Monday, October 26, 2015

Boston Harbor, Summer and Fall - 2015

Teaching knots and pirate lore at Carson Beach, August 2015 Photo by: Joe Prezioso,
At the beginning of this project, what I didn't know about the Boston Harbor would have filled several volumes. The history of the harbor is as rich and as varied as the centuries and the waves of people that created it.  This summer,  my usual work expanded as I was invited to be a storyteller for Save the Harbor, thanks to a grant from MassHumanities. The amazing activities available to the people of the Commonwealth on the beaches in and around our harbor blew me away. I was honored to be even a small a part of it. As I traveled from beach to beach,  I witnessed kayaking, fishing, swimming, surfing and all manner of environmentally sound engagement with natural life. All this activity peopled the shores as I told and exchanged stories as part of the Better Beaches summer crew of SaveTheHarbor/Save the, Boston's premier, non-profit public interest harbor advocacy organization. Save the Harbor is directed by Bruce Berman, who leads and is supported by thousands of citizens, as well as scientists, civic, corporate, cultural and community leaders in a mission to restore and protect Boston Harbor, Massachusetts Bay, and the marine environment and share them with the public for everyone to enjoy. By the end of this month I will have visited and performed at beaches from Lynn to Hull and seen a lot of the great beaches that are closest to Boston in South Boston and Dorchester.

The wheelhouse of the Provincetown. Thanks, Captain Mark Aborn!
 USS Wyandot - circa 1966

This past Saturday,  I went on a cruise to Spectacle Island, one of the many Boston harbor islands that are now a National Park. Save the Harbor sponsors several of these great outings that are free and open to the public and draw hundreds of folk of all ages and stages of life.  I signed on as pirate Mary Read who sailed during the Golden Age of Piracy as 'Mark'. At the dock, our boat, the  Provincetown loomed high and as I looked up at the bridge, a fleeting wish to get to visit passed through my mind. Imagine my delight when less than 10 minutes later  I was invited to the wheelhouse of the Provincetown to use the PA system and announce my plans to share stories. What a blast! The last time I was in a wheelhouse was 1966. Our father, who was in the Merchant Marine had taken a job as the navigator of a ship bound for the South Pole. We went the Brooklyn Navy Yard where he had worked for years and for the first time actually boarded a ship.  We had lunch and spent the better part of a day exploring his vessel, the USS Wyandot. I remember we had the run of the bridge. Ever a geek, I was fascinated by all the controls and nautical paraphernalia. Confused by seeing two wheels, one metal and one wooden, we were told that the "old fashioned" wooden wheel was necessary due to the extreme cold the folks on the bridge would experience. I also remembered snagging some neat paper forms for "ice reports" which had descriptions and drawings of the many different forms of ice they would encounter.  That flood of memory receded as the Provincetown's whistle blasted and I got to watch as the captain smoothly moved the boat from the dock and we were underway in Boston Harbor! There is something about the way boats move that I just love.

Below decks on the Provincetown ( it was a chilly day) I interacted with people from all over Greater Boston and beyond, telling and listening to stories. One fellow was from LA where he was a water treatment specialist. He was interested in the story of Spectacle Island and had his own to tell about an LA landfill that now is a Botanical Garden.  Many families were on a boat or visiting a Boston Harbor Island for the very first time. The excitement level was high! Once at Spectacle Island we hiked a bit after sharing some stories from the summer programs.   I told stories about the islands and pirates at the Krystle M. Campbell Memorial Gazebo, a somber reminder of the tragedy of the everyday from a peaceful look out.  On the return voyage, I told more ghost stories and trivia about the islands, and the surrounding bay including: Bumpkin Island, Minot's Ledge, Deer Island Long Island, Thompson Island, Georges Island, Little Brewster Island and Nixe's Mate. Here are some of the questions I answered with stories. These are just the tip of the stories that inhabit the islands and harbor of Boston.

