Monday, August 18, 2014

"Never Done"

A friendly reminder that "Never Done" - stories of women's work is tonight at Club Passim. AUG 18th at 7pm. Some fabulous performers are joining me to create a great show and raise some do-re-mi for massmouth “Never Done”- Real stories from women at work in the world. We lean in, lean out, bend over, fall down and get back up. Come listen to a collection of stories about women’s work that are as varied as the women who tell them. Aug 18th at 7pm in a fund raiser for massmouth featuring cofounder Norah Dooley and friends: Devin Bramhall, Cheryl Hamilton, Cindy Pierce, Sue Schmidt, and Carolyn Stearns, at legendary Club Passim. The 1st Person Plural series is hosted by our honorary sister and stay-at-home dad, HR Britton.

Teaching artist:Young Audiences
In this special edition of 1st person Plural the stories are longer and there is no distracting competition. Lean back or lean in, your choice; just come and listen. Doors at 6:30 show at 7PM TIX are $15 at the door $12 online: Students/ seniors: $7 at the door only  A bit of back story about our Performers:Cindy Pierce is an innkeeper, storyteller and mother of three. Sue Schmidt is a therapist, drummer and mother of two. Carolyn Stearns is a full-time storyteller and lives on a family dairy farm and is a mother of four. Cheryl Hamilton works in Refugee Protection Devin Bramhall is a social media marketer and manager, HR Britton is an actor, storyteller, producer, educator and stay-at-home dad. Feature Norah Dooley is a storyteller, gadfly,educator and mother of four.Here is a teaser from my (Norah's) story: One Woman's Search for Right Livelihood:
Right Livelihood is a way of making a living that does no harm to others.
My first real job was working as a counter waitress at Brigham's Ice Cream Shop - making cones and sundaes while eating as much product as I could without getting fired. I got the job after my mother gave me a stinging wake up call. I was miserable, had just had my little toe broken by some hellions I had been baby sitting when she came to walk me home. She looked my me deeply in the eye - "You don't like taking care of children, do you?" She sounded a little surprised or bemused. If I was honest I say I didn't. I'd say simple the truth had wanted a job and some money. And I liked kids who liked me. But these kids were so tough and I liked kids. Their mom, a nurse working her doctor husband's way through a medical residency, was desperate so the pay was better than average.
Right Livelihood is, also, a way to earn a living without compromising the Precepts.
A few of which state:
No killing
No stealing
No misusing sex
We built a house, a barn and a shed
But I hated the babysitting job. And hated myself for hating it. That day, the kids broke my toe by slamming the bathroom door on it and locking themselves in after I had jerked my foot out. As they screeched with laughter and I hopped in pain, I was feeling quite out of alignment with the Precepts of the Buddha. In fact I was in a sputtering homicidal and ultimately powerless rage. "No killing?" Really. Clearly the freakin' Buddha had never babysat.
When my mother had asked me I exploded a, "Yes" that even surprised me. Then my mother said ,"No one who hates taking care of kids should ever be alone doing that work." Yeah. She knew what she was talking about. Skipping over the deep irony here, I quit babysitting; watching children for pay and never looked back. Until I had my own children....
To learn  more about Right Livelihood  Tickets at the Door are $15
Students/ seniors: $7 at the door only.

Organic farming Apprentice - Bittersweet Farm

Gadfly, Boston Public Library, 2010.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The magic and power of storytelling strike again!

After listening to stories, some kids try my drum while others choose books at ReadBoston's StoryMobile.
The magic and power of storytelling strike again! Thanks so much to a mom who took the time to write to me.  This is from the ReadBoston site at Marcella Park this week, July 30th 2014: "My daughter and I came to Marcella Park today to see your wonderful storytelling. My daughter has autism and has a lot of trouble following a spoken narrative. But your telling was so clear and engaging that she was actually able to pick out some characters and plot points, which for her is HUGE (especially with no visuals, in such a distracting setting). She's 4 and a half and she's always struggled hugely with receptive language, and she was sitting far enough away from me that I couldn't coach her through the stories, so like I said, I'm super impressed that she was able to relay any of it back. So I wanted to thank you so much for being there today and for the gift of your stories." And thanks to all at Read Boston and Samantha Sadd at Marcella park who make this work possible.

