Thursday, June 3, 2021

How to Get Others Involved in Storytelling

 

Community Storytelling Is My Passion

By Caren S. Neile, Ph.D.

 

My father, my stepbrother and I were involved in community theater down in Fort Lauderdale. The lead actress had so many lines that she was always forgetting them. So you would be in the dressing room, which was upstairs and down the hall from the stage, and suddenly you would hear your cue half an hour before you were supposed to go on! She would forget a different part every night, so castmembers ran back and forth trying to make the performances work.

                                                                                                     -Community storyteller

 

There’s one thing I like even better than telling stories: giving others the opportunity to tell theirs. For two decades, I have worked with dozens of organizations and thousands of people to provide engaging ways to give voice to their stories. After all, don’t we, as storytellers, know that everyone has a story? Don’t we know the value of listening, and being listened to? Here is a gift we can give others that definitely keeps on giving.

What follows are stories from some of my experiences that may inspire you to engage in community storytelling.

 

Storytelling slams: One of the hottest tickets in community storytelling is the storytelling slam, a friendly competition that invites people to tell their true stories in a performance setting. I have held slams in coffee shops, a bar, and most recently online. My current sponsor is the local library.

One Sunday evening I was tired and frankly not in the mood to host the event, but it was advertised, and of course I went. One of the tellers who signed up turned out to be a ninety-year-old man, who was helped to the stage by his younger cousin. Was his story going to be relevant to the college students in the audience, I wondered? He proceeded to tell a story from his days in a Nazi concentration camp. I thought the man was nervous because his eyes were shut; it turned out that he was nearly blind.  Yet despite his age and infirmity, he kept the crowd, some of whom were seventy years younger, absolutely spellbound. I was in awe.

Professional storytelling series: What could be better than bringing great storytellers to perform in your hometown? Courtesy of local theaters, schools and libraries, I have invited dozens of nationally acclaimed storytellers. I generally take care of airport transport, and they stay at the homes of generous storytellers, friends, or at hotels.

Early on, I was able to invite one of the foremost storytellers in the country to my town. Not only was she one of my favorites, but I also had a special feeling about her from her performances. Other than briefly introducing myself at the National Storytelling Festival, however, we had never met. From the moment I picked her up at the airport, we clicked. Since then we have worked together on several projects, I have been her guest in another state a number of times, and we have maintained a rewarding personal and professional relationship. More importantly, she has shared her talents in my area through workshops and performances with storytellers, story listeners and others several times. What an unexpected gift!

Local public radio:  Public radio stations are often seeking local content. Since 2009, I have co-hosted and produced a segment that invites people in the listening area to tell brief, first-person local stories. These are edited by my co-host, who is an employee of the station. My co-host and I then discuss the story on air. The excerpt with which I began this piece is from that segment.    

Storytelling workshops for non-profits: As more non-profit administrators learn the benefits of storytelling, we have an increasing number of opportunities to help them assist their clients by offering workshops. I once led a workshop for a homeless organization. I entered into the project with some trepidation, having no idea what to expect. One man emerged as a leader in the group, paving the way for others by speaking up often and eagerly, thereby demonstrating that I was not going to judge or criticize. It was not the first time, and certainly not the last, when my “students” taught me how to be more open, honest and humble. We followed the workshop with a slam. While the stories of hardship and endurance that emerged were amazing, the looks of pride on the faces of the storytellers, listeners and administrators were priceless.

Senior communities:  They may not always hear so well, but seniors sure know how to listen. In fact, the longer people have lived, the better acquainted with storytelling they often are. I started leading a story-sharing group at a senior center in 2001; as the group changed, I found myself telling stories and doing the TimeSlips technique (timeslips.org) more often than listening. Nevertheless, I always gave the seniors time to tell. Assisted and independent living facilities, as well as women’s and cultural groups, are other great venues that need programming.

