Storytelling Arts' mission is to preserve, promote and impart the art of storytelling to develop literacy, strengthen communities and nurture the human spirit.
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Revaluing the Ordinary
A group of Storytelling Arts performers including myself
just finished a residency at Frelinghuysen Middle School in Morristown. Our theme was community. The story goes that first you shoot the
arrow, and, then, you draw the bullseye.
So it was that, as I told my stories, I once again realized that the
oral tradition by its process is a lesson in community. Whether to a group of two or two hundred,
storytelling follows an alchemical formula that creates not only a shared
experience, but an empowering experience, that turns the everyday into
gold. One of my stories was the Great,
Big, Smelly, Small Toothed Dog. My
friend Margaret Read MacDonald has published it as a picture book, but the
story is far more powerful as an oral tale with the teller and audience using
body, voice, and imagination, to be in the midst of the story instead of an
observer looking at illustrations. The
dog tests the princess three times before he can reveal his true self. When, at last, he pulls his smelly fur aside,
there is a gasp of aha!, not because we are surprised, but because our
community’s values are confirmed-
i.e. A prince hides under every smelly dog skin. Storytelling is a journey, not only to
strange and magical experiences, but to a revaluing of the ordinary that is too
often taken for granted.
illustration by Walter Crane
Even with sixth graders (or should I say especially with
sixth graders) verbalizing these recognitions is an affirming experience.When we share the stories of popular culture,
television, film, music, we often excuse the experimentation and rebelliousness
of preteens and teens as a natural part of growing up.Too often, we encourage middle schoolers to
explain away behavior; but when we tell the old stories, we see that the journey
is only complete when it includes wisdom and restoration.Thus, the final day of my residency was spent
telling and retelling Little Red Riding Hood.This story has been distorted as a warning against strangers.In fact, it is an investigation of
go off the path,”Little Red’s mother warns, but
Little Red just rolls her eyes.The
class improvised various scenes from Little Red Riding Hood as we discussed the
theme and consequences of actions.One of
the most interesting moments came when we personalized the wolf.I have always wondered why the wolf doesn’t
just eat Little Red up.In this sixth
grade, I got my answer.The wolf became
a bully and a self promoter who enjoyed the process of toying and teasing
Little Red.The students recognized this
character as everything from the advertising that assaults them everywhere, to
the temptations of drugs and alcohol that they hear lie down the way, to the
personal actions that individuals choose as a way of defining themselves.All this came from telling the story and
making space for the Aha!
Our final writing project was to write an ode to
something or someone we take for granted.Stories are tools for observation and appreciation.One girl wrote an Ode to a Door.Who has passed through you? What feet and
hands have left marks and scratches? What cries and sounds have been shut
out?What strangers have been
welcomed?Each question was the seed of
a story to ponder and cultivate and develop; for one story is the doorway to
another story, which is why, when people gather, one story inevitably leads to
Students often ask where do storytellers learn their
stories.Books and sharing are the
obvious answers, but a good storyteller doesn’t’t
just repeat a story.Good storytellers
puts themselves into the story, opening the door so that the listener can enter
Storytelling Arts is a nonprofit organization that imparts stories and storytelling to help students connect learning with life skills. It is our vision. Our vision is to transform the educational environment and empower students, teachers, and parents to reach their full potential for the benefit of themselves and their communities.
Our programs include in-classroom residencies, Professional Development for Educators, and workshops for Parents. We have had the privilege of serving over 26,300 NJ residents and are thrilled to be celebrating our 20 Year Anniversary in 2016.
Storytelling Arts, Inc. ~ Empowering students on story at a time.