Saturday, October 5, 2013

National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough TN -2013

National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough TN -2013

What a delightful surprise. When Susan O'Connor from the ISC wrote to me to invite me to tell at the Exchange Place - I had to read the email twice - I was that stunned. Yes! I would be honored to come and perform at the 41st National Storytelling Festival on OCT 4th 2013.

Although a storyteller for 20+ years this was my first opportunity to come to the National Storytelling Festival.  - As a mother of 4 and an independent artist (aka living in splendid penury) I never could pull it off. But a paid gig plus a gig to pay for the gig got me there -  literally. was a long weekend. When we arrived in Jonesboro it was dark and I had missed the welcoming dinner and the sound check at the tent. This turned out to be more problematic than I thought. We'd been in transit since quarter of four on Thursday a.m. and let me say how wonderful it is to have a friend like Carolyn Stearns to do a road trip like this. Although we did fly most of the way we drove from the airport in Atlanta to a private school where I had three presentations and a 3 o'clock book signing. So we hopped in the car a bit late to drive what I thought was 4 hours to Jonesboro Tennessee. Carolyn did a lion share of the driving as I got very very sleepy but never completely fell asleep. We were stuck in some massive traffic and realized there and then that it is in fact + six hours from Atlanta to Jonesboro not 4 hours.  Especially when you drive through Chattanooga and Knoxville. Having missed dinner and unable to find the church on Main Street ( there are more than a few churches) we checked into the hotel and then were looking for some refreshment.  God Bless America! In Tokyo,  Paris or London, could hungry travelers,  at 10:30pm just waltz across an interstate to a Shell station and buy salted peanuts and a quart of beer? I think not! But once we got to meet up with the Festival staff, all the people around us were incredibly friendly, helpful and caring. And, there was nothing but fabulous storytelling surrounding us at every moment - on the street, in the lobby,  at the breakfast table - just everywhere.

I had a 12 minute slot and Exchange Place which is everything they advertise it to be – and more. It is a revered tradition and thousands of people listen to your stories and they do send you lots of love! I had told the producers back in July that I would be telling a story inside a story and it was really the story of how I became a storyteller. Although I had no time to rehearse the parts that I knew I wanted to put together, in fact I had been telling these stories for decades. I really wanted to do what I told them I would do and to keep to the 12 minute time limit. Mainly because I wanted to do that kind of mash-up story that showed I could tell both traditional and contemporary 1st person tales. So, I used most of Friday to time and rehearse and time and rehearse over and over again.

You might logically think that the state I was in was Tennessee but on Friday, mostly I was in a state of Terror-fication. It was way too late to explain to people who had hired me that I wanted to change up what I was going to do. So I just had to make it work. Whether I did or not is questionable. So many of the folks who gave me comments afterwards were very kind. They mostly said that they appreciated or were intrigued by the structure of my story. I told about my first time speaking up and folded in the traditional tale of the girl with no story, Molly O'Donahue. My sense is that had I been truly successful they would have noticed the technique and structure less and the story more. But then,  I tend to be a very harsh self-critic. Yet my first note from the audience was on a different topic altogether. A woman zipped right up to me, rushed to the stage really, tell me how she enjoyed my performance but that she did want me to know something very, very important. I needed to know it in a hurry. Ouch! When I told my husband what she told me he said "Don't worry, maybe somebody at the local Bonga-Bonga room might ask you back to Jonesborough." There is more but if you haven't heard or just want the full story from the, mouth? You'll need to write me   - My immediate reaction was not "Lord have mercy!" -as we often hear around these parts.

Carolyn Stearns
No. Not this New York citified girl. My reaction was an unspoken yet screamed good ole Anglo-Saxon word that is sometimes used as a noun and more often an adverb. Truly, I am a train wreck sometimes.  And the woman who rushed the stage  to tell me the "news" had a point that was well taken. My wardrobe issue likely was distracting. Not quite Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl but I know I would be distracted thinking about the poor idiot (me) up there sharing an 'insight' that no one wanted or expected.  Still that is just about me. And the festival is so much bigger than all that. And so amazing. I loved performing with such a great group at Exchange place: Sheila Arnold, Rick Huddle, Bob Tyranski, Chuck Brodsky and Isaac Freeman. When people asked me if I was having fun, I had to say - "We need a new word..."fun" doesn't cover half of it."

As for the career move of performing at the premier festival in the nation ?  Who knows, maybe I'll be back to Jonesborough again... the Bonga-Bonga room may be calling any moment.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Takao Shinzawa, artist and friend

You know how sometimes you get invited to a show of a friend and you wonder...will I have to say nice things and think bad things? My long-time friend Takao Shinzawa,  has had several shows in JP lately. And I have had no such trouble. For decades I knew Takao as a talented musician but I was blown away by the depth and character of his new visual work.

Shinzawa’s careful renderings reveal a sense of awe in the details of everyday life. His works also resonate as a silent hymn to the unexpected beauty found in urban places. Every stroke and line of Shinzawa's drawing attends to living objects and bricks and mortar with equal sensitivity.