Q&A Trivia, Ghosts and Haunts: What Boston Harbor Island?
1.    Where is the Lady in Black said to roam?
2.    On what island is her body buried - where does the Lady in Scarlet moan?
3.    If you light a fire, during the winter,  the ghosts of hundreds of Native Americans will surround you? They died in 1676-77.
4.    On which island does a little girl call for “Shadwell!” and why?
5.    On a stormy night, you may hear the distant ringing of bell and a man’s voice cry “ Stay away!” in Portuguese? [Va embora!] (not an Island, but in the Harbor)
6.    Don’t respond to the cries of drowning boys off the shore of this island, they died 100s of years ago…
7.    He predicted the fate of what island when he met his own fate at the end of a hangman’s rope.
8.    The first hospital with ramps for the handicapped in 1902 on what island?

ICYM me all summer? I will be performing with an amazing line-up of storytellers at the Hull Life Saving Museum on October 29th 2015. Harbor Haunts is performed every other year around Halloween. Most of the stories will come from Edgar Snow's work. He recorded local legends of ghosts, pirates, storms and shipwrecks. The evening will include legends about Boston Light, A Lady in Black, The “Fantom” Fiddler and The Legend of Minot Light among others. The Lifesaving Station provides a great atmosphere for storytelling. I will tell the story of Ocean Born Mary.

On November 20th at 3:30pm I will perform a show for upper elementary ages in the Children's Room at the Winthrop Library in Winthrop MA . I appear in full costume as Mary Read telling stories about ghosts, heroes and pirates of Boston Harbor.

Thanks again to MassHumanities and all the crew at SaveTheHarbor/Save the for inviting me on what has been a voyage of discovery, in my own "backyard." What I now know about this beautiful public resource could fill a book.

Raymond T. Dooley is the guy in the middle.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Magical moments: serendipity-sfx and storytelling

Magical moments: serendipity-sfx and storytelling

By Norah Dooley

The tent outside Boston Children's Museum was shady and cool and a small breeze blew through on the 90 degree Tuesday in July. The tent is beyond the Milk Bottle and just past the entrance to the Museum.  It is a lovely spot and across Fort Point Channel one can see and easily reference the Boston Tea Party Museum ship as the kind of ship pirates sailed on. You also can see visitors learn about some per-Revolutionary rabble rousing and drop reusable boxes of "tea" over the sides, on the hour.

"The passengers saw a long boat leave the pirate ship and quickly close the distance between the ships. "
Appearing as Mary Read, an 18th century, English born, cross-dressing, woman pirate,  I was at the Children's Museum to represent Save The Harbor/ Save the Bay and tell stories about our beautiful harbor, the sea and the Golden Age of Piracy. At one point during my two hour stint, I told the story of Ocean Born Mary.  Below is an excerpt and here link to a full version of the story that is similar to the one I tell.

 Ocean-Born Mary A Classic Tale of haunted New England

    The year was 1720 and the place was Londonderry, Ireland. A small sailing vessel called “Wolf” departed from the port, bound for the New World. Here, weary passengers and immigrants would have the chance to reunite with relatives from another Londonderry, this one in New Hampshire. But fate was not kind to this travelers, for as they neared the harbor of Boston in Massachusetts Bay, on July 18th, 1720, the ship was overtaken by a band of Spanish pirates. They scrambled aboard the vessel, seized jewelry, clothing and valuables and then, at the command of their captain, a buccaneer named Don Pedro, they prepared to murder everyone on board. Just as the pirates raised cutlass and pistol, Don Pedro ordered his men to stand down.
Beyond the terrified screams of the passengers, he heard another sound... the unmistakable wail of a baby. Below decks, Elizabeth Wilson lay abed, holding a tiny baby in her arms. The child has been born the day before.  Don Pedro found her and looked down into the face of the infant and sheathed his sword. He said he would save the Wolf and all on it if they would name the child Mary after his mother. Elizabeth agreed. And Dom Pedro took a cup of water and baptized her right there. Then he strode above deck.

"Stand down and harm not a hair on any head." Dom Pedro roared at his crew. " "Stand down  Save your shot. Sheathe your swords. To the boats! " He ordered his men off the Wolf and back to their ship. They left and all on the Wolf breathed again