At the Boston Nature Center, August 1, 0214
This summer I mark my 16th year with the Read Boston Storymobile program. We will tell stories all over the city from July -August 16, 2015. 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. Back in the day, the Storymobile was an actual huge RV with bookshelves. Soon they may have a pedi-powered version. But that is just a rumor.  As you read in the quote above, while the challenges are great,  the rewards are greater. 

"The Wampanoag and NipMuc, Abenake and Narragansett..."

 This year to help with what I feel is a  lack of basic knowledge about who is an immigrant and who the Native Americans are, I have, in fine folk tradition, added some local names to the chorus of a song by the right-on folk singer, Nancy Schimmel. Appropriately, the tune Nancy Schimmel uses sounds like a tarantella. Below is a screen shot of my resources for teachers and camp counselors. 

Background: 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 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.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

What I have been doing since January...

As soon as I got back from Japan in January, several things completely occupied my time, until now. Teaching at Lesley U, helping to organize a union there  (successfully!) and coordinating  StoriesLive® -IV consumed nearly all my waking hours. We were able to reach another 1,000 high school students thanks to support from the MCC, Friends of CRLS grant and generous donations of time and money from massmouth,inc. storyteller/educators. Here is a great article by  Melissa McKeon, from the Worcester Telegram about our work at  South High Community High Schools where 100s of students studied with us and several SCHS students won  scholarships at our Regional High School Slam.  - Norah Dooley

South High students win scholarships at Hub storytelling match

by Melissa McKeon CORRESPONDENT May 16th 2014
WORCESTER — South High Community School Principal Maureen Binienda's students have been telling stories.

In fact, three of her students are noted for their storytelling.
And Ms. Binienda couldn't be happier.  Tenth-grader Manasseh Konadu, William Lam and David Judkins and seven other South students told their stories on April 26 at the Boston Public Library as part of an annual high school storytelling slam by Massmouth's StoriesLive. The three were awarded scholarships for their efforts in South's initial appearance at the event.
South High Community School student David Judkins, who won the
Audience Choice Award at Massmouth's storytelling competition in
Boston, runs through his performance for his English class. Behind him is
10th-grade English teacher Pascalia Mattioli, ((JOHN FERRARONE))

It's part of Massmouth's effort to reinforce that the art of storytelling is alive and well and valuable. The program, the brainchild of Massmouth founder Norah Dooley, is curriculum-based. Teacher-artist-storytellers go to local schools to teach storytelling and end up teaching far more, it seems. StoriesLive representatives coach students through the first phase, when all students participate. They write down the outline of their stories and then tell and refine them.

It's a lesson in everything an English teacher would like to see students learn. And, in fact, it's part of what they are mandated to learn by the state's Core Curriculum guidelines, which include a public speaking requirement.

"This is a fun way to meet a Common Core requirement," says 12th-grade English teacher Joe McKay.

The success of the stories at the class level, where everyone must participate, is easy to measure: "They applaud (each other's stories) or they don't applaud," Mr. McKay said. "They let you know." The students get to refine the story for a schoolwide "slam," with voluntary participation, at which the success of the stories is once again measured by the students' reactions. Next, those students go to the regional slam in Boston, where, this year, three South students distinguished themselves by earning scholarship money from StoriesLive.

The money can be used for the purchase of a laptop or iPad/tablet, memberships online, educational accounts, college application fees, college visits, tuition for any school and even driver's education or travel.

To date, the program has given out more than $17,000 in scholarship awards to more than 6,000 high school students from 15 Massachusetts high schools.

And while the program is certainly a unique — and clearly successful — way to teach public speaking, the preparation of the story teaches another key literature and writing lesson: creating a plot that works.

"It turned out to be a great learning strategy," Mr. McKay said.