I first met Takao when he came to the US from Japan thirty years ago, and has been living for 24 years in Jamaica Plain. He has always painted and drawn from real life. Takao is a gardener and dead-funny commentator on modern life, who also works part-time at Mass Art. Shinzawa is a classically trained flutist and has studied with Doriot Anthony Dwyer. In addition to western flute he plays Japanese flutes called ryuteki and komabue which are integral to Gagaku dance and ceremonial music; a musical form with an unbroken history stretching more than a millennium.  To find out more: Contact Takao Shinzawa: cell: 617.721.1371 • • email: Or say hello as you see him sketching in the neighborhood!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Being Mary Read

Photos by: Halldor Sigurdsson from Schoharie Crossing - thanks!
If someone took a notion to sing the "Mary Read Blues" ? It could rightly be said/sung that "If it were not for bad luck, she had no luck at all." Her story starts in poverty but then, most pirate stories do... I created a monologue about her back story that I tell as I take off the skirt and shawl to reveal pants and shirt as I  arm my self and transform into Mark Read, pirate.
and transform into Mark.
I enter as Mary...
" After my dear mother died I went to live in London with Granny. She was not fond of me and she sent me out to earn me keep as a stable boy – which I did.  I had hoped for an apprenticeship or schooling but it was not to be. From her own mouth I heard the reason behind my mother’s disguising me as a boy. My grandmam was not even sure that I was her grand daughter but as my brother was 2 years older, she believed him ( that is me) to be her blood...But after Granny died I had no place and no one… so I joined the army – Some of me mates had gone across the channel to Holland and I heard they could learn the language right quick enough and the food was regular and peace ruled the land and the Army was the place, so I went too. It was there I met my first husband. . .We were tent mates see? ...And got to know each other very well.  After, we got to know each other quite well we opened an Inn –  work was easy. For the first time I dressed as a woman. But we were only married 11 months when he took sick with the same fever and I was just frantic. No issue to show for our union just bills – I took on men's clothing again and I went to the sea – thinking to live again in London..."  I was very excited to be invited to bring this character and bit of history to the  "Not Just For Kids Storytelling"at Schoharie Crossing. A bit about their series from the local paper: "The "Not Just For Kids Storytelling" series was the inspiration of the site manager Janice Fontanella, who said she fell in love with the art form more than two decades ago and was looking for a way to share it with others. "I was just so excited myself that I discovered storytelling and it was something I wanted people to hear," said Fontanella. And she thought the events would be a "perfect fit" at the site."I'm sure there's been storytelling going on here for years," Fontanella said, noting the famed storytelling traditions of both the Mohawk Indians and the area's early European settlers."Storytelling is more of a traditional art form," she added. "It's appropriate for a historic site." 
The storytelling series is funded, in part, by the Fulton-Montgomery Arts Grants, part of the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts administered by Saratoga Arts.It's sponsored by the Friends of Schoharie Crossing, Stewart's Shops, the Garden Bug, Tribes Hill Deli, Southside Coffee Shop and Dolci Sweet Shop.
According to Fontanella, the program is run entirely through sponsorships and donations, and all of the money raised goes to the storytellers themselves, some of whom travel many hours in order to participate. Admission is free to all of the performances and they take place rain or shine. Free refreshments are also served following each show."
l. to r. Claire Nolan, Maddy and Greg Reid, descendants of Mary Read
My intention is to humanize the character and the times as I tell what it was really like to be a pirate and a woman in the late 17th and early18th  century. I have always loved doing the research but much of her story is unknown. I  had decided to make up an ending to her life that I like to think about as being true.  On this trip to Schoharie Crossing, NY I had a very unusual meeting that made me think my idea about the end of her life was more truth than fiction.

In conjunction with my gig I was lucky enough to be invited to teach a workshop for the Children At The Well a group of young storytellers in the Albany, NY/ Capitol District.  Check them out and you will see for yourselves that they are wonderful. That was a lovely turn of events in itself and many thanks Paula Weiss for her generosity and connecting us all.  But... check out this crazy serendipity.  Here is a post-script from Paula: "PS- oh, hey- it turns out that one of our dads- he & his daughter are coming to the workshop- is a descendant of Mary Read's!"  After meeting Reid he told me that his grandmother from Curaçao always said that they were direct descendants of Mary Read. How cool is that?  You cannot make this stuff up.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Brilliant flash mob sparks ideas

Brilliant flash mob sparks ideas  

by Norah Dooley

An acquaintance sent me this yesterday and I was enthralled. A flash mob fully realized and then enacted a back story to a very well known painting, Guards of the Night by Rembrandt in 1642. This past April this "flash mob" or guerilla theater event was a project of the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands to advertise with their slogan; "Our Heroes Are Back" that after an absence of one decade, all major pieces in the Rijksmuseum’s collection are back where they belong.

It helps to have the backing of a major multinational corporation when you want to document this intricate a staging. It looks like they had a dozen cameras and at least 2 dozen actors and free range of the mall to plan, rehearse and set props before the performance. When one desires to bring art to the people, a healthy budget makes smooth the way.  Still the really amazing part of the project, in my mind, was to inject a clear story into the staging. A gorgeous tableau would have been very effective but...the story, acted out in real time? Sheer brilliance. Imagine all the viewers talking to each other about the part of the story they actually were witness too.

And I wonder - did this elaborate staging work to get people to come to the actual art in the museum? Seems likely that it did since the prank itself garnered over 3 million views on youtube.
Guards of the Night Rembrandt 1642, Rijksmuseum, Netherlands

The videos show how they took one painting, a Rembrandt from 1642, Guards of the Night (above), and brought to life the characters in it, placed them throughout a busy mall and you can see for yourself how it all fell (literally) out.