Storytelling performances for non-profits: Not all community storytelling is exclusive from performance, of course. I have also interviewed stakeholders and created corporate stories for non-profits. I once told a story for Goodwill Industries from the perspective of a client. Afterward my aunt, who was in the audience, told me she became so involved that she thought I was talking about myself!  

 

While I haven’t gotten wealthy from these endeavors, helping people get their voices heard fills me with joy. And hey, I’ll never run out of stories!


Caren S. Neile
Caren S. Neile, Ph.D., is the former chair of the National Storytelling Network and a former board member of FSA. She has taught storytelling studies at Florida Atlantic University since 2001. cneile@fau.edu



 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sunday, January 17, 2021

 

Isolation, Incubation©
by Susan O'Hara

Isolation? Incubation?

Whatever Covid-19 has done to restrict us, we must not, as artists, let it stop us, control us or limit our creative natures. For all of time, human beings have created even- during war, famine, or when imprisoned. Adversity has been a great generator of creativity. Our minds keep creating and producing story through whatever medium we have at hand.

This pandemic is a new way in which we can stop and consider the gifts of talent we have been given. We need to create out of those gifts meaningful substance that will heal others. It is a well-known fact that stories heal. By healing others through our art, we also heal ourselves. Individuals and whole communities heal and thrive through their stories.

Our young children need stories. They grow by learning to speak out in story. Our Youthful Voices participants learn to appreciate their own ideas and talents as they begin to speak out and develop a sense of community. They raise their voices and remind adults to cherish where we came from. We were, after all, children too.

Beautiful butterflies lay their tiny eggs on the underside of leaves. They become hungry caterpillars who eat and eat, sometimes destroying lovely plants. They spin unsightly cocoons that eventually become beautiful butterflies. It’s a process.

We too are like a butterfly in the making. We make mistakes, stumble and fall. Our chrysalis isn't always pretty. We pick ourselves up and learn from our mistakes, failures and successes to build really great stories for others to hear. We might always look (or feel or think) our best, but we are works in process!

I wonder what great stories Covid-19 will inspire? Stories that will explain what we learned about ourselves? Were we frightened, or brave during this time? Did our time behind the mask strengthen us or turn us into a softer version of ourselves? Did we become afraid to stretch out and learn something new? Do we become bolder? Did we learn a bit of humility? Did we learn something life changing?

 At Storyhub, we have seen how service to others helps people get through these difficult times. We have continued to help others with their stories and projects. We have grown and have made new friends. Those who truly have the passion to create and develop, continue doing so. It takes time and a team to build an artistic endeavor. Gather about you a team of dreamers with the talents to make things happen, put in your own best self, and create!  Our circumstances will change, and you will have a new body of work to share.

So don't give up or give in. Have integrity and be your best self. Reach out to like-minded creatives, support your peers, and produce. In coming together as a community, we continue to create, and grow. Turn your isolation in to incubation!

Keep on the path and journey on! Your story is counting on you!



Susan O'Hara resides on the east coast of Florida. She has been practicing the art of storytelling for 23 years. Susan also loves to coach the youth in stories and loves Youthful Voices! Susan loves incorporating puppets in her storytelling. See them on YouTube Storyhub channel. You can contact her at StoryArtistry.net/contact-us. 



Monday, January 4, 2021

 

                      Storytelling in the Schools: How to Make Study Guides                        

©Katie Adams


When I was a child, I loved to act out scenes and stories and I always had big emotional reactions to events in my life. Now I realize I was… a drama queen. As I grew up I gravitated to theatrical jobs, and found myself working in a puppet theater company and doing side work as a storyteller. I discovered my favorite audiences were elementary aged children and families, and I especially liked performing in the schools.

I have a lot of inspiration, creativity, and enjoyment developing folktales and fairytales for young audiences. Schools, however, need to be able to justify art experiences in terms of their core curriculum and the required learning benchmarks the teachers have to meet. Over the years as schools have become more pressured with testing, they have had trouble supporting arts experiences for the students. If storytellers want to present their art form in schools, the challenge is how to reach across this divide.