Once students moved from creating the outline of their story to telling it, the progress in learning the lessons English teachers try to reinforce was swift. "That's where you see the proof in the pudding," Mr. McKay said. "It becomes almost intuitive."

Learning those core skills through storytelling with StoriesLive was, Mr. McKay said, far more successful than the usual classroom experience.

"It's not like they're being pressured by some cranky old teacher like me," he joked.

The deeper lessons are clear, as well.

"It seems like in this day and age everyone has something electronic, no one's having conversations anymore. It's like a lost art," Ms. Binienda said. "But storytelling has existed for centuries. Oral tradition is how people learned about their culture."

For the students at South, Ms. Binienda finds it particularly important.

"We are the third most diverse high school in the state," she said.

That means the connections between these students from many different backgrounds can be tenuous, until they hear each other's stories.

The experience of hearing everything from where they're from to the first time they experienced something new to learning the hard way at once illuminates a new culture and breaks down the barriers between them.

"Kids' experiences are kids' experiences, the whole world over," Mr. McKay said. "You're not all that different."

The deeper lessons are clear, as well.

"It seems like in this day and age everyone has something electronic, no one's having conversations anymore. It's like a lost art," Ms. Binienda said. "But storytelling has existed for centuries. Oral tradition is how people learned about their culture."

For the students at South, Ms. Binienda finds it particularly important.

"We are the third most diverse high school in the state," she said.

That means the connections between these students from many different backgrounds can be tenuous, until they hear each other's stories.

The experience of hearing everything from where they're from to the first time they experienced something new to learning the hard way at once illuminates a new culture and breaks down the barriers between them.

"Kids' experiences are kids' experiences, the whole world over," Mr. McKay said. "You're not all that different." In addition to claiming that connection with their peers, they also claim something simple, yet profound, themselves.

"Being able to tell your story is important," Ms. Binienda said.

At the final slam on a Saturday during April vacation, 10 South students and their chaperones learned not only the excitement of telling their stories among their peers from schools all over the state, but also had the simple fun of what was, for many, the new experience that field trips provide. They took the train to Boston to participate in the final slam at Boston Public Library.

Mr. Konadu won first place (a $500 scholarship); close behind him was classmate Mr. Lam, who won a $250 scholarship. Their fellow South student Mr. Judkins won an Audience Choice $150 award.

For more information, visit and its Facebook page,

Monday, April 7, 2014

Visting Japan: January 2014

Third in a series of unpublished blog posts from this insanely busy past few months... from my trip to Japan, which was magical, fun and energizing. This is Part 1... read the back story here and more here

On the subway after another amazing fish dinner!
Last summer I was delighted to learn that the project, written by a friend and funded by the Japanese Government had prompted a return engagement, complete with all travel expenses, for me to give some talks on Story, Storytelling and ELL in Tokyo, Japan for JASTEC (Japan Association for the Study of Teaching English to Children and the publishers,  Shogakukan Shueisha. Three years ago my sponsor and host, Professor Mitsue Allen-Tamai, had published a book, Teaching English to Young Learners through Stories and Activities and she had arranged for me to return when she was super busy - giving a major presentation for the national department of education on her work in a model school.

 Back in November, 2011 I was a guest speaker at Aoyama Gakuin University  talking about "Storytelling: An Organic Base for Literacy and Language". While visiting Aoyama Gakuin University I met with undergraduate and graduate students who have an interest in teaching English.  I also had the opportunity to present a longer, formal seminar on applied storytelling in ELL classes in a meeting exclusively for practitioners who are actually teaching English to children.
All the students, but especially three undergraduates really impressed me. After the workshop,  Mai, Yu and Shunjuku joined  Professor Mitsue Allen-Tamai and I for coffee and each told me a personal story that I will never forget. I was so happy to meet with them again.

Professor Allen-Tamai teaches a model lesson for a 6th grade class - in front of 100s of educators. No pressure, right?
Professor Allen-Tamai has been teaching courses to train college students to become English teachers of young children at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  She is quoted at the end of this article in the JapanTimes. This January I was very excited to visit several classrooms with lessons in full swing.