Imagine what a group of storytellers with a lots of imagination or the backing of anybody or entity with deep pockets might be able to do? My mind is swimming with fun ideas.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Like Banksy - only 1/100th as talented

Chalk-Le-chat: Like Banksy or Blek Le rat (only 1/100th as talented)

A different kind of chalking

By Norah Dooley

Last month I compared my work to Jenny Holzer and this week I am thinking about Banksy and his predecessor, Blek le Rat, (born Xavier Prou,1952) who was one of the first graffiti artists in Paris, and has been described as the “Father of Stencil Graffiti”.  Lest you think I am totally out of my mind -  I
Mon petit signature
shall clarify. I do not believe myself to be in anyway comparable to these world-class artists. I only mention them as examples of the inspiration for my work and to give some point of reference for what I am doing. Deciding I needed a "nome de plume" like my heroes ( my heroine, Jenny Holzer, is simply herself) and knowing that imitation is the sincerest form of mimicry I have, for now, settled on Chalk le Chat.

Cool, right? It is like Blek Le rat, only I am 1/100th as talented or prolific. I am also considering the moniker "Pastore Fata" after Shephard Fairey but he gets into a lot of  trouble so it ma be a bit risky.  Running with the Chalk Le-chat idea allowed me to
designed myself a little signature
( see left ). Mostly, I create really simple chalk drawings about the stories I have just told to surprise and I hope delight the children who stumble upon them. If they mystify and inspire those who have not heard my stories - that is great. The fact that the act is noncommercial and intends a democratic inclusiveness. I sometimes draw with my audience, teaching them how to use simple shapes to draw some of the animals that feature as characters in my stories. And other times I  leave chalk beside or nearby the drawings,  inside a chalk circle of words saying "Express Yourself".

Here  is the wiki entry for "street art"
Street art is art, specifically visual art, developed in public spaces — that is, "in the streets" — though the term usually refers to unsanctioned art, as opposed to government sponsored initiatives. The term can include traditional graffiti artwork, sculpture, stencil graffiti, sticker art, wheatpasting and street poster art, video projection, art intervention, guerrilla art, and street installations. Typically, the term street art or the more specific post-graffiti is used to distinguish contemporary public-space artwork from territorial graffiti, vandalism, and corporate art.

Artists have challenged art by situating it in non-art contexts. ‘Street’ artists do not aspire to change the definition of an artwork, but rather to question the existing environment with its own language. They attempt to have their work communicate with everyday people about socially relevant themes in ways that are informed by esthetic values without being imprisoned by them.John Fekner defines street art as "all art on the street that’s not graffiti".

Whereas traditional graffiti artists have primarily used free-hand aerosol paints to produce their works,"street art" encompasses many other media and techniques, including: LED art, mosaic tiling, murals, stencil art, sticker art, "Lock On" street sculptures, street installations, wheatpasting, woodblocking, video projection, and yarn bombing. New media forms of graffiti, such as projection onto large city buildings, are an increasingly popular tool for street artists—and the availability of cheap hardware and software allows street artists to become more competitive with corporate advertisements. Much like open source software, artists are able to create art for the public realm from their personal computers, similarly creating things for free which compete with companies making things for profit.

Traditional graffiti also has increasingly been adopted as a method for advertising; its trajectory has even in some cases led its artists to work on contract as graphic artists for corporations.Nevertheless, street art is a label often adopted by artists who wish to keep their work unaffiliated and strongly political. Street artists are those whose work is still largely done without official approval in public areas. For these reasons street art is sometimes considered "post-graffiti" and sometimes even "neo-graffiti.St reet art can be found around the world and street artists often travel to other countries foreign to them so they can spread their designs.
Children join Chalk le Chat at Honan Librar
The motivations and objectives that drive street artists are as varied as the artists themselves. There is a strong current of activism and subversion in urban art. Street art can be a powerful platform for reaching the public, and frequent themes include adbusting, subvertising and other culture jamming, the abolishment of private property and reclaiming the streets. Some street artists use "smart vandalism" as a way to raise awareness of social and political issues.Other street artists simply see urban space as an untapped format for personal artwork, while others may appreciate the challenges and risks that are associated with installing illicit artwork in public places. However the universal theme in most, if not all street art, is that adapting visual artwork into a format which utilizes public space, allows artists who may otherwise feel disenfranchised, to reach a much broader audience than traditional artwork and galleries normally allow. Street art can also be a form of political expression used by the oppressed and people with little resources to create change.

Banksy - © Clipstone Crop
From a blog that follows Banksy:
Banksy’s latest street pieces which appeared in London over the Easter bank holiday reworks an old anarchist slogan coined by Emma Goldman “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” The piece seems to be a reference to a spate of recent arrests in LA of street artists such as Invader and Revok who are involved with the MOCA show. — New Banksy street piece in London references arrests in LA.

Blek le Rat in LA
From the Street Art Blog, post NOV 19, 2011:

Blek recognized the great ability of street art to address the populace in ways other art could not. Through stencils often centered on social observation, Blek involved his viewers in a guerrilla war against complacency and conformity, highlighting the strength of the individual and inspiring a reflection upon the status quo. The guerrilla art we are familiar with now has much to thank Blek le Rat for, a point driven home with impact when looking at the work of notorious British-graffiti artist Banksy, whose style is not only based on that of Blek but whose subject matter (including soldiers, rebels and even rats taking over the streets) is inarguably influenced by Blek as well.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Public Reaction - street art in Brookline

Public Reaction - street art in Brookline

8:09 AM July 22, 2013 after a little bit of rain.
Now that we have had some rain the sidewalk is mostly clear of the chalk. Except where there were leafy brnches or a bench that interfered with the rain showeer, most of the chalk is gone. People have asked me what the reaction was to my project. I have recorded it all faithfully and share it here:

