Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why every story is important.

Why every story is important. Grande Finale Story Slam April 20, 2010

Before the Audience Choice voting ends we want to say just how good all the stories at the grande finale were. Each teller contributed to putting storytelling as a performance art back on the cultural map of Boston.  Each story represented a unique experience and view of the world.  We all were a bit richer for hearing those stories and we want to thank the tellers. Each one of your stories ( and all the stories in all the slams)  was essential to the success of our project.

Below we recognize the tellers, individually, in set order ( 3 groups of seven as on the program) but not necessarily order of performance: Jim Stahl's My Beautiful Handpainted Iris, was one of our personal favorites. Jim writes his stories and his precise and evocative language brought us into the brain of a 13 year old boy where we could see clearly through his "eyes" and then, later, his one eye. Laura Packer brought embarrassment to new heights with her Bad Date story that started out bad and then, only got worse. We went on that cringe-worthy ride home with her and could actually see her feral movements, flying lobster and red face.  Amelia Kimball won the "it’s relative" slam with her wry take on communication between the Easterners (who knew?) and effusive Westerners. Her East and West added to our multicultural lore and her observations at a cross cultural wedding were New Englander succinct and very funny. We loved how Jackson Gillman expressed the theme "it’s my job" with his fun and crazy logic. He was so serious about Working the Room, and had such great pacing, that Rabb Hall was rocking with laughter. Bruce Marcus charmingly represented the foibles of parenthood connected to "it’s relative"  with his story,  Backwards Day.  Although he learned his lessons about glib parenting the hard way he told his story with ease.  Joan Cousins brought Ambush á La Carte to the  "it’s relative" slam but won a place in the slam through the People’s Choice Contest. She was new to the move from "page to stage" and brought memorable insights including  that someone would find homosexuality so...threatening ? that they would seek conversational relief in the mass murder of 6 million Jews. Diana Wiesner had roared  "in like a lion" with her The Back Story and we would have Skyped her entry in from DC where she was at a work related conference but communications broke down.  

In the next set of stories, Doug Lipman did a bang up job with his story of a brief folk music career and adventure gone outrageously wrong.   He lived to tell the story because Singing at Gunpoint did not end with a bang.  Michael Anderson  never looked back and took 2nd place with an audience favorite from the theme "so embarrassing".  Michael went to hell and home again bringing infidelity to a new low point with his The Myth of Orpheus.   His masterful performance brought us into his private Hades.  Joanne Piazzi came and conquered at the "love and lies" slam.  Hers  was an ebulliently told story. Dreams of romance never crumbled so sweetly as in  her Random Acts of Confection.  3rd place winner Nicolette Heavey showed how fruitcake can be an essential ingredient in setting family limits. Her  Fruitcake  story won at "dining disasters” and while we always knew fruitcake was heavy, she made it funny too.  Elsa Zuniga "it’s relative" revealed to us how her music lessons and minimal success at them brought her new appreciation of the power unconditional parental love and support.  Her engaging style brought the Piano Story, home. At  the "it’s relative" Ilene Fischer tossed her name into the hat and was immediately thrown on stage as the first storyteller.  So she knows from chutzpah. And if you didn't know about what to eat when sitting shiva in Miami you did at the end of this story We could see each one of her eccentric relatives as they acted out a family drama told with wit and style in Shiva.  Judith Black told Welcome Home for the first time at "in like a lion" slam in March.  Lionesses are known to be intensely protective and no one wants to be in between them and their young. Judith portrayed this ferocity and showed how it feels to be helpless in the face of the suffering of a child, a deep and human pain.  Judith’s range of human emotion and skillful telling about welcoming her son home from war, won 1st prize.