Waku waku, Doki doki shimasu ne!  (So very excited and thrilled! At least this is what I hope I said. )
Below is the introduction Dr. Allen-Tamai made for me.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Working as a Professional Storyteller - tl;dr

 Second  in a series of unpublished blog posts from this insanely busy past few months... Definitely one of my tl;dr rants. Written in DEC 2013.

Working as a Professional Storyteller,  Working for Free And Performing for Reduced Fees If you love inquiring minds and creatives with a voice, please check out the website of the amazing author of this poster. You will love Jessica Hische's site If you need less profanity there is a clean language version at this link.

Dear Storytellers of the Late Twentieth Century Revival (SofLTCR) -
1st Person storytelling filled the rooms beyond capacity
Back in the day when I was a visual artist, we paid entry fees to have our paintings vetted for any show worth being in. Sometimes there was an additional hanging fee, the cost to make and mail slides (this was a loooong time ago) and we had always materials and mounting/framing fees too. The "surcharge" to be a professional artist was hefty. This was in my formative years so I have always been aware that professionals need to invest in their art and that is why visual artists are often "starving".  If one does not have a patron or a private trust fund, more of your time is required. For example, to afford to be in shows and buy materials I either lived on espresso and ramen or had a second job. Washing pots and then working my way up to dishwasher at a posh restaurant was my favorite because we were given free food. When I invited you all to perform at First Night this month, I understood that, many of you would not be available especially given the lateness of the invite. While the money was not great, it was more than we ever have had to share for Traditional Storytelling. You see, massmouth sometimes breaks even at our 1st person story slams, but traditional storytelling shows have been a money-losing venture.

Believe me, no one is more aware that the budget for our First Night family show is not top dollar for what we were asked to do. Still, it represented a sizable portion of our cash operating budget so we were excited to have $2K for a total of 10 hours of programming in two rooms. The fact that we were invited as traditional storytellers, based on the rooms we have filled in the past made us feel that this budget and invitation were hugely positive.

We had SRO for both 1st Person Storytelling shows
We (massmouth organizers) have worked hard, without remuneration, investing in our art form to realize this important chance to show off traditional storytelling.  Since drawing an audience is essential to our art, I thought it best to spread the opportunity wide, not deep. Why didn't Andrea Lovett and I just keep $500 each for ourselves for all the work we would need to do to pull this off, never mind all the unpaid work it took to get to this opportunity? Then we could have given anyone with the foresight to join us as performers $25-$50 stipends for the chance to showcase their art and reach a wide and general audience. It would still be money trickling into the pockets of artists. Why didn't we just take care of ourselves? Because we want to build the art of storytelling.

Every September I am asked to do a Showcase for Young Audiences of MA.  They are my main booking agent and working with them is my actual "day job" -  in the sense that this is how I make money.  I do not get paid at all for my Showcase performance each year. Not even a travel allowance. Instead, I realize that a Showcase event is like fertilizer; you have to put something in the soil if you want to sow and reap later.

 So, each year I invest my time, which is also my and everyone's most precious resource, into my art.

It is true that a few lucky Storytellers of the Late Twentieth Century Revival (SofLTCR) in the notoriously cheap Boston area have commanded much heftier fees, even from First Night. Because of this history,  there may be storytellers who believe, that First Night, which went belly-up earlier this year, is holding out on us. Other storytellers believe that First Night is trying to low-ball all storytellers at the negotiating table. Other storytellers believe that massmouth is making money on the deal and not sharing fairly.  As if! All of these are equally mistaken beliefs.

Historically, from a producer's point of view, storytelling does not sell.

In the good-old days of the Late Twentieth Century Storytelling Revival, all a storyteller had to do was show up, tell a few tales and collect their check. A storyteller's pay was not based on the number of butts in seats or media recognition. Even so, 30 or even 15 years ago, things were different and seats were often butt-filled and media attention easier to attract. BUT even when tickets went unsold, decades ago there was three (3Xs) as much funding for the arts in Massachusetts alone. So a series or a venue did not need to depend on ticket sales for their solvency.  As one small example, just 15 years ago, the Mass Cultural Council  had a $27 million dollar budget. Yes, we went from $27 million down to $9 million and that is indeed 18 millions of $$$ shortfall, even before adjusting for inflation.

