Monday, November 28, 2016

Text of Epaminandas

This is the Text I will be using for the series.

Part 1 - Enlisting the Audience Covert and Overt
Part 2 - Enlisting the Audience
Part 3 - Enlisting the Audience - Covert

Part 4 - 5 Tips for Enlisting The Audience

Basics of Epaminondas -The crafted version of this tale takes 30 minutes.

Once there was a little boy named Epaminondas.
One day, his mother sent him to his grandmother's house. They spent the day together. On the way home, his grandmother gave him a piece of cake.
Epaminondus  was afraid he'd drop the cake, so he held it in his hands. On his way home he squeezed it so tightly, it smashed through his fingers.

His mother was unimpressed.
"Epaminondus, you ain't got the sense you was born with! That is not how you bring home cake! If you have something that small, put it under your hat!"

The next week, he went back to his grandmother's house. She gave him butter to take home.
"How am I supposed to take things home to my mother? Ah yes! I should put it under my hat!"

The butter melted.

His mother was unimpressed.

"Epaminondas! You ain't got the sense you was born with!
If you have something that runs, put it in the stream and cool it down until it isn't running anymore."

The next week, he went back to his grandmother's house. This time she gave him a puppy.
"How am I supposed to bring home something if it runs?" Ah yes! I should put it in the water!"

The puppy was quite bedraggled by the time he got it home.

His mother was unimpressed. The puppy was fine.

"Epaminondas! You ain't got the sense you was born with!
If you have something alive, tie a string around it gently and lead it home!"

The next week, he went back to his grandmother's house. This time she gave him a ham.
"How am I supposed to bring this home? Well, ham comes from a pig, and a pig is alive. I know!"
He tied a string around the ham and dragged it home.

His mother was unimpressed.
"Epaminandus! You ain't got the sense you was born with! From now on I'm going to your grandmother's house, and you stay home!"

The next week the mother went to grandma's house. She left six pies on the front steps to cool and told her son to mind how he played in the pies. Then she left.

Epaminondas took off his shoes and socks and minded how he put footprints in each pie. He tasted his foot, decided they were so yummy, he'd eat one.

When his mother came home and saw what he'd done she said, "Epaminandas, you ain't got the sense you was born with, and you might never have it, but I love you anyway."

Audience Participation: Covert and Overt - Part 1

Text of Epaminondas

Part 1 - Audience Participation: Covert and Overt Part 1

Part 2 - Enlisting the Audience

Part 3 - Enlisting the Audience - Covert

Part 4 - 5 Tips To Enlist The Audience

The audience is a critical tool in the art of storytelling. Being able to connect with an audience, convince them to follow you on a wild escapade through the imagination, and give you permission to invade their minds with thoughts, images, and ideas is a must for a successful telling experience.

So, how do you do it?

Well, for starters, assume that every audience member has their own battles that they were fighting just before you began.

Your goal is to make them lose track of those battles and stand beside you in whatever quest you have planned for them. In order to do that, you must be present with your audience. Storytelling only happens when you and your audience are sharing something between you.

Audience participation is an excellent way to achieve this.

For me, every single story is an audience participation story.

Now, that does not mean that every story I tell requires somebody from the audience to get up onto the stage. It also doesn't mean that every audience is required to jump around or even speak in unison.

When I say they are actively participating, it means they have been drawn into your world. You can tell they are with you by how they react to you during the telling. Every story I tell has moments built into it that allows the audience to express their place in the adventure.

To that end, I think about audience participation in two different categories.

One is overt. You are calling on the audience to participate.

One is covert. You build things into the story that allow an audience to respond in particular ways. Their reactions can tell you where they are and help you decide if you need to change, add, or emphasize something.

Let us begin with the overt forms of audience participation.

1. You Call Someone Out of The Audience To Participate On Stage: This is as simple as asking for a volunteer.

2. Rehearse The Audience: You tell the audience what you want them to do. They practice it several times, and then you start telling.

3. Assign Parts: You tell parts of the audience to do certain things at certain times. ex. "When the lion says, "Stop!" Everyone on this side should yell, "Not until Monday!"

4. Encourage The Audience To Participate: This is as simple as saying that you might need help, and they should feel free to jump in.

The Covert forms are much more interesting to me. Here is a small sampling of things you can do with an audience.

1. Build in a place for the audience to participate if they want without asking them to do so.

2. Allow for moments when you expect some kind of reaction from an audience whether verbal or physical, but don't linger or emphasize them.