             Jess Sutich was our first ever Audience Choice winner at the "it’s relative" slam. She told a coming out story that spanned quite a bit of family relationships in under 4 minutes. In What Happens at Beerfest…we were right with Jess up to and including the deeply ironic ending where  her outgoing dad needed a guy to talk about his acceptance of his daughter. Chris Osborne style is low key and powerful at the same time.  The theme" it’s relative" was well examined in his story of how he and his wife reacted to the same event in his urban tale, The Neighbor.  He mused and wondered and we were right with him. Kevin Brooks told from the theme "dining disasters " and he had all the right ingredients and moves to show how cooking can make a relationship sizzle. His telling in Tomato Paste showed great timing and pacing. Paul Hlebowitsh won the first ever massmouth slam with his first ever performance of a story at "scared to death". He delighted us with a well-crafted story of childhood terror and lasting scars in Chocolate Milk. Paul also became the first ever massmouth Story 2.0 Award that goes to the teller of the next “generation” in the story slam season, with the best story. From the theme "it’s my job" Lani Peterson told about something familiar to any good teacher; often we learn as much or more from our students than they do from us.  In Facing My Fish she bared her soul and let us know that she is still looking for the right fish to take her personal bravery to the next level.  Her genuine, unaffected style was right up there and level with the best.  The mistakes of love are there to teach us and Rowan Meade "errors of eros" entry won our hearts. Rowan learned the hard way in A Man in Uniform that there is no easy road to love, but then, does anyone learn things about love the “easy” way?  Robin Maxfield  is  an "outrageous" performer  and had the stuff to tell all in  Standing In Line Stinks. She drew the last slot and that can’t have been an easy wait.  You wouldn’t know because she ended the night with a high energy performance.  ‘Pride goeth before a fall’ and Robin set herself up and then took us all down with élan. 

We were deeply happy to listen on Tuesday and more than satisfied to know that we helped to bring these stories to the kind of audience they deserve.

Now, please, buy a DVD, and tell a friend about storytelling and massmouth. Tell your story!
- Norah Dooley

Thursday, April 15, 2010


SLAM OF ALL SLAMMERS! THE BIG MOUTH OFF is the final contest in Boston’s first story slam season, produced by massmouth and will be held. 6PM on APRIL 20th 2010 at in the Boston Public Library’s Rabb Auditorium, Copley Square, Boston MA .massmouth has hosted an exciting series of story slams on the following themes: scared to death, dining disasters, it’s my job, so embarrassing, it’s relative, errors of eros, love and lies, outrageous, and in like a lion. In each slam ten contestants told their real life stories and two winners became finalists.

Come hear the winners of the monthly slams plus one People’s Choice entrant compete for the grand prize – a week at a medieval Tuscan townhouse. There are more prizes for the winners chosen by the distinguished judges; including Jay O’Callahan (master storyteller), Charlie Pierce ( Boston Globe, panelist on npr's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" npr) Brian O’Donovan ( host of a Celtic Sojourn- wgbh-fm), Josna Rege ( English professor, and writing stories at Tell Me Another ) and Jay Allison ( NPR journalist and independent producer for radio, including This I Believe ) alternate judge, Ruth Henderson. In addition there will be 1 Audience Choice winner chosen by the audience at the end of the evening. In between sets of judged stories, the audience and People’s Choice entrants will participate in a mini-slam of stories on the theme - “ the first time”.

Rabb Auditorium is in the new wing of the Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston Street, Boston, at the Copley T stop. We start at 6 pm sharp on April 20th. Come to a virtual marathon of storytelling! massmouth presents a program of stories that highlight the human experience in all its darkness and light. Seasoned professionals and fledgling storytellers strut their stuff, share their experiences and reveal their insights in this epic competition of 21 finalists. Any one of them can win the grand prize – it all comes down to the winning story. So… if you ran the Boston marathon, come recharge with us! If you didn’t run April 19th and want a different kind of marathon, come experience massmouth‘s 26+ story marathon! After Slam at Kennedy’ – see for details.

