Un Pacto Con Mis Miedos—A Pact With My Fears

By Celine O’Malley

OMalley“Ay Dios! Mira el pajaro!” (My God! Look at the bird!) The words flew out of my mouth as I stared out into the audience of the Delfus Bar in Lima, Peru. I was performing, in front of strangers, in Spanish! The moment that thought flew through my mind, my Spanish vocabulary disappeared. I stood there, my arms outstretched, What was the next word?! Oh! I was in my story, but without the right words I was forced to adopt some other modality of expression—I began to sing and twirl around. This impulse turned my story into a new experience. The story was about a grumpy old man whose hip ached, who learned to laugh (and sing!) from a little bird. In that moment of lost words, the song inside my grumpy old man was exposed, and in turn exposed the true essence of the story. The song was a mish mash of Spanish and English words, but mostly just sounds of joy and elation at becoming free of confines—the old man’s aching bones, and my own limitations with language.

The performance was a showcase of women storytellers who had participated in a workshop through La Escuela de Las Palabras (the School of Words), a Lima based group under La Asociación Cultural Wasi, a Peruvian non-profit. My first two weeks in Peru I attended workshops with the director of La Escuela, Peruvian storyteller Wayqui Cesar Villegas. At the time, my Spanish was still warming itself back up after years of non-use. I listened to stories, played theatre games, and was pushed to do things in Spanish that I am normally comfortable doing in English—such as perform for an audience and rehearse new stories with partners. What initially felt like a limitation became a unique tool for exploration and creativity in my storytelling. I had to find other ways to get across what I wished to convey to the audience, and in so doing, I found in myself and in my stories new and untapped potential.

Performing in Spanish also uncovered the deepest, most gut wrenching stage fright I have ever experienced in my life. I had sought out storytelling professionals who could teach and train me. One such individual, Edwin Eduardo Ortiz Espiritu, a storyteller of the Yanesha, a Pre-Incan indigenous group of the native community of Tsachopen, reminded me that even professionals experience fear and uncertainty. He told me that when he first began on his storytelling path, he was afraid. He woke up to the tiger that was his fears each morning, but he made un pacto con sus miedos, a pact with his fears. He recognized the necessary lessons fear had to teach, and in return his fear agreed to let him go forward towards joy and success.

I faced my tiger of fears by performing in front of audiences in a language not my own. What I learned was that by just doing it, by performing despite my fear of failure, or lack of language, I had found my storytelling path. The path of bilingual exploration and creation gave me the strength, confidence, and courage to try and to fail, and to make a pact with my fears, to push forward and succeed. There is not one storytelling guru, or person who knows all, there is just me, my tiger of fears, and my choice to stand up, look that tiger in the eye, and shake hands.

Have you ever told a story in a new language? Share your story below.

About Celine

Celine O’Malley is a storyteller, poet, comedian and educator in Chico, CA. Founder of Chico Story Slam!, producer of the first Chico Tellabration!, and founder of the newly forming Chico Story Guild, Celine is passionate about bringing young and old together through story and using the art of storytelling to further social justice work around the world. Search Facebook for Celine O’Malley.


“Había una vez… Once upon a time…”

by Carrie Sue Ayvar


Magical words. Each summer at my grandparents’ house, my Grandma Selma would ask us, “Where would you like to go today?” Then she would utter those magical words and we would be off – to Europe, Africa, South America and beyond! She taught us that we could travel around the world, visit other places, times and peoples, all through a story… and still make it home for supper!

She would often add flavor and color to her folktales by incorporating words in the language of the home culture of the story. A bissel of Yiddish in her Shtetl stories or a little Russian in her tales of Baba Yaga made me feel that I was truly transported to those times and places without any need to pack.

My grandparents often told me that “it is harder to hate someone when you know their story.” Incorporating another language into one’s stories provides new perspectives and creates a warm and welcoming way to connect our divergent paths and illuminate the road home. As one young lady put it, “Gracias, I can listen with both my ears – Spanish and English!”

What a fun way to foster a sense of understanding and appreciation of our multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-faceted communities!

Are you interested in adding a second language to your tales? Wondering how? Join me this summer at the 2015 NSN Conference in Kansas City, MO. (July 30 – Aug 2) Celebrate and connect our diverse communities by learning strategies and techniques to incorporate a second language into your stories. Fluency in a second language is NOT required.

About Carrie Sue

Carrie Sue Ayvar, Bilingual (Spanish/English) Storyteller and Teaching Artist, grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, spent summers in South Florida and came of age in Mexico. She now lives in her grandparents’ house where she first learned the art of storytelling! www.carriesueayvar.com


What is a Storytelling Residency?

By Katie Knutson

Many Storytellers, especially those who work with children, talk about doing residencies. Often we forget that newer tellers might not know what we are talking about. This is especially confusing when the term “Artist Residency” means two very different things.