At massmouth we are trying our best to give storytelling the come-back we think it deserves. Not through a rising "star" system. Nor are we working on a "revival" of formerly risen stars.  There is not one storyteller in our area who has enough of a following or name recognition or audience draw that can be counted on to sell tickets and or fill a room large enough to make producing their performance financially viable. Just ask someone who books family entertainment and you'll learn that even the biggest names can have trouble selling tickets.  Or ask someone who witnessed the demise of the Three Apples Storytelling Festival if you need to know more about this phenomenon.

In New England, storytellers are known in some quarters as "box-office poison".  As one librarian from the North Shore told me,

"If I advertise a visit from Ronald McDonald in costume, I'll have over 100 people signing up for it and a room that is filled to standing room only. If I have a storyteller we may see a few sign-ups and be lucky if a dozen people eventually come to the show."

She concluded that with limited budgets for programs, many libraries could not afford performers like storytellers, who typically draw such small audiences. Meanwhile, LANES storytellers vie for a slot at the annual OLIO,  give workshops and perform at Sharing the Fire, for free, every year.  Storytellers sometimes do balk at the lack of remuneration by LANES but they keep coming back. The unpaid performances at Sharing the Fire are for a dwindling group of some 200-300 storytellers and a few people new to storytelling. In contrast, the paid performances we are producing this year at First Night are for a general public who are looking for quality entertainment. We will potentially reach an demographic who, once they hear some really good storytelling might well be won over as loyal audiences who bring others to our shows. All of this history is not meant to depress you but rather to support the notion that we storytellers need to do things differently if we want our art form to thrive, not just survive.

Here was a chance to show the world just how deep, wide and beautiful the traditional art of storytelling is.

First Night, 2014 represented a chance to show people how great storytelling can be and, be paid to do it. 

 It is fine if SofLTCR  do not want to perform on First Night. I am not trying to guilt trip you.

Hey, I am often mistaken. Maybe some of you who declined have great paying gigs on New Year's Eve? Maybe there is a whole economy of storytellers getting bookings in 4 figures, all over Boston and New England.? If so, I apologize for my ignorance.  If I am leading people astray here, please - correct me. 

But I will be "show me the money" doubtful. The harsh realities of 21st century professional performers are well documented and I am pretty certain that no one is on easy street when it comes to paying audiences. 
 We, all the SofLTCR, should acknowledge that the times have changed and to paraphrase Bob Dylan that our old road has rapidly changed. We'll need to " ...get out of the new one,  if we can't lend our hand For the times they are a-changin'..."

Don't go on any extended guilt trips on my account.

The art of storytelling will go forward.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Storytelling: at Tufts ExCollege FALL 2013

 First in a series of unpublished blog posts from this insanely busy past few months...

An open letter to my Tufts ExCollege Students:

Thank you, all. Last night was an absolutely fabulous final-project-end-of-term, slam. I can honestly say it was the best ever, being the first. Levity aside, and despite interruptions from my overreaching desire to document, facilitate and generally futz around with technology, your slam was every bit as amazing as you may have felt it.

Didn't everyone bring their A game? Were we regaled with hilarity and depth, personal growth and deep insight? Yes. From the very first story, (which set a high bar) to the very last, we experienced real life, beautifully crafted into narrative. Through each story the art of storytelling shone.

Before I get even more cringe-worthy gushy, I am posting a few sloppily snapped photos which do not do the performers or performances justice. Then, I am getting to work on my critique of your performances, collating all your comments and finding a way to get them to you and creating grades for you all. Once that is set I will be editing the audio podcast and video clips and posting same. It may take me a while so when you are in the throes of finals look for an email with links to this amazing night of stories to buoy your spirits. Again, thank you all for working to bring such great stories and making my "first time" teaching a college level storytelling course truly rewarding.