Twenty 1st and 2nd place winners + one People's Choice contestant from all the Cambridge and Boston slams will face off in a fabulous concert/contest at the Rabb Auditorium in Boston Public Library in Copley Square. Celebrity Judges, music and amazing stories at
700 Boylston Street, Copley Square, Boston,
MA 02116 Tel: 617-536-5400

Be sure to come to the Copley Square Library early - there are no bad seats but also no reservations and no admission fee! Tell everybody about this fabulous free event. Check out the grand prize -

Sarteano, Italy, where the grand prize lives.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

People's Choice contest - how everybody wins...and the Big Mouth Off April 20th

Joan and Susan now both have over the minimum number of votes. And Susan Lenoe's friends have been reposting her video, one fan has posted it on the front page of their website. This is  a great idea and a fine way to promote storytelling and these individual tellers.

Contestants may assure your friends that massmouth promises


No mailing list will be generated, nor selling of any list, nor publishing of any votes is planned nor  contemplated. All the information associated with voting will be deleted.  Believe me, we have more than enough things to keep track off.

Please help out these storytellers and vote here  for one of  these members
[see below] to be entrants in massmouth's Big MouthOff on April 20th, 2010

  • Teaching English Liz Appleby Vote People's Choice
  • Ambush A La Carte Joan Cousins Vote People's Choice
  • Smoky Soup Susan Lenoe Vote People's Choice
  • Breaking Open Rona Leventhal Vote People's Choice
  • Mikel Rives Tony Toledo Vote People's Choice
Teaching English Liz Appleby Vote People's Choice

Ambush A La Carte Joan Cousins Vote People's Choice

Smoky Soup Susan Lenoe Vote People's Choice

Breaking Open  Rona Leventhal Vote People's Choice

Mikel Rives Tony Toledo Vote People's Choice

VOTE HERE one vote per person 
Voting ends on April 16th at midnight.  

People's Choice Video contest - how everybody wins...
by Norah Dooley

One might think with all the "contest" this, that and the other flying out of massmouth lately, that we love competition.  We don't. Some of us despise it. I do, anyway. Especially in the arts. But contests are a cultural norm that people understand and it piques their interest. And it has tightened up the performance style of many a seasoned teller. Still,  I am more in this camp -  as articulated by Alfie Kohn
The race to be Number One has been described as America's state religion. We have been trained not only to compete frantically, but to believe in the value of beating people -- and to help our children become winners. Research and experience, however, demonstrate that competition is actually destructive to self-esteem, poisonous to relationships, and counterproductive in terms of learning. Spelling bees, awards assemblies, competitive sports, and even informal contests at home teach children to regard other people as potential obstacles to their own success. The result is that everyone ultimately loses in the desperate race to win.

So, yeah - I am a hypocrite and an opportunist. One might even say I am a big mouthed hy-ppo.

But, here is the thing...through our activities, all kinds of people are getting interested in storytelling They are remembering or noticing for the first time, something that is as essential to a healthy life as breathing. Story. And all these folks listed below who have entered this contest are working to bring the power of shared story to new places. So because of this contest phenom -we all win. Thanks People's Choice Entrants for doing your part ! Others who want to help bring story into the mainstream can pass the word about the contest and ask people to checkout our 300 video collection of stories at

Friday, April 9, 2010

Death By a Thousand Cuts: the BPL and Amy Ryan's "vision"

God - I am so furious ! What an awful meeting and what a shameful process. Still, showing up in numbers and with a united voice, we seemed to have some effect on the mood of the board of trustees.  We shook their unity and resolve for a few moments, at least. Listen to some info at WBUR Below is my Letter to the Editor @ the Globe today.  You can send your own here: Please do.  

And, letters to Deval P, our state reps and Mistah Mayuh - Tom Menino are also in order.  Surprising heroes today were the pols who showed up at Rabb Hall at the 11th hour: City Councillors Felix Arroyo,( phone: 617-522-8683 or  e-mail: ) Ayanna Pressley ( | 617-825-8683) John Tobin (   and  617.635.4220) and   State Rep. Linda Dorcena Florry. ( Take a minute to say thanks to them if you take a notion? Below is my bite sized expression of indignation.