8:08AM July 22, 2013
Reaction #1 6:03AM 
Taxi driver: I see you are decorating my cab stand.
Me: Yes I am beautifying and edifying
(he walks from one end to the other )
Taxi driver: That's  good.  I like what you say.
( A fare gets in his cab and he is gone)
Reaction #2 6:45 AM  
Young Woman: Did you have to get a permit to do this ?
Me: Yes,  I have my permit right here, if you 'd like to see.
Young woman: I wasn't trying to cause trouble - just curious.
Me: No worries. I'm kinda bummed I needed a permit at all.
(she checks her phone, then looks at writing from both sides of bus stop bench)
Young woman: Are you a hippie or a radical?
Me: A radical. Definitely.
Young woman: I thought so.
Me: Kinda cool that you know the difference.
Young woman: There is 30% chance of thunderstorm this afternoon - what are you going to do?
Me: Nothing. Those are the breaks with chalk art!
( The #66 bus comes and she is gone) 
Reaction #3 7:49 AM
Thirtysomething woman: Excuse me -  there's a typo.
Me: Sorry?
Thirtysomething woman: : There's a typo*.  You have an apostrophe in its - there shouldn't be.
Me: O dear! I will fix it immediately.  Thank you.
Thirtysomething woman:  It is such a good quote - why spoil it with a mistake.
Me: True. Thanks again.
( The #66 bus comes and she is gone)

And that's the end of public engagement with this art as I was creating it.  This afternoon's rain should be the end of the visual installment. I want to complete the project so I may reapply.

Not to be picky but shouldn't we say a "chalko" instead of "typo"? 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Chalking it up to age and...

Chalking it up to age and... love of our civil rights.

Sira meets Julia, 1984
It could all just be chalked up to my age, a love of democracy and an infatuation with civil rights. Our constitutional  rights exist to make our lives, culture and neighborhoods, civil. Gotta love that!  Yet, it was more.  I felt compelled to do my crazy and ill-timed ( for my  schedule) project for many reasons. One was to mark many decades of trying to find an effective way to be an artist and add something to the ongoing struggle for human dignity, justice and peace. Another reason was purely sentimental. My first ever Arts Grant was a teaching project in 1984, where I took a group of kids out on the sidewalks of Central Square Cambridge and taught them some drawing basics as we moved through the neighborhood, creating art in unexpected places. At some point during the 4 week project, WGBH covered our proceedings and the clip of us working in early July, 1984 was aired (or repeated?) on September 8th. This also was the day our 2nd daughter, Julia was born. A maternity ward nurse recognized me and said, "Who would have thought you'd be out drawing on the sidewalk and having a baby the same day?" I was confused but she explained and we sorted it out. Back in the day, we did not have a TV and I was too busy before and right after Julia was born to be able to track down and see that video.

4:15 am Jul 18, 2013
Through the years I have marked my birthday by asking my family to cut me some slack and take care of business so I would have the time to do something nutty like chalk drawing from dawn to dusk. I find the process of chalk drawing delightfully ephemeral, completely impracticable, a bit challenging and totally enjoyable. I am not even very good at  it at this point - so woefully out of shape am I. Not only is squatting difficult but I have not been drawing regularly for over 8 years. When you were never very gifted to begin with (like me) you'll find that your rendering chops fall away like a towel at a pool side. Still, it seemed like it would be too much fun not to at least try.

But in my 60th year, chalking had a new element; First Amendment Rights. A few weeks ago,  I had read about the then pending case of a young man being charged with 13 counts of "disorderly conduct" for chalking the following message "Corbett [Gov of PA] has health care and we should too." [see above] His fines could be as high as $13K and his sentence as long as 13 years. I was amazed. I was incredulous. Mostly, I was deeply affronted by this attack on our civil rights.

5:00 am Jul 18, 2013
A friend showed me several instances of similar cases and this moved me to include a political statement in my artsy-fartsy birthday plans. Here is one of the cases that especially piqued my interest: "A jury Monday acquitted a 40-year-old man of all charges connected with writing protest messages in chalk on the sidewalk outside branches of the Bank of America.  Deliberating for only a few hours, the jury...declared Jeff Olson not guilty on all 13 misdemeanor counts filed by Goldsmith’s office. Olson never denied writing the slogans.
One slogan said, “No thanks, big banks.” Another, “Shame on Bank of America.” And in yet another, the bank was portrayed as an octopus grabbing at cash with its tentacles. “It’s chalk,” Filner told reporters last week in an exasperated tone. “It’s water-soluble chalk. They were political slogans.”But courts have held that graffiti remains illegal even if it can be easily washed off, Goldsmith said. That the Bank of America contacted the city attorney’s office to reportedly urge prosecution has become part of the dispute. 
6:35 am Jul 18, 2013
Really? Corporations telling a DA who to prosecute? Faster than you can say "David and Goliath" I had chalk in hand and a full head of steam. I was pissed. BUT... instead of rushing headlong into this contested arena I decided to check my natural rash impulses and read the Town By-Laws. Finding no explicit rule against chalking on sidewalks,  I found a copy of a Brookline Rec Department flyer that invited citizens to participate in sidewalk chalk art. Then I also dug up a 9 year old article about me drawing in chalk on my birthday.  Thus prepared I called Town Hall the next day to see if drawing in chalk, in Brookline,  required permission. My first encounter was with the Building Department, which seemed like the wrong town agency but in fact, all signage and public space in Coolidge Corner are under the Building Inspector's jurisdiction.  Mike Yanovitch said that as long as my work was not "political or offensive" it should be fine. I bristled and my sub-clinical Tourette's kicked in and I blurted that I was not asking for a critical opinion on my art, just the legal stance of the Town of B on chalking sidewalks. Mr. Yanovitch immediately changed tacks and so did I. Within hours I had sent him an email thanking him and giving him tons of "background" information. And I waited.