Photo credit – Scott Pakudaitis

A School or Arts Learning Residency

In my experience, when most storytellers talk about residencies they are referring to extended, arts-learning experiences, often offered in schools. These are classes, or sessions, delivered to students one classroom at a time, as opposed to assembly performances, where many classrooms come together to listen.

School residencies are often centered around a theme (e.g., bullying prevention, Italian folklore, life cycles of insects) and align with the school’s curriculum, goals, and/or state (or Common Core) educational standards. The length can vary from a single session to multiple sessions over many months. The goals of residencies vary greatly; sometimes teachers and administrators want a finished product, like a performance or piece of writing, and other times the goals are more skill or process-based, like critical thinking, observation, empathy, or teacher arts integration. There is usually at least one “core group” of students who participate in multiple sessions throughout the residency to work extensively on a particular skill, product, or goal.

A residency should allow students to learn through an art form, teaching fundamentals of both the art and the subject matter. For example, when doing an extended residency on the Civil War, in addition to telling stories about the war and its impact on a variety of people, you may cover research strategies, story arc, civil rights, vocal projection, characterization, and the Battle of Gettysburg, among other things. Before this kind of residency, the teaching artist, either singly or with the classroom teacher, creates lesson plans spelling out the goals and specific activities of each session. Additionally, all arts learning residencies should have built-in evaluations and embedded professional development for the teacher.

Alternately, this kind of residency can take place in Senior Centers, after-school programming sites, museums, daycare centers, adult day centers, libraries, and any other gathering places where people might want to learn in or through an art form.

The Artist Colony, Retreat, Studio Collective, Workspace, or Community

Most often called simply an Artist Residency, these programs open their doors to artists to give them focused time and space to practice their art and create new work. Approximately 500 programs exist in the U.S., with three times that number happening in at least 42 other countries, in both rural and urban settings. These residencies usually provide food and housing, almost unlimited studio time, and support for artists. Some charge a small fee, while others provide stipends. Either way, there is a selective application process.

Lasting from two weeks to a year, these programs usually involve some kind of community involvement, such as a concert, workshop, or artist meet-and-greet, but may also involve more extensive, hands-on, community-based work. Some of these programs host one artist at a time, while others invite up to 50 artists to live, explore, and create together.

For more information on these two types of residencies, see “Planning Your First Storytelling Residency,” earlier on the NSN blog (http://blog.storynet.org/planning-your-first-storytelling-residency), which includes a list of resources for school residencies, or check out the Alliance of Artists Communities (http://artistcommunities.org/), with loads of information about artist retreats.

Have you participated in or taught either kind of residency? Please share your most memorable moments below!

About Katie

Katie Knutson is a Storyteller and Teaching Artist based in Minneapolis. In addition to writing or curating this column (New Voices), she performs regularly, leads workshops for storytellers and teachers, and spends time with her kindergartner. She is the Storyteller-in-Residence/Arts Integration Specialist at Folwell K-8 School. More at www.ripplingstories.com.


Tragedy or Redemption?

By: Dorothy Cleveland

clevelandI began my Heroine’s Journey when I started my Master’s program at the University of Minnesota in 2000. I had worked for many years in business and achieved all my goals. Still I was not happy. I felt incomplete. I started in the Human Resources program. I lasted four classes. I switched to a liberal arts program that allowed me to develop my own course work. It took me five years to complete my Master’s – a hybrid program of story performance and class work. This method is not for everyone, but it was what I needed to become whole. The stories I worked with were: Across the Tracks, Grendel’s Mother, and Grimm’s Handless Maiden. The first two stories were of my own creation about women trying to figure out life. The first story is redemption, while the second story is a tragedy. Both have elements of the Heroine’s Journey. The third story is a folktale that follows the Heroine’s Journey to a tee. Handless Maiden has become my guide for life. Whenever I’m in trouble times, I look to this folktale to get me through. It hasn’t failed me yet!

I’ve been working on a fictional tragedy based on a 1940’s gangster’s moll known only as ‘Doll Face’. Doll Face wants out of the mob, but she knows too much. She also knows that she will be killed if she slips out of town. She sees no way out so she commits suicide by jumping out the penthouse window.

I asked my friend to read a draft and the reply came back, “I want her to win and not die!” So I put the question out on Facebook … “Which do you prefer: Tragedy or Redemption?” The Facebook response was unanimously for redemption.

Now I have two endings: 1) Doll Face commits suicide and 2) she elaborately fakes her death for the mob and escapes back to the Midwest to live happily ever after with family.

I like an occasional tragedy. I love the original Brother Grimm’s folktales. I like when everyone dies of despair. This kind of story shows me that my own life is not so bad that I need to be depressed.  But I have to admit that I liked creating the redemption ending. It was like a mystery unraveling as I pieced together hints in the original story to get to the point where Doll Face could achieve her goals of getting back home – and not via a casket.