3. Check to see who if anyone is mirroring you.

4. Monitor the audience to see how they are reacting through particular points in the tale

I was planning to go through all of the covert and overt in this post, but after reading what I'd written I decided it was too wordy and some of it didn't make sense out of context, so I scrapped it.

I'll take another approach that I think will make more sense.

I'll do a ?three? part series using a single tale showing how I present it for performance. The story we'll use is Epaminandas. Here is a version that came out in picture book form.

Next week I will break down this story and explain how, why and where I use both covert and overt elements. I will explain what I do, what I hope happens, and what usually happens. I will also talk about how the covert elements that I build into stories help me shape and craft material over the long term.

Now, there are some of out there who will remember this story because of its appearance in an incredibly racist text back in the early 1900's.

Before you start yelling at me about this story being "inappropriate" I would like to point out that the story is not responsible for the heinous pictures someone decided to add to it.

It is actually based on a type of Jack Tale. There are a number of these tales and they deal with Noodleheads, or people who aren't clever.

I have had African American adults of a certain age thank me for telling the story because they were able to reclaim it after the horrendous pics in the book they remember from when they were elementary school and somebody thought bringing in this book was a great idea since they couldn't find many books with black folks depicted in them.

Either way, check out the bare bones of the story.

Happy Participating!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Kids Are Capable: They Just Need To Practice.

I am here in beautiful Beaufort County North Carolina for a week.

I've had a pretty easy tour through this part of the world. Two shows a day means I have lots of time to write, relax, and well, mostly just write!

I was given an interesting challenge today. I had to convince some grown-ups that their children were perfectly capable of handling an assembly.

I'm used to going into a middle or high school and having the principal be leery about my ability to hold the attention of a prepubescent or worldly wise audience. What I am not used to is a group of folks who don't think I can hold the attention of six and seven-year-olds.

We got a call earlier this week from a principal who was concerned about the length of the program I was going to offer. She was worried that even thirty minutes would be too long, let alone forty-five minutes and an hour was out of the question. These, she informed me, were only first graders, and they didn't have the attention span or the capability of an assembly that was longer than half an hour at the most.

The David told her that I was not planning an hour long show. I was just going to do forty-five minutes. This did not fill her with confidence.

The David told me that even though he assured the principal that it would be all right she had her doubts.

I arrived at the school in the morning, and first few adults I came in contact with told me that their first graders were "rambunctious", "immature", "wild", "not well behaved". The assistant principal let me know that she would come in and check on me as much as possible to make sure I was all right during the show.

I also found out it was a Pre-K - 1 school, but there was no way the Kindergarteners could handle an assembly.

Well, I'd planned to tell Why Mosquitoes Buzz In People's Ears, maybe Too Much Noise, and possibly a little finger game, but after all of this certainty that the kids wouldn't sit I threw that out of the window. I decided we were going to go for one of those involved, slightly unsettling European folktales. I settled on Rumpelstiltskin.

Now, you might ask, "Why would you tell that story?"


My telling of it is about forty-five minutes long, it is highly participatory, and it fits nicely into all of the language requirements I employ when telling to a pre-reading audience.

I decided that not only was I going to tell a forty-five minute story, I was going to tell for an hour...unless it would disrupt the schedule.

My goal was simple. After I told for an hour and the children were well behaved it might open the school up to offering the kids more arts opportunities instead of keeping them out because of "short attention spans" and "inability to engage with presentations".

The telling went very well indeed, and the kids had a smashing time. When we hit forty-five minutes, I pointed out to the teachers that we'd been sitting for that long. They looked shocked. I asked them if I could tell another story, and they were enthusiastic. I told a fifteen minute story and then dismissed silence.

I have a little dismissal trick I like to do with the kids. They leave quietly and are very proud to have done so.

After the set, when the multi-purpose room was completely empty, the assistant principal said, "That was amazing."

She proceeded to tell me that they'd had a different assembly at the school in the past that wasn't completely age appropriate, and the kids hadn't even managed to get through twenty minutes of the thirty minute program before they'd had to call a halt.

I pointed out that I'd offered age appropriate material.

She waved that off at once and announced that it wasn't that, but that I had presented the work in such an engaging way. I switched the conversation back to content. I pointed out that kids this age are actually hard wired for storytelling.

She informed me that she'd left to go back to her duties after about twenty minutes into the story, but she was kind of bummed. She'd bumped into the principal who'd asked how it was going. She'd told the principal it was going well, but the woman was still worried. She told the vice principal to go back into the assembly just in case I needed help.