6:55 am Jul 18, 2013
After 5 days I wrote again asking if Mr. Y had received my information. He had and said he was fine with the project and, he freely offered, without any prompt from me, that permission is not based  a "content thing" but that I did need to talk to Department of Public Works. So, I journeyed on.

I called Peter Ditto at the DPW. Mr. Ditto said the main issues were about space - I must not block traffic and I must leave a 4' wide for handicap access. I explained that I had taken some pictures of where I wanted to work and would send them. I added that I try to work before rush hour, 5AM - 8AM and likely would need more than one day due to my day job schedule.
7:00 am Jul 18, 2013
Mr. Ditto asked me to send the info I sent to Mr. Yanovitch and add to it locations of the sidewalks I was interested in, which I did in a neat pdf proposal. He said I should check in with the Police Department too. Only too happy to, said I BUT suggested that someone might issue a letter of permission just in case. What if not everyone on the BPD force gets the word of mouth that my actions have been authorized? In the past I have been stopped and challenged by officers of the law and always found it useful to have a document on my person. Mr.Ditto promised he would get back to me.

So, I waited. And waited.  On July 10, I received this email [below]… denying me permission.  This is where my story may have taken a very different turn if not for my fortune to count as a friend and colleague an ace, 1st amendment lawyer.  Enter (stage left) Michael Anderson.
A civilized exchange

Michael Anderson is a prestigious attorney, a wonderful storyteller and a fabulous Shakespearean actor as well. Michael's bio and tagline, which I have typed into many a program note ends with:

8:01 am Jul 18, 2013
"There is no such thing as free speech if you do not use it." It seemed like I was getting no where, fast, so  I wrote to him for advice on finding a pro-bono lawyer. He offered his service, a winning strategy and we hit the sidewalk - um, road, running. In no time Michael had cases, examples of chalk art on Town sidewalks and a very comprehensive letter formulated. When permission was officially denied, my lawyer ( sounds impressive, no? ) sent the letter to the Town Counsel. I believe there was a quick response by phone and after a conference between Michael and Jennifer Dopazo Gilbert, verbal permission was granted. And we waited some more. Finally, on July 15th I received my permit for 4 hours on July 18th of chalking in the areas I requested.

It is a victory. I know. But seriously folks? I thought that the Bill of Rights protected us average citizens who normally cannot afford a consigliere. Did I really need to explain myself so extensively, then lawyer-up and persist just to do a few chalk drawings? Apparently, the answer is yes. But my lingering questions are, should this be? And, if so, what are we going to do about it ?
Rosie takes a snap for me @ 6:55 am Jul 18, 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Birthday Art Project - July 18th - dawn

Photo by: Jacqueline Biggs
"Chalking is a spontaneous act of beauty."  - sidewalk artist, Norah Dooley

To celebrate her 60th birthday, on Thursday July 18 from 4-8am, Brookline artist Norah Dooley will execute an  art project in chalk on the sidewalks of Coolidge Corner. She says her work will be " A poor girl's Jenny Holzer."  Holzer is an American conceptual artist who is mostly known for her large-scale public displays of provocative words, mantras and ideas. Dooley's work is much smaller in scale and will feature small colorful mandalas and the sayings of dead and live presidents on the sidewalk. Dooley has executed similar works in the past in Central Square, Cambridge and Athol, MA.

"Like sand paintings, sunsets and other natural ancient forms, the art is meant to be temporary and, like life itself, fleeting" said Dooley.
The Town of Brookline initially refused Dooley permission. But with the help of ace First Amendment lawyer Michael Anderson, Dooley eventually convinced Town officials that she has a right to peaceful expression on the sidewalk. “The Town of Brookline allows commercial newspapers to put large newsracks on the Coolidge Corner sidewalks. If the Boston Herald gets to occupy public space to sell its point of view, then the Town cannot constitutionally prohibit me from expressing mine in washable chalk,” said Dooley. There has been much civil rights litigation over protest chalk drawing in the wake of the Occupy movement, from San Diego (where a jury acquitted a chalk artist of thirteen criminal counts) to Flint, Michigan to Orlando. “I am glad that the Town officials acted responsibly to recognize my free speech rights, rather than requiring us to go to court.”  

Below are the words she chose. They will be bracketed with mandalas - one will have in a circle of words  around it  -  "If you see something, say something." The other mandala will have just one  word : either " racism" or "poverty" or "injustice" or  "violence "

To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.
Abraham Lincoln

A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.
Franklin D. Roosevelt

Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

"A society's soul is most  keenly revealed in the way it treats its children."
Nelson Mandela

She says she is not sure about this last one.... "I may just add it as my signature!"

"...if I did not laugh, I should die."
Abraham Lincoln

What is this all about, really? The artist shrugged and said... " I like to add  beauty to disused public spaces and I have a friend who says 'Free speech isn't free if you do not use it.' Two birds with one stone?"

