Thursday, March 26, 2015

Storytelling: The Beauty and the Magic

Johnsonville Elementary 2015

I spend a great deal of time talking about the trials and tribulations of being a professional storyteller, but there is obviously another side to it or we wouldn't do it.

Storytelling is awesome.

When I use the word 'awesome' I don't mean it in the frivolous way that we toss that word around in our everyday vernacular.  'This shake is awesome.  That color is awesome.  The episode of that show was awesome'.

I mean it in the way Wesbster defined it; causing feelings of fear and wonder : causing feelings of awe.

I have wonderful experiences with audiences all the time that put a big grin on my face and make my heart soar.

Johnsonville Elementary March 2015

There are too many to list, and far too many to share, but I will endeavor to put forth the most common ones.

One of the fun things that happens is that I am lost in story when I tell.  I am surrounded by it and carried by it.  When I tell Sody Saluradus, I have a section where I sing the Saluradus Song with my eyes closed.  I can see the road, the morning sun filtering through the trees, and smell the fresh air.  When I open my eyes and see the audience, I am always a little surprised.  I know they are there, but I almost expect to see the country road I'm traveling.  I've been telling this story so long one would think I would get used to opening my eyes and being in an auditorium instead of in the woods, but I am always surprised!

It is not uncommon for the audience to want to reflect the story back at me.  I see them doing the hand movements, voicing the words, and watching their bodies and faces get as lost in the story as I am.  over the years I've watched people try desperately to sit on their hands during a storytelling set, so I have added more and more audience participation.  I know what it is like to want to move around in a story, and how hard it is to stop once you start!  I actively invite the audience to play.

It is always terrific when the audience members lose it during a story and surprise themselves.  it is equally cool when an audience figures something out at the same time and the share an 'aha!' moment.

I love watching lightbulbs go off across the audience in waves.

Having little voices, and adolescent voices demand to know when you will be returning is also fun.  They always want to know when I am coming back for more stories.  "Are you coming back on Monday?  Will you be here next week?  Are you coming back next year?"  Both kids and teachers will ask this question.

It is cool to connect with someone only to have them realize they've seen you on stage somewhere years ago.  It happens all over the place.  Apparently, when I am in my civilian clothes, it is hard to recognize me!

It is fun to have some giant, adult man who can look down at the top of my head realize I told him stories when he was in third grade, and he totally geeks out about it.

I actually attend services with a fellow who occasionally reminds me that he used to listen to my stories when he was in second grade back in Pennsylvania and it is still wild to him that he knows me in person.

It is fun to have teachers amazed that students would sit and listen to you for 45 minutes to an hour without stop, and still have a good time.

"You got fifth graders to give up PE and not care.  That's amazing!"

it is really wonderful to have people tell me that I remind them of Jackie Torrence, one of my heroes and an early mentor when I was just beginning.

It is cool to spend time talking to the kids and learning things from them.

It is neat to have someone decide that they absolutely love storytelling.

It is wonderful for kids to tell me that they know stories, or someone in their lives tells them stories.

The list of things that happens when you go into a school, the amazing things kids say, the joy people have at sharing stories, the bonds you build with an audience, the amount of joy and laughing you bring, the thought provoking stories you share, the times when the audience makes you laugh as much as you make them laugh, and the sharing of tales.

'My books circulate when you come to tell stories!' The media specialists tell me.

'Kids demanded to see the videos on Bookhive  and Youtube when we got back into the room!' Teachers tell me.

Do the monkey noise!  Talk like the mouse!  Do the owl!  Can we hear another tongue twister?

There are lots and lots of things that can be said about being a storyteller.  It is extremely fun, full of its own kind of magic, and it feeds your soul.  It is a roller coaster ride of laughter and surprise.

About a week ago, I found a site that catalogued all of the Let's Pretend records from my youth.  I was shocked.  The MP3s were free, and I downloaded all of them .  The song wasn't there, but the tales were just as I remembered them.