Enter the study guide. Study guides are a bridge between creative content and required educational benchmarks.

Study guides can be made for teachers or students. I’ve always made teacher’s study guides, which means I’m talking to the teacher and giving them ideas and activities they share with their class.  Basically the Study Guide has six components.

The study guide introduces the art form, the specific art experience and the artist.  You can do a general introduction to storytelling, explaining what it is.  Then write about the actual stories you will be presenting – maybe include a synopsis. Finally include a biography about yourself and information so that students can write to you or follow you on social media. (I usually put my artist’s bio at the end of the whole study guide.)

The Study Guide makes Curriculum Connections.  Ask yourself, ”Does my story relate to Language Arts?” Most likely it does. How about science? Math? History? Music? If you can clearly see that your storytelling program deals with one or more of these study areas, you need to promote that to the teachers and schools you are working with.  Many storytellers will put “Curriculum Connections” up near the title of the study guide and list them out, i.e. Reading, Language Arts, Theater, etc.

The study guide lists Florida Standards that are covered by the arts experience and study guide activities. What are Florida Standards, you ask? According to the Florida Education Foundation, “Florida School Standards are simple statements about what students are expected to know or do as a result of what they learn in class. Standards ensure that all schools and all classrooms have the same expectations for students.“

All the teachers in the public schools in Florida have to make sure these standards are met for their class(s) in each subject. By putting applicable standards in your study guide, you help teachers connect the art of storytelling to the standards they are trying to meet. 

Where can you find these standards? www.cpalms.org.

Quoting from the CPALMS website, “CPALMS is an online toolbox of information, vetted resources, and interactive tools that helps educators effectively implement teaching standards. It is the State of Florida's official source for standards information and course descriptions.”

This is a website with a ton of information – it can be overwhelming. What I usually do is click on the standards tab at the top of the home page. Then select the type of studies you want to connect your storytelling to – English Language Arts is a good one. Then select grade level and the standards will pop up with descriptions. You can read through the descriptions to see which relate to your performance and the activities in the study guide.  When you find descriptions that relate, you can copy and paste the title of the standard into your study guide. I try to have standards for each grade level, and subject, my performance is appropriate for.  I might have 10 to 20 titles of standards in my study guide.

The Study Guide presents pre-show activities the teacher can do with students to prepare them for the art experience.  Think of questions your audience may have or information they need to understand the context and setting of the story.

This includes history, geography, cultural studies, theater or audience etiquette, character education and story comparisons. You can pick discussion topics, explanations, graphics, learning games and more for your activities. Be sure they are grade appropriate and don’t forget to add corresponding standards.  

The Study Guide provides post-show activities that further engage the students in the art form and make connections to classroom studies. Sometimes making these study guides can seem tedious and uncreative, however, these pre- and post show activities can be fun to explore, develop and include in your study guide. With the post show activities, you can give instructions to encourage the students to try storytelling games, tell stories to their families, or learn to tell a folktale. You can also include activities that emphasis the connection between your storytelling and subjects such as Language arts, science, math, history, music or theater. (Don’t forget to add the corresponding standards.)

The Study Guide gives a bibliography of further reading and online resources. This is pretty self-explanatory, just make sure that your books and online resources are child friendly and grade appropriate.

So I hope if you are not already doing so, you will add study guides to your school offerings.

Here are three helpful resources.

1.      www.CPALMS.org - for locating Florida Standards.

2.      The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, www.kennedy-center.org - I always find their website and educational materials to be very inspiring.  You can go to: The Kennedy Center > Education > Resources for Educators > Digital Resources > Lessons and Activities.

3.      Talk to teachers in grade levels you work with. Teachers will brainstorm with you about how your storytelling can relate to subjects they are teaching their students.

 

 

 


Katie Adams is an innovative, multimedia storyteller, actress  & puppeteer. She is the founder of Make Believe Theater. You can learn more about her here: www.katieadamstheater.com  or here www.facebook.com/katieadamsmakebelievetheater

and reach her at (813) 282-4993.