 Lingchi - it isn't pretty and it is not very "21st century"

Dear Editors:

BPL President Amy Ryan's  plan to "re-align" and "re-purpose" the library for the 21st century is more like língchí; death by a thousand cuts. This was a form of execution used in China from roughly AD 900 until 1905. The condemned person was killed by using a knife to methodically remove portions of the body over an extended period of time.

The proposed branch closings are not about money or the touted shortfall. When asked by fellow board member, Donna DiPrisco, if the arrival of $3.6 mil would automatically rescind the order to cut jobs and close branches, Chair of the Trustees, Rudman did a verbal dance that never landed any where near the word "yes".

"This is just the beginning, "  said Amy Ryan, as she described her big box store cum internet café "vision" *for the Boston Public Library. From what I can tell after reading her intentions,  BYOB ( bring your own books)  will be the byword.  And don't forget to BYOL (bring your own librarian).

This restructuring is fundamentally flawed and Amy Ryan's plan should be shut down and all the branches left open.


*   Trustees of the Public Library of the City of Boston Meeting of the Corporation and Administrative Agency  Tuesday, March 9 at 3 p.m.


Friday, April 2, 2010

"Surviving the Culture Change" : Is anyone paying attention to the boiled frog?

Diane Ragsdale has been giving a talk for two years now on what is happening to live audiences and arts organizations. If my reading of the dates attached to the top ten references on her talk  "Surviving the Culture Change" is correct, her work is well received and her insights are in demand. Here is an interesting quote that made me think of our storytelling community in New England.

“It's been interesting to see how arts organizations have responded to the economic crisis-everyone seems clear: Measures must be taken! We need to keep expenses under control and work hard to keep and cultivate our loyal patrons "in these times." But what about the past 30 years? It doesn't seem as though many of us were having night sweats as the audiences gradually turned grayer, and more conservative, and eventually dropped off.  Why not? Perhaps because it took 30 years to reach the abyss rather than 30 days?
If you know the story of the boiling frog then you may be familiar with the idea of 'creeping normalcy." Creeping normalcy refers to the way a major change can be accepted as normality if it happens slowly, in unnoticed increments, when it would be regarded as objectionable if it took place in a single step or short period.Some couples wake up years after being madly in love to find that the intimacy that was created in the early days has faded slowly and silently because they stopped noticing and nurturing each other.
Relationships require attention to be sustained. Perhaps, like the couple that wakes up one day to realize "We don't know each other anymore; we have nothing in common," we failed to see that our communities were changing, and that art and artists were changing, and that we, as institutions that exist to broker a relationship between the two were not changing in response. We failed to see the culture change. We lost the plot." Surviving the Culture Change
Dunno about my comrade artistes but I have been worrying about the plight of arts "organs" and been trying to study up on the situation of working artists and sustainable practice for nonprofits for the last 7 years. Attached below is a small but thought provoking collection of the studies I have read  ( read? well, skimmed more honestly ) They give us lots to work with as we consider how to live as artists in the 21st century. Google any of the titles and you will find a pdf on line. Or simply go to where the pdfs are uploaded.

“Arts for All: Connecting to New Audiences” Wallace Foundation (August 2008) How can arts organizations use marketing, research and new technologies to expand their audiences?
Cultivating Demand for the Arts Arts Learning, Arts Engagement, and State Arts Policy
This is the third in a series of documents describing a multiyear study of the changing roles and missions of state arts agencies (SAAs) by the Rand Corporation 
State Arts Policy Trends and Future Prospects  Another RAND publication 2008 Projects what the future likely holds for state arts agencies and for state arts policy if current trends and current strategies prevail. (pdf attached below )

Quoted above Diane Ragsdale's talk Surviving the Culture Change is widely published. This is a link . US arts philanthropy expert and Carnegie Mellon scholar, Diane Ragsdale has given this keynote address all over the world. Just google the title and download a copy for yourself.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


One frequently asked question at a workshop on Web 2.0 was - what to do first when getting started in online marketing... here is a one answer written with Luddite friends in mind.