"I didn't say anything to her," the vice principal admitted, "but I was happy to go back because I love that story and I couldn't wait to get to the part when she guessed his name."

We talked a bit then about the importance of stories in children's lives. I told her I was disappointed I didn't get to tell with the Kindergartners and she said she was disappointed in that choice as well.

"The next time you come," she said, "I'll make sure everybody gets to see you."

I thanked her and left the school.

The David called to check on me. "How was the assembly?" he asked.

"After all the worry, I was sort of annoyed that the school had such little faith in their kids. So, I told for an hour and dismissed them quietly back to their classes."

Laughter on the other end of the phone. "I knew you were going to do that."

I've been chewing on that all day. I certainly have been in schools where the kids were difficult, the work was hard, and the telling was like offering up my blood. It was completely possible that when I got in front of these children, they would all turn into the zombie apocalypse of audiences or something of that nature, but I knew right away this was not going to be the case.

The most important thing I do before I open my mouth is to check out the audience. I see how the kids come in, what their teachers are doing, how they are behaving with each other, and how they respond to the break in their schedule.

Last week, I had a kindergartener come into their multi-purpose room, look up at me and say, "Oh God, not another assembly." The police and firefighters had been there all day because of Veterans day and she was heartily sick of looking at presentations. By the end of the set, she was right in it with everyone else, but she came in clearly not expecting to enjoy herself.

There are lots of ways to diffuse a tough audience.

The kids who marched into the multi-purpose room this morning were not even close to a problem. What I did notice was that only a few of the teachers bothered to participate with me. The rest of them sat like stones. Two were actually facing the opposite direction during much of the telling until the end when they gave up being annoyed by the assembly and decided to enjoy it.

As is the case with lots of schools, the kids take their cues from the teachers. Luckily, we were all too busy playing to worry about what the detached grown-ups were doing. By the end of the set, a number of teachers decided to join in the fun.

Not for the first time in my career, I wanted to shout at the might not be the kids!

Don't assume they can't sit still! Don't assume they have no attention span. Expose them to arts and ideas. Model good audience behavior. Kids won't get any better at being an audience member if they don't know what to do. Give them space to practice.

Happy Telling!


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Play is the Best Way: Using Language Games At Home and In The Classroom

Over the last month, I have been doing some interesting workshop facilitating.

I was hired as part of a grant to work with kids in classroom settings. I don't tend to do that sort of work these days. Most of my exposures in schools are performances.

I've been in fourth and fifth-grade classrooms. Since I don't really have the patience to teach, I try to find exercises that I love that I think will help schools get the most bang for the buck.

To that end, I try to design exercises that the kids will enjoy, have some hope of recreating by themselves if they want, and have a variety of applications for classroom educators.

What that has meant over the last month or so is that I have been teaching language based games.

Language based games are any game you play that focuses on using language creatively, listening intently to another person, stretching your vocabulary, and solving problems.

Now, that probably does not sound like it would be all that much fun.

In fact, Tuesday, while I stood in front of a group of fifth graders and announced we were going to be playing language games, one of the girls rolled her eyes, threw back her head, stared up at the ceiling for a moment, and made an audible sound that roughly  translates to, "Oh god, please just kill me now."

Several of her peers sitting nearby nodded their heads slightly in solidarity.

After an hour, one kid sitting near the front announced that he'd never had that much fun doing anything in his life, and everyone in the class started cheering...including the girl who was contemplating spending an hour in a coffin instead of the library with me.

So, when I say language games....

-What Are They?
-Why Play Them In The Classroom?

As to the first question, "What Are They", the answer is simple. Language games are shared events where you play with words in community.

I come out of a family, and formed a family where playing with language is essential and second nature.

My husband and daughter love puns.

My son loves using non-conventional words. He's also the king of Sniglets.

At one point he and my daughter started a conversation using nothing but numbers. My husband and I sat in the front seat listening to the two of them going back and forth as if they were arguing, only they were saying things like:


This went on for almost five minutes before my husband said, "Orange!" really loudly as if he were admonishing them.

At which point I said to him, "There is no need for that kind of language."

It went on from there for about ten minutes. We do love or language games. Formally you could call us logophiles, but the truth is we are word nerds.

In the classroom, I don't teach kids games like that, lots of kids find that kind of nonsense play difficult, frustrating, and think it is silly and refuse to even try it. I have an exercise in one of my residency modules where kids have to speak gibberish, and some of them absolutely rebel at the whole idea!

My family loves such things.

It is nothing for the four of us to just start saying words that all begin with the same letter until nobody can think of a new one, then we move to the next letter.