I think it is why I push so hard for the Heroine’s Journey to be known. The true Heroine is a troubled person with what seem insurmountable obstacles to life happiness. She is wounded, separated from loved ones, betrayed by those she trusted, and frightened. She must endure forced solitude to figure out how to mature – to be his/her own person. If the heroine follows the journey to fruition, the person becomes fulfilled and whole.

Barbara Schutzgruber, award winning storyteller from Michigan, and I are presenting a workshop at the National Storytelling Conference in Kansas City, 7/30-8/2. Come to hear how the Heroine’s Journey can enrich your stories and your life.  www.storynet.org/conference

About Dorothy

Dorothy Cleveland is a 20+ year veteran of storytelling for adults. She recevied training at Metropolitan State University and the University of Minnesota where she received a Masters in Liberal Arts in Leadership for Women Through Story. She currently is the creator of FolktalesRising, a monthly venue encouraging storytelling and traditional folktales. Contact email: folktalesrising@gmail.com.


Bellylaughs and Beyond

by Bob Reiser

bobreiserMe? Tell a funny story in public?! I could die out there!!!” That’s what folks say. Whether you call yourself humorist, raconteur or comic storyteller you may die many times – This is your chance to learn to live like a cat.

I died in nineteen eighty. My friends and I were about to get our big break – a high-class showcase for a comedy show we’d been touring! 130 journalists, booking agents, potential investors filled a drafty club in lower Manhattan.

The lights went down. The audience laughed. They clapped. They were ours…. Then it happened! The laughs faded to giggles, then to whimpers, then to silence. We looked up. The audience seemed puzzled. So, we went faster. Now they looked confused. We began to shout. Now they looked like a scene from The Producers – Their faces frozen in a rictus of horror!

Then, a terrible sound: the scraping of chairs. They were walking out.

I wanted to jump up and down and cry; I wanted to stage a full-blown temper tantrum. But, there is no crying in comedy. The audience’s exit had become The Exodus, and we still had three quarters of the show to do.

Finally, the house lights rose on an audience of eleven – my wife, bless her, my aunt, and a few stony-faced friends.

It was official — We had just died.

A week later we met and tried to figure out what had gone wrong. Comedy was a blood sport. Time to learn the rules. Here are a few that we figured out:

Pace yourself!

If you want to keep the audience with you, take it easy! When we saw that we were dying, we did the normal human thing – we ran like hell! Wrong! When you lose the audience, slow down. Give folks time to catch up with you. Don’t get louder; get softer. Show them that you are relaxed, and they will relax, too.

Rule Two: Move like butterfly, Sting like a bee.

Mix up your moves. You are a dancer, not a pile-driver. Use the laughs to accent the story, to give it rhythm. Keep the audience attentive to your every word – just where you want them to be.

Rule Three: Use your head, and not just to butt your opponent.

Learn the high points and the low points, the sweet parts the funny parts of your tale. A story is like a roller coaster – you need that long, clanking, chug chug chug up the hill so you can get to the wild shrieking whoop that follow, and after the climax, let your audience slow down and come to rest.

Rule Four: Be a lover, not a fighter.

As every teenage boy finds out, when you grab a girl, all you will get is a concussion. Likewise, no audience wants to be grabbed. They need to get to know you first. Bill Cosby begins his routine just sitting on the stage, smiling at the people. When they have quieted down, he begins to chat – like a favorite uncle. Soon he is on his feet, and his rubber face springs to life, and before you know it you are you are caught in the story’s web. Watch master-storytellers like Laura Simms and Donald Davis at work. You never see them coming,

Rule Five: Come out fighting!

Your way of telling is yours! Do it with all your heart! If you are loud and raucous, go for it! If you are quiet and intense, do that. Don’t apologize. Good comic storytelling is never having to say you are sorry. Remember the motto of the Undershafts, the munitions-makers in Shaw’s Major Barbara: “Unashamed!” A storyteller is Unashamed!!

OK, Rocky, you are almost ready. You probably know much of this. But going out there and risking a well-timed spit-take takes guts and practice. Come to “Bellylaughs and Beyond” at the 2015 National Storytelling Conference in Kansas City, MO (July 30-Aug 2). What can you lose? Bring a favorite funny story with you – Especially one you’ve never told on stage. The world deserves to hear it!

About Bob

Bob Reiser’s enthusiastic storytelling style was shaped by a misspent youth rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers, performing with Second City and doing street theater. With six books under his belt, including the award-winning Everybody Says Freedom, written with Pete Seeger, he finally calls himself a published author.

Next year he expects to unveil his new book, Story Fever, about the art and madness of a life in storytelling.

He tells and teaches from his base in Western Massachusetts. Contact him at www.bobtales.com or write via bobtales@msn.com.