Thursday, July 4, 2013

ReadBoston 2013 - storytelling all over the city

by Norah Dooley

This summer I mark my 15th year with the Read Boston Storymobile program. We will tell stories all over the city from July 8-August 16, 2013. Storytellers provide the stories and the Storymobile program provides the books, logistics and oganization, plus? They bring a brand new and free book for every child in attendance. All sites are open to the public.  Here is what a day on the road with Read Boston looks like... Typically we are scheduled in three sites in one of the many Boston Neighborhoods and the sites are accessible to one another by public transport. The van will have dropped off books for the expected audience and when I arrive someone at the facility or venue will have boxes of books ready. Sometimes everyone knows where I will perform and which way the audience will be seated. The outdoor venues can be super challenging with rain, traffic noise, other camp groups and many environmental challenges as well. I wrote the following in 2007 about a day in the Summer of 2000  -

My work sends me to some funky venues. This one was a park along side a highway where the planes are low overhead in their approach to Logan. It was about 90º F. It was also before lunch and maybe after nap. About 20 kids about 3 years old each, walking like somnambulists, holding on to clothesline were brought out to me and we were all led to a huge tree. How primal - how essential ! Me, a tree and a group of children. This is storytelling. This is what it is all about! The disaffected teen staff were sullen and glum. Who could blame them? It was so damn hot, humid and smelly. But when I pointed out that the broken glass mixed in the wet with dew*grass as unsuitable for tender toddler bottoms of my audience they became even unhappier. We moved around the tree and finally to another tree.And I started at last. 
A plane roared overhead. I pushed on. Traffic flowed and growled in the background. I engaged and cavorted. Then a bright and perspicacious little boy noticed a huge dog turd about 18" inches away from my foot. God I wished I had seen that first. "Wow. Look Dog POOP!" 20 little heads were snapped around and riveted in attention on the brown, perfectly formed canine offering by my foot. The teen counselors perked up. This became a moment of intense interest. My audience could not get enough - Then it evolved into group participation... more here

Theresa Lynn and Mayor Menino at the Tadpole Pond
But this not all Read Boston does... At their Facebook page I found:  (6 photos) of
ReadBoston's Anna Adler has been working with parents at Boston Public Schools' Newcomers Assessment and Counseling Center in the Madison Park Education Complex. Participants in this nine hour training have been working hard and having fun. With only one session remaining, they are well on their way to becoming "Early Literacy Parent Leaders".
In February they set up this deal. Throw on your jammies and tuck into a good tale during the Hotel Commonwealth’s pajama party and storytelling event Feb. 22-23. The Bedtime Stories package features professional storytellers and performers from ReadBoston. Meet and get your photo taken with George, and make your own hot chocolate. Pay $20 to attend the event each night, 7-8:30 p.m. Or book the Hotel for Kids package for Feb. 22 or 23 at a starting rate of $229, based on availability, which includes a four-person suite, a kids’ backpack with L.L. Bean slippers, free valet parking, and a morning pancake-making class for kids. Stay the second night for $169. 866-784-4000,Parent Training at BPS Newcomers Assessment and Counseling Center or

After Schools in Boston are invited to apply for ReadBoston's After School Reading Initiative. Created in 2000, ReadBoston's After School Reading Initiative has worked with over 90 after school programs throughout the city of Boston promoting reading, literature, and literacy. To accomplish this, ReadBoston works closely with after school directors and staff, coaching staff to lead engaging
Back in the day, the Storymobile was a huge RV with bookshelves
literacy activities. These activities include reading aloud with groups of students, creating independent reading times, and promoting book-related activities. ReadBoston also purchases and develops diverse book collections in after school programs, creating inviting spaces for reading. Both school-based and community-based programs are invited to apply. Organizations may choose to apply for more than one site, but must submit separate applications for each site.

Two years ago I wrote this post on my last day... It is my last day of Read Boston. I will be in Charlestown all day. Yesterday was a great day. I worked in the South End Settlement House in their lovely walled garden, the Tadpole playground on the Boston Common, at a school in Chinatown and then at the zebra gate of Franklin Park Zoo in the evening. Hard to express fully how joyful and satisfying it is to tell stories all day. Biking from place to place, on a gorgeous day, telling stories. My idea of heaven.

Today I wrote this on the way to Charlestown. What I especially enjoy about bicycling to the venues  are the little things I get to see in the city.  A meditation on some black details while riding on the Charles River to work.

black starling bathes in a tiny puddle on asphalt path
what a yellow beak!
kingfisher is a black question mark on top a
round white buoy.
A long shadow behind as I peddle by on a
black bike in early morning sun.

Here is my schedule for  summer  2013:

·         7/15  Roxbury


·         7/16  South Boston

      -230 WEST 6TH STREET

·         7/17 West Roxbury




·         7/23 Dorchester


·         7/24 Jamaica Plain 


·         7/25 Boston, South End, Chinatown


·         7/26 Roslindale


·         7/31 Dorchester


·         8/1 Allston


·         8/2  Dorchester


·         8/14  Dorchester


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Reflections on the Creative Leadership Award

Introducing Maria Tatar at our first "Grimm and Twisted" fairytale slam - also the 200th anniversary of the Grimms

Reflections on a Creative Leadership Award

by Norah Dooley
Photos by: Paula H. Junn
This Tuesday, June 4th, 2013  I am honored to receive a Creative Leadership Award at Puppet Showplace Theatre at the Garden Party Gala, celebrating the occasion of their 39th birthday. See details at their website and let me know if you would like to come.

When we first approached Puppet Showplace, in 2010, with the idea of a collaboration, massmouth was just over one year old. We had long known and respected Puppet Showplace Theatre as a venue that supported the art form of puppetry which,  much like storytelling,  it is an art form with ancient roots that evokes rather than replaces imagination. We also knew that Puppet Showplace Theatre were successful. They had a history that showed grit and commitment that we could admire and aspire to; they had survived as artists and had maintained a continuously operating theater right in the heart of Greater Boston for over 3 decades.