By Norah Dooley (© 2009 first published in Hearsay edited by Carolyn Martino)
Old modes of marketing have changed so completely that they are now nearly as outdated as ice carts and ice boxes. The good news is that as expensive as the old forms — like a full-color brochure, a fully-produced audio CD, packaged DVDs and mass mailings — were, the new forms are almost free.

Hardware: You need access to a good computer, a digital camera and DSL internet connectivity.  If you are lost already by my list, then we need to slow down and have a heart to heart.  I was once where you are now and found the very words I now spout with ease, alienating.  The technical jargon of any field can be daunting from the outside, but we must get beyond annoyance and fear.  We all need some level of mastery in computers in the twenty-first century, and there is nothing to be gained by refusing to learn about a tool most of you are using already.

Your computer needs a high speed processor.  This means it has at least 1 Gig hz on PCs and Microsoft XP, or the newest operating system.  (Skip over Vista if at all possible; even Microsoft admits that it is awful.  Windows 7 is just out.)  You’ll need at least 80 gigs of memory (more is better) on your hard drive, and you’ll need an external hard drive as well.  The good news is most libraries and cable TV stations have these kinds of computers and you could simply get a 4 gig or larger gig thumb drive and a small digital audio recorder for as little as $50.  And along with any size digital camera (I like the Canon Elph for many reasons – quality, reliability and because it makes decent videos as well), but even a CVS digital recyclable will work.  With these three tools you will be good to go.

Software:  All public computers have the tools you need.  Having these same tools at home on your computer is a huge help and FREE  — you simply download them from the Internet.  You’ll need: A photo editing/online posting account, like Picasa, Photobucket.  For sound  Audacity works on PCs while Apple computers come with GarageBand. You wil also need  a way to get video into a digital file you can send to youtube.  I use a MacBook (laptop) and highly recommend Apple computers for people who are easily frustrated by technology.  All the software you need for a Mac computer is pretty standard and for $100 you can take a lesson a week at your local Apple store.  These lessons are great and, at two dollars or so a lesson, very cost effective as well.

Some people may have their hackles up already.  To you I say: you didn’t jump into a car and expect to drive it without learning how, did you?  Computers are way more complicated than cars but much less intuitive as well. While they are hard to figure out, unlike cars,  no one gets hurt while learning new skills.  Of course, when computers don’t cooperate,  we all — geeks and techno-peasants alike — want to throw the  machine out and get a dip pen and a pot of ink.   BUT if we intend to communicate about our art and entice the wide world to come and hear us, our PR must look good and make sense.  So if you lack computer know how, I suggest you find a beginners computer course at your local Adult Ed center, public library or Cable Access TV station.  Or find a friend who will teach you, or a kind person who will carry you. Or find a friend to work with as you learn. Education is key to excellent, up-to-date marketing tailored to who you are and what you do.  Independence and skill are the keys to nearly free access.  You owe it yourself — unless you want to pay someone to do all this for you, and that is really very expensive !

It wasn’t that long ago that I hired someone to fix my computer at home and teach me how to use it better.  Those six hours, plus one year of Apple lessons and countless disasters and experiments on my own, have served me and all the people I have taught, very well. There are so many ways to connect using the internet.  This article aims to tell you what to do (once you have the basic skills) and where to do it. You are the choir – you already know about storytelling. Instead, what I am preaching and teaching is some new hymns to the choir.

New Hymn # 1 – Amazing Blogs!  Okay, you have no website — maybe you don’t have the time or money to develop one — but anyone can have a blog, which will connect you and give you web presence. When someone hears your name or sees it any place, they will google you; and if they can’t find you on line, you lose credibility as a performer.  And you lose business.

