Storytelling Arts' mission is to preserve, promote and impart the art of storytelling to develop literacy, strengthen communities and nurture the human spirit.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Second Oldest Profession ~ Storytelling and Relationships

Ellen Musikant is a performer, teaching artist, workshop facilitator and story coach. As such she has been a storyteller in residence in schools throughout New Jersey including preschools, elementary, and middle schools. When working with the very young, Ellen plays within the story landscape and narrative, giving the children new worlds and new words. For older students, she inspires self-expression by enlivening folktales with creative dramatics. As a story coach, Ellen helps children custom and adults find their storytelling voices. Each residency and workshop she offers is designed to meet the needs of the client. In addition to her work with Storytelling Arts, Inc., Ellen enjoys performing in festivals, museums, libraries and a host of other venues. She is Storyteller-in-Residence at the Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, New Brunswick.

More and more I’ve been touting storytelling as a powerful medium in which to build relationships. A good story is good. But the relationships it builds are even better. Way better. That’s it. That’s the whole elevator speech.

This year I took a semi-sabbatical from storytelling. But, several times each week, I tell stories in my role as Storyteller-in-Residence at the Zimmerli Art Museum. I tell the same two stories each time. They are terrific little stories. They are perfect for the early childhood learners who are brought to the museum to hear them. “The Gunniwolf” and “The Big Enormous Turnip.” Both are old folktales told many different ways and appear in lots of different books.

Sometimes I feel sheepish about telling the same stories again and again. The guards have heard them so often they can tell them “by heart.” Really! But these stories, as simple as they are, provide the perfect soil in which to grow and nurture relationships -- between me and the kids, the kids and the story, the kids and the art, the art and the story, the teachers and the kids, the teachers and the story, and so on.

I think of a story as built up energy. It is inert. It has the potential to be powerful. When a story is given voice, it has impact. At Storytelling Arts, Inc., we talk about an oral and very much alive “voice” for the stories we tell. We are not keeping our tales to ourselves, like dandelion wine bottled away and put in the cellar. We are uncorking them and pouring them into our listeners, who (if we do our job well) will in turn tell them to others. No doubt, when the story is released and exchanges “hands,” it will change and grow. That’s the nature of a told tale. Each teller/listener bond is different and each listener receives a story in her own way.

As professionals we craft a story each and every time we tell it so it is just right for the people who are listening. That’s been the challenge for me at the museum.

This crafting of the telling of a story is ancient. Storytelling is probably the second oldest profession! A primal need is satisfied by shaping our experiences (real and imagined) and then sharing them with someone else. Why? Isn’t the experience just as valid and exciting if kept to ourselves? Generally, I think it is safe to say, when something happens in our lives we have an itch to tell about it. We want to engage others in our experience. We want others to share the adventure. The experience itself becomes richer each time we do.

But, even more important, the relationships grow richer. We wander through a storyscape together and share a vivid and perhaps fanciful experience. Even if we never see each other again, we have formed an indivisible bond.

Luray Gross and I will be facilitating a Storytelling Arts Institute at the Moorestown Friends School in southern New Jersey June 28-30, 2011. I look forward to the many relationships that will be formed there.