Three years ago,  we were whippersnappers, who had just finished our first season of story slams and believed we had a some social capital to share. And if leadership is boldly asking for what one needs, whether  appropriate or not, then I have earned some part of this honor -  although Cheeky Monkey Award would be a name better fitted to my style. We were beggars at the Puppet Theatre gate and  very seriously in need of inexpensive or free office space because our operations had outgrown bedroom/living room arrangement. I suggested a collaboration based on our needs. Ultimately and not surprisingly, the first date between massmouth and Puppet Showplace Theatre did not lead to a relationship.

Skip ahead to this spring.  I am reading ( more precisely, skimming)  the email announcing I was being honored with this award. At first glance I thought that I was being asked to write a recommendation for Roxie Myrhum.  She was the one who helped us find a way to work together.  How perfect, I thought. Roxie is someone with vision, passion and drive. She really deserves this kind of award. I was so delighted to be able to do a small favor for Artistic Director of the Puppet Showplace Theatre that I started to read the email, just to be sure I knew when the deadline for my recommendation might be.

This closer reading revealed a mind-blowing truth - The Creative Leadership Award was being given to me and Roxie had been my nominator. I know. It was crazy!  Immediately I was on the phone asking Maria Finison if the award could be expanded to include the other organizers and founders of massmouth who are still active in Boston. Specifically, Doria Hughes who co-hosted and planned the series at Puppet Showplace Theatre with me and Andrea Lovett, who is always actively promoting the art of storytelling.  They both are leaders in the very best in contemporary performance of traditional material. But, no dice. This is an award for one person and Puppet Showplace Theatre wanted me. They cited the other areas of my work as fitting their criteria; my picture books, workshops, curricula etc. and so, although it is awkward to be so honored, I realized that I had to man-up and take one for the team.  So I accept this award for me as a representative of the art of  storytelling.

Last summer after a different kind of overture we shared a proposal with Puppet Showplace Theatre and created a project that worked. It had been a dream at massmouth,inc. that we would one day be able to entice a theater or another arts group to support traditional storytelling.  This was an area of storytelling that we had mastered and worked in for decades. When we saw all storytelling on the wane, we started massmouth. When we saw the new energy slams brought to the art form we came up with an idea to mimic our successful 1st person story slams only using traditional content.

Doria Hughes, storyteller fabulosa,  traditional storytellers from Greater Boston and the region and I presented a monthly series of folk & fairy tale slams events right here. Our Slamming the Tradition: Six traditional storytelling events for adults were part open slam, where tellers presented stories no longer than 7 minutes, that were fiction and in some traditional form and part featured performer. Unlike our other story slams, tellers could include props, costumes and music BUT no notes. We secured the prizes and the audience chose winners: A bag of magic beans, magic wishing stone and a small bale of hay were award each month along with a gift card, donated by the Brookline Booksmith. Our first event was written up in ArtsFuse OCT 21 2012.

Performing with Susan Miron on February 14th, 2013
Audiences and performers enjoyed the project and you can read more about specific nights here. One of the highlights of our series for me was that I was able to create a program and present a feature on Feb 14th,  2013, telling longer stories from Boccaccio's 14th century collection of tales, The Decameron. Giovanni Boccaccio, a favorite of mine. He was an Italian author and poet, and an important Renaissance humanist. Boccaccio is particularly noted for his natural, his skewering of hypocrites in high places, witty dialogue and his sympathetic female characters.

My stories ranged from naughty to lusty, and included romantic tales that came from ancient story traditions of India and the bards of the Holy Roman Empire. Susan Miron accompanied me on the harp. She drew on various ancient folk melodies and dances from Southern Italy. The music comes from authentic folk songs of Campagnia, Calabria, Puglia & Napoli as transcribed by John LaBarbera, mandolinist.

Some traditional stories 'back story below and more at this link: Folk tales: the TV of preliterate culture Folk tales: entertainment for adults & the TV of preliterate culture

Since we announced our Folk and Fairy Tale Slams, all sorts of people I thought would know better, have been perplexed. "Traditional stories? Huh? What is a traditional story?"  In the paragraphs below I have tortured and twisted a wikipedia article into illustrating a Miller Analogy Test type statement. My main intent was to explore and hopefully explain the difference between traditional storytelling and contemporary 1st person narrative in performance. Secondly, I hoped to save time by lifting lots of the material for my explanation. This process is sometimes called slapdash, and, when less transparent, also known as plagiarism or "lack of artistic integrity". The statement I am working with is: traditional stories are to contemporary 1st person narrative stories as traditional folk songs are to singer-songwriter's songs. Imagine an acoustic performance of Arrow, by Cheryl Wheeler next to a performance by Simon And Garfunkel "Scarborough Fair"  or any other traditional ballad of Great Britain. 