One of our kids' absolutely favorite language games when they were younger, was Mad Libs. They went through the booklets so many times they could tell which story the other was feeding them based on the combination of verbs and nouns. They got bored with those and started doing the ones online. After a while, they just started writing their own. Language games rock. 

In classrooms, I play three different types of circle games, and one rock, paper, scissors variant.

"The Good Thing Was, The Bad Thing Was" is a circle game.

The kids sit in a circle and the first one says, "Once there was a ________", it could be anything. ex. tree, cat, piano, house, man, slug

The next person says, "The good thing was"....and they have to say something good happening in the situation or to the character.

The next person says, "The bad thing was"...and they have to try to destroy the character's world or situation.

Some simple rules -

-You can't kill your character
-No weapons

Another game is, "That Reminds Me of...", which can get tricky for television kids who are used to having all of their information fed to them, and find it difficult to come up with their own visuals.

The first person says, "I'm thinking of..." you need a noun of some kind or an action verb, so let's use "soap".
The next person says,  "Soap reminds me of..." and they say whatever they are reminded of, let's say "bubbles".
The next person says, "Bubbles remind me of bathtime."
The next person says, "Bathtime reminds of rubber duckie."
The next person says, "Rubber duckie reminds me of Sesame Street."

You get the idea. The point of the game is to keep going around until someone is reminded of the original word, in this case, the word "soap".

My family played this game at restaurants waiting for food to be delivered, at the dinner table, in front of the fireplace of a winter's evening, waiting in line for something, or anytime we were all together, and we just wanted to goof off a bit.

I find that there are two kinds of people who play this game. Those who are trying to remind you of the original word by coming up with subjects that follow the theme of the words all while pointing back towards the original, and those who try to move the game as far from the original word as possible. I have one of each in my family.

Example: My daughter starts with the word "grass".
My son is forever looking for words that fit with the flow of the round while leaning back towards the original word. So, let us say that he gets a word and is delighted when it reminds him of the word "blades".
My daughter grins at him and instead of saying "Blades remind me of grass", she would say something like, "Blades remind me of skating."

Now, you can't just say random words, there really has to be some connection in your brain. Because we don't all think alike, it is possible for someone to say a word that seems truly random and not related to the stream of words. You can stop the process and ask the person why the word reminds them of what they said. The person who is challenged has to explain why they said the word they did. If it turns out they cannot articulate why they said the word, they have to choose another one. This makes certain that people aren't just choosing words randomly to end the round. They really need to be reminded of something.

We also play, "Rock, Paper, Scissors, Everything!" and "One Word Stories".

 -Why play this in the classroom?

Human beings learn through play. Nothing new there. What is cool about language games are what they do while we are playing them.

-Language games encourage children to speak in complete sentences.
-Language games encourage children to explore their imaginations.
-Language games are about advocating FOR yourself instead of AGAINST someone else.
-Language games expand the classroom vocabulary by exposing all of the kids to ideas, images, and expressions they might not hear at home or amongst their own peer group.
-Language games allow every kid to participate at their level even as they acquire more language.
-Language games improve a person's ability to use improvisation.
-Language games teach students to express themselves.
-Language games encourage children to listen, focus, and process when others are speaking.
-Language games encourage kids to look directly at people when they are speaking.
-Language games encourage kids to focus on choosing their words and considering why they are choosing them.

The more you play with language, the better you become at using it. The better you become at using language, the easier it is to adapt it to more formal uses like persuasive or creative writing. You also get better at advocating for yourself, something that serves you well in job and college interviews. Language games also make you feel more confident with language.

In a world where so much of what our children do encourages them to stare at screens, talk with their thumbs or forefingers, use abbreviations instead of entire words and employ short, percussive bursts of language, language games allow them to do something that is both fun and useful...

Soak in language!

Happy Gaming!

P.S. I realize I didn't talk about how the games can be adapted for curricular subject matter, but this post is getting long...maybe next week!

UPDATE: 11/17/16

I just got an email from one of the teachers I played language games with last week. She said that the kids have been playing the games I taught them at lunch, and she's actually played them with the kids in the classroom.
Mission Accomplished!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

National Association of Black Storytellers

This is where I am! 

Taught a workshop on crafting stories this morning.

Since then.....

Listening to wonderful stories!

Meeting wonderful tellers!

Seeing old friends!

Sitting at the feet of my mentors!

Sharing hugs, laughs, life, and love through story!

I'll be back to writing about something specific next week...after the election!

Happy Telling!