest of the season. Since you’re mostly from out of town, I need to tell you that here in Oklahoma we have a long growing season. I told him it was too much, just cutting my lawn this week would be enough. But my neighbor insisted, ‘I really want to do this for you.’ I again agreed to receive.”

A rescuer told us, “Family and friends of victims cheered each day as we rescuers entered the site looking for more bodies. They were waiting for us to find the bodies of their loved ones, yet they cheered us.”

“There were lots of out of town rescuers who joined in the search for bodies. After every shift, those rescuers went back to their cots in the convention center. They found their clothes cleaned and folded, the bed covers turned down, and a chocolate candy on their pillow.”

“Working at the site was rough on our clothes – so many sharp edges, so much dirt. People donated clothing for us to wear, more clothing than we needed. Other people stood in line for hours to donate blood for the survivors. City crime and fires were down by 50% for weeks after the bombing. I guess people knew the police and fire fighters had more important work to do.”

I also heard a family member of one of the victims. Bud Welch lost his only child Julie, a charming and spunky 23 years old woman with a big heart. Bud told us, “Even though I was from a family which had always been against the death penalty, for first four weeks after the bombing, I wanted the men responsible to “fry.” Then I went on a downward spiral of more and more cigarettes and alcohol for many months.”

“I finally asked myself, “What do I want? A trial? Yes. A conviction? Yes. Death?”

“After thinking long and hard, I realized that my desire for the bombers’ deaths was fueled by thoughts of revenge and hate, exactly what had fueled the men who did the bombing. I chose NOT to join them.”

“I started campaigning against the death penalty. Note: I still wanted those men in a cage for the rest of their lives. But I no longer wanted them killed.”

“Then one night, while I was flipping TV channels, I heard, ‘After his commercial break, we’ll be interviewing the father of Timothy McVeigh, one of the Oklahoma City bombers.’ I wanted to change the channel, I really wanted to, but I didn’t. I watched father of the Timothy McVeigh give a very peculiar interview. He was weeding his garden and he never looked at the camera. Finally at the end, he did look at the camera, I saw a face I had seen in my mirror every morning, the face of a father in despair. I vowed to meet Mr. McVeigh one day and tell him that I did not hold him accountable in any way for the actions of his son.”

“I was able to keep that promise and together we worked as hard as we could to prevent the death of Timothy McVeigh. We failed but we tried together.”

“I wake up every day proud. Mr. McVeigh wakes up every day with a noose around his neck.”

After the event was over, I went back outside. I saw on the left, the large grass plot, with the 168 bronze chairs on it, most large but some small, and thought about the victims of the bombing and their families and friends.

On the right, I saw The Survivor Tree, gnarled and asymmetrical, but covered with green leaves, and thought about the 850 survivors of the bombing and their families and friends.

Behind The Survivor Tree I saw The Rescuers’ Orchard, and thought of the thousands of rescuers and volunteers.

I looked around the city, and thought of all the residents who had known a victim or a survivor.

Some people say there is a lot of evil in the world these days.

I remember what Mr. Rogers’s mother said – to look for the helpers.

In Oklahoma City, there were 10,000 official rescuers and volunteers.

There were also countless others who donated clothes or blood, who moped floors or mowed lawns, who put chocolate candies on the out-of-town rescuers’ pillows.

And there was at least one helper who had taken the shirt off his back to help a bleeding survivor.

Contact Kate

Kate Dudding, Storyteller


The Top Six Things I Learned by Listening to Others Review My Grant Proposals

Katie Knutson

Knutson-photoThe Minnesota State Arts Board and regional arts councils review their grant applications publicly. Anyone may sit and listen to the grants being reviewed, but may not speak. Every time I submit a grant application, I try to listen to it being reviewed (if possible). I have learned so much about the process by listening. If you are looking to design your own dream storytelling gigs and are ready to write grants to get them, these ideas might make your first grant more competitive.

  1. Do your homework. Read the grant and information about the funder very carefully. Do they fund the kind of work you want to do? If possible, read past successful grant applications and access any feedback available. What worked? What did not? Include research and quotes. If you have done this program, or a smaller pilot program, previously, it will give you credibility. Get quotes from others who have worked with you, and from experts in the field. In my arts education grants, I often quote Kendall Haven and others who describe the connection between storytelling and the brain.
  2. Spell out everything. Assume that the people who are reviewing your proposal are idiots. Seriously. It is the easiest way to avoid making assumptions. Clearly define your unique jargon. Words I often define include storytelling, teaching artist, and arts integration. Declare your specific, measurable results – something that you can quantify by the end of your project (e.g., An average of 200 people will come to each of five performances). Use words from the grant application appropriately. Try not to leave any questions in the minds of the funders.
  3. Sweat the small stuff. If they are asking for resumes, work samples, or letters of recommendation, those things matter. Don’t wait until the last minute to collect, edit, or format them. Work samples need to have artistic merit and a high production value, especially if you are applying to an arts organization. Consider hiring professionals for any audio or video production.
  4. Get help. Is there an organization that has an interest in the work you want to do? Are there other artists with whom you would like to work? Review panels like to see partnerships. In many cases, if you are applying as an individual artist, you will need to get a non-profit organization (called a fiscal sponsor or conduit organization) to handle the money. NSN offers this service through its Sponsored Member program.

Once the grant is written, ask colleagues and friends, those who do what you do and those who have no idea what you do, to proofread your grant proposal.

What questions do they still have? Which parts could be trimmed?

  1. Expect Disaster, and Plan Accordingly. If any part of your grant needs to be submitted on-line, assume that you will have Internet issues, the grantor’s website will go down, or that a major storm will knock out power on your block. Submit before the last minute.
  2. “If at first you don’t succeed…” Resubmit that proposal in the next grant cycle. If you are able to get feedback on your grant from reviewers you will know what changes to make. The biggest grant I have received was from a proposal that didn’t get submitted by the deadline the previous year.

What have you learned by writing or reviewing grants? Please share your tips, techniques, and questions here!

About Katie

Storyteller and teaching artist Katie Knutson has written, contributed to, and reviewed many grants. She has even received a few of them! This year, she is the Storyteller-in-Residence at Neill Elementary thanks to a highly competitive grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. More at www.ripplingstories.com

Contact Katie

Website: www.ripplingstories.com
Email: stories2teach@gmail.com