From a historical perspective, traditional/folk storytelling has these characteristics:
    •    Traditional stories were transmitted through the oral tradition. Before the twentieth century, most people were illiterate. They acquired stories by listening and memorizing them. Primarily, this was not mediated by books, recorded or transmitted by any media. Contemporary yet traditional storytellers may extend their repertoire using picture books or CDs, but these are secondary enhancements when they are of the same character as the primary stories experienced in live performance.
  • Storytelling is typically culturally particular; from a geographic region or culture. In the context of an immigrant group, storytelling acquires an extra dimension for social cohesion. It is particularly conspicuous in the United States, where immigrants and  oppressed minorities strive to emphasize their differences from the mainstream. They may learn stories that originate in the countries their grandparents came from.
  • Stories may commemorate historical and/or personal events. Religions, spiritual traditions, and religious festivals may have a storytelling component especially a set of teaching stories. 
  • Stories at communal events bring children and non-professional storytellers to participate in a public arena, giving an emotional bonding that is unrelated to the aesthetic qualities of the  performance.
  • Traditional stories have been performed, by custom, over a long period of time, over many generations. 
Other characteristics sometimes present:    •    Fusion of cultures: In the same way that people can have a mixed background, with parents originating in different continents, so too, storytelling is often a blend of influences. A digital element can be added to an old  story creating a new genre for the art form of storytelling.
    •    Traditional storytelling is non-commercial in that no one can own a traditional story and we are within our rights to say, "Back off, Disney! Put the law suits away, and the folktale collection down and no one gets hurt."

All the performers at "Love, sex and heads may roll."
Thank you so much to Andrea, Doria and Stu, the co-founders of massmouth, to Paula Junn and Hannah Lapuh the staff, the Board of Directors and all the volunteers at massmouth. Thanks to all my friends and supporters especially Sheila Leavitt and Susan Miron. Thanks to all the storytellers and listeners. Thanks so much to all at Puppet Showplace Theatre. You are our artistic cousins and have treated us like family -and you all have been delightfully collegial and fun to work with besides.  And, saving the most important for last, thanks to my family for their support my art and endurance of my absences, rants and excesses as I follow a quixotic quest for a path that leads to right livelihood through work as an artist. Thank you, all.

Meanwhile...six months later, a post.

Robert, with ice on his knee and staff by his side.
It has been a very long six months and I am happy to say that I have loads of good news to share! Here is some personal and organizational news all in a jumbleFirst, our new massmouth, inc. board of directors helped us launch an Annual Appeal which raised nearly $3,000. This helped us meet the challenge of Mass Humanities our main funder. They had asked us to raise over ten thousand dollars more than we had raised last year to be able to run the StoriesLive® high school project for a 3rd year.  In order to demonstrate that our organization is worth supporting ( they loved the program) and that we had the infrastructure to be able to go on after our last $10,000 grant we had to really put the pedal to the metal. Our appeal was timely and really appealed to the Three Apples Storytelling Festival which was dissolving and as a nonprofit had to bestow it's remaining assets on some other nonprofit. Susan Harris, the treasurer and 'keeper of the flame' chose us and we received our first $5,000 outright gift on Dec 31st, 2012.

During the holidays my husband and I locked knees while dancing and I tore the meniscus of his right knee. This was just before we would leave to see our eldest daughter graduate from her PhD. program at Durham University in the UK.  So proud! She is a scholar, a gentlewoman and now, a Doctor of Philosophy. Despite hurting him so badly that he needed a wheel- chair for part of our travels, he managed to forgive me and recover enough to use a cane and have some fun in Merry Olde England. It was a lovely and brief trip. The man is an animal. I would still be on crutches but Robert heals quickly. And credits PT with his near complete recovery.

We both returned from our 5 whirlwind days in the UK to a load of
work. At massmouth we had sold out shows and the teaching of over 1,200 high school students in 9 weeks to pull together. Then it started to snow - a lot! And while it was snowing and everyone was home during the main blizzard in February and our schedule for StoriesLive® was taking a pounding from the weather... both massmouth and my personal bank cards were "skimmed"  and $2,500 was taken from our accounts before we realized what was happening. Think of this kind of theft is the gift that "keeps on giving." The disorganization and disruption of your daily life goes on for quite long time. I still get bills or cancellation notices from accounts that bill every every quarter, 6 months or yearly and were connected to those two cards. We are so thankful that the bank give us back the money that was stolen. Phew! We would've been in deep deep trouble without it!

We managed to complete a hugely busy season IV of story slams, sell out the Coolidge Corner Theater for a third year in a row and raise over $5,000 for the StoriesLive® program which, in its 3rd year, taught over 2,000 high school students to tell their stories. 

It was a near thing since the terrorist attack on April 15th made it hard for live events  that week - ours was on April 17th yet we filled the theater. But the high school regional slam was at the Boston Library and all of Boylston Street was closed, including the Library right up until a three days before the high school event. Luckily enough of the students still came and even though it was half the number expected the nearly 30 who performed were enough to make it an event to remember.

This spring I managed to remember to complete a syllabus for a course proposal in storytelling at Tufts University, my alma mater. I was delighted to learn last week that the course will accepted and will be listed and if enough students enroll, I will be teaching EXP-0003-F: Performance Art, Podcasts, and Slams: Storytelling in Theory and Practice to undergraduates at Tuft's Ex-College on Tues nights this fall.

This summer I will again be telling stories all over the city, three public sites a day, for Read Boston in late July and early August.  And in early July,  I will be leading a storytelling workshop for activists as part of the Camp Commons Week - Building Community Resilience at the World Fellowship Center in Albany, New Hampshire and the week will end with my new friends Mary Hannon and Chuck Collins leading a story slam, using the knowledge they have gained from massmouth story slams. This makes me very happy. Our inclusive, spread the joy,  each-one-teach-one is working and there are more  and more places where storytelling is known and respected.

One more bit of good news, this June I am being honored with a Creative Leadership Award at Puppet Showplace Theatre and will write about that in my next blog.

But the best news of all is that I finally have the time to write some of it down! Enjoy your summer!