I could write you a step by step outline, but I would just repeat what is already on line at  You will be doing this online, it’s easier to move from screen to screen than from newsletter to screen and back again.  To access this free service, you will need to start a gmail account.  This is very simple as well.  Read and follow the directions at, and you will be on your way.

At first glance, a blog is really just an online journal that displays a series of posts, displayed in chronological order.  But blogs also have space for contact information and pictures and video.  These posts are typically written in a conversational, informal tone, and invite response.  Blogs are a huge part of social media.  Here are some positive features of blogs:
•       Blogs are interactive - it is both conversation and up-to-date information.
•       Blogs can be updated by anyone who knows how to send an email and remember a password.
•       Blogs are really easy - it is easier to blog than to keep track of emails.
•       Your blog is a dynamic flyer about your events and performances.
•       Blogs can attract a whole new demographic - younger people online- to storytelling.
•       A blog URL can be sent to other discussions, widening the awareness of our work.
•       A blog can be attached to the website; not meant to replace it.
•       People can subscribe to blogs and get notice of updates automatically.
•       Blogs can contain video and links to sound and pics – look elegant and so simply
•       I love this part – BLOGS ARE FREE.   Completely and absolutely.

If you do not have a website, I hope you will go to and set up a blog. Today.  Take a look at the blogs of some storytellers you know for ideas about content.

New Hymn # 2 – I have a friend in Facebook!  It’s free and a way for people to find you.  Facebook is great place to post your videos and keep up with a ton of fans and other storytellers.  Facebook will also link to your blog, etc.   If you are in the swing, you will set up a Twitter  and join a storytelling .ning. But first, join Facebook.  And make sure you add a profile picture.  A profile without a picture is as jarring as a business card with your name spelled wrong.  You will stand out but not in a good way. Once you have a profile picture you like, you can use it over and over again.  If you want, you can use another image — an icon or anything — but if your thought is to be known and hired for live performances, people want to see you. 

Once on Facebook you need to “friend” people.  You can use your email contact list to see who you already know on Facebook.  Or friend someone you know who will suggest people to friend you.

Tom and I made and uploaded video this at the work shop.

New Hymn # 3 – Youtube can Be Saved!  Once you have a gmail account, it is very easy to create a free youtube channel and post your work as video, and/or you can post sound recordings with as few or as many images as you like.  You can post and direct prospective clients to recordings of your stories there.

New Hymn # 4 – Onward LinkedIn Storytellers - LinkedIn is like Facebook, but it is all about business.  Build a profile the same way you did for Facebook and use your email account to see who you know already is LinkedIn.  Your name and the profession of storytelling will be in the workday world of millions.  You fill in the data the same way as with any of the above sites.  Use the same “connection”- building strategies as you used for Facebook to get the word out about you and your work.

And yes there is more, but this is plenty for a start and never forget this old chestnut...

Old Hymn - Live meetings will Never be Replaced - There is no replacement for getting out there and talking and performing.  Creating the opportunity to do so is what these web site presences are for. They are as expected as a business card (still used – with your web info on it) and a good brochure once were.   It is important to have web presence because it is very expensive to send out press kits and CDs and DVDs.   In fact, presenters may not want load your discs onto their computers for fear of viruses.   Instead, presenters will look at your information on line.  They will expect to find you online,  And if they do not?  Or, if what they find is inferior quality sound or video?  They will think you are not serious about what you do.  In fact, if they do not find you, to them, you do not really exist. 

The more you post, the more people will find you.  And everything on line with your name on it raises your rating with google, so people will find you more easily.  But, everything you post should be of the highest quality possible.  And that is another article. 
So start now, with Hymn #1 — a blog and some good digital pictures of yourself. Always include contact email and phone in everything.  And work your way up to singing all the new hymns.