The magic of those Let's Pretend stories are with me still.  I love the fact that I get to share that kind of magic with children all over the world.

Storytelling is amazing....but don't be fooled, it really is hard work!

Happy Telling!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Tale Of Two Schools: Same County, 7 Miles, A World Apart

NC State House

I think that there should be a law that states: Before any politician can cut funding to schools, they should be forced to teach in the most vulnerable school in their district for two weeks, and figure out how their legislation is going to impact those kids. 

Take what happened recently.  I worked in two schools on the same day.  One school was in an old, so last century building that desperately needs to be rehabbed or closed and possibly rebuilt.  It is understaffed, doesn't have adequate services for the special needs kids, does not often have assemblies, and clearly needs more support for the teachers. 

Less than ten miles from the first school, in the same county, I worked in a second school.  This school is gorgeous.  The building is beautiful, there is plenty of staff for the students who need special attention, the kids are relaxed, the staff is less stressed, everyone is more cooperative, and the kids are obviously getting more support.
this is not the actual school, but you get the picture...nice and new

When I arrived at the first school, I had an interesting conversation with a staff member.  I asked a question I often ask when I come into a school.

“What is your demographic here?”  There happened to be an African American girl walking through the gym. 

The teacher pointed to the girl and whispered, “They’re mostly like that.  African American.  But they’re pretty good.  They can be respectful.”  This person continued to talk about ‘them’ and how it is to work with 'them'.  Several other comments were made to suggest that these students were doing projects that were not all that impressive, but impressive enough for students like 'them'.

I had a moment.  I thought, ‘Doesn’t this person realize I am an African American?’  It never came up.

I couldn’t decide how to respond to this.  Instead, I just watched.  As the students came into the gym, this teacher was quite wonderful, and the children enjoyed this person.

There were several students who were taken out of the area even before the show started because they needed extra support, and the school did not offer it.

During the course of the first show, the students were told under dire penalty that they must be quiet and pay attention.  Only thing is, many of the teachers didn’t bother to model this behavior, and spent most of their time talking to each other during the assembly.  Others took this time to stare at their phones and surf the internet.  There were some teachers who actually participated, but they were not in the majority.  There was a buzz going on during the show, but it was not the kids.

My apologies to these chatting teachers, who are probably not disrupting an assembly!

At first, I attempted to get the teachers to participate with me, but they actively ignored me and my concern was that if the kids saw how disrespectful most of the teachers were being, they would decide to follow suit.  Some of them did, and the teachers swooped down on them and corrected them quite harshly.  It was madness.

The second set was better.  The teachers participated, did not talk, and most of the kids were all right.  I attempted to get a couple of girls to straighten up for the last story, and they turned around, but because I corrected them from the stage, they were escorted out of the assembly.  They had a substitute, and that person was enjoying his phone, and didn't bother to do any discipline with the kids.  It was kind of a mess.

Then, I had my two shows in the afternoon.  It was so much fun.  The kids had a great time.  There was a small group of kids in the back who had various issues, but were able to stay in the assembly because there was staffing to sit with them, and help them be successful.

With a bit of minor correction, which you have to expect, the kids were very successful, and we had a wonderful show.

I'm in Martinsville here, not today, but I am having a great show!

The make up of these schools wasn’t appreciably different.  The first school was probably 85% African American; the second school was maybe 75%.  The economic status of these kids was pretty much the same.  All of these kids will be attending the same Middle School, which is also gorgeous and new with all the bells and whistles.  So, at least there is that. 

There were many problems at the first school that went from the strange application of discipline, the way the staff interacted with the students, the students' reactions to each other, the atmosphere in the building, and so many other things.

There were also wonderful teachers at the first school who are clearly doing a great job.  There were enthusiastic, helpful staff members who were wonderful.  I have no doubt most of the teachers are doing what they can.  I love teachers, and salute them because I would suck at being a classroom teacher, and I appreciate people who do this work.  Sometimes, however,  I stare in amazement at the choices some of them make.

I am always exhausted after days like this.  I consider how much funding is being cut from schools.  I can only imagine what these cuts will do to the schools that already suffer from a lack of support for their students, EC students, kids who need writing or reading recovery, those who lag behind in math or science, and those who need extra material because they are bored.

I am thankful for the arts councils that bring me into the schools.  I wish there was much more funding for arts councils so more kids could spend time with professional writers, singers, performers and visual artists of all types.  I wish every kid had enough support to be successful whether they need more challenges, or because every day they struggle with challenges of their own.  We owe it to them.  We owe it to ourselves.  We owe it to the future.

Fund Our Schools!!!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Storyteller Life Hack: The Travel Bag

I spent an incredible week of telling in the Currituck area.  So many of the various things I’ve written about on this blog happened last week, that I’ve been in a perpetual state of amusement.  There are times when you just have to throw up your arms and surrender to the universe without getting too upset. 

Two hour delays because of fog, a possible ice storm, rescheduling shows from one day to another, rearranging performance and workshop schedules, renegotiating contracts midstream to deal with the changed circumstances, and that doesn't even begin to cover the TV Head children, and other interesting behavior I encountered, but I am not blogging about any of that this week. No, this week we will be discussing one of the most important weapons in your traveling arsenal; your travel bag.

Yeah, I'm a fool for Vera Bradley bags
When first I began to travel, I would simply load the bag with the toiletries on my side of the sink.  I'd take my lotion, skin conditioners, toothpaste, and whatever I thought I needed, put it in the bag, and then pack my clothes.  I found that this process meant that I would occasionally turn up at my final destination without necessary items.

The other problem I had was forgetting essential cords, like the ones that go to my phone or computer.  Finally, after a few years, I decided there had to be a better way.  

I remembered that when I was pregnant, the literature suggested that I pack a bag with everything in it that I would need to take to the hospital with me when I went in to have the baby.  

It occurred to me that if it worked for a trip to the hospital, it ought to work for longer trips, especially since I was anticipating taking such trips.  

With that in mind, I put together my storytelling travel bag with duplicates of all the supplies I need on a daily basis.  Then, I put the bag in my closet in easy reach.

What’s in it?

1.     A cord for my computer
2.     A cord for my phone
3.     Toiletries (Toothpaste, floss, toothbrush, you get the picture)
4.     Skin Care Regime (Oil of Olay to Jergens)
5.     Nail care regime (files, polish, creams, base and top coat)
6.     Cough drops and other throat needs
7.     Aleve (because sometimes life is a headache)
8.     Melatonin (a sleep aid when my travel schedule makes me jittery)
9.     Extra pens and pencils (You can't ever have enough)
10. Contact lens solutions (Including eyedrops)
11. My sleep mask (I like it really, really dark when I sleep)
12. Dread accessories (If you don't have dreads, use your imagination)
13. Shower cap  
14. Sleep net (I hate rolling over and pulling my own hair)

My travel bag

There are a few more things in there, but you get the point.  The toiletries are all kept in a 'kit' so that I can keep track of them, and it is easy to see when I have to replace things.  

When I get ready to leave for a week, overnight, two weeks, or however long, I only have to put my clothes and my contact lenses in the bag.  I don’t have to scour the room to see if I’ve left anything I need. 

When I get home, I just take out the clothes and my contact lenses.  Everything else stays in there.  If I have to fly, I take out the large bag with my regular size toiletries and replace it with my flight kit.

It also means that I don’t ever take the primary computer cords and such out of my house.  It also makes it much easier for me to get out of the house when I have to travel.  Packing has become a breeze.

For wherever your travels might lead!

This set up might not work for everyone, but it is a timesaver for me.

Every little bit helps.

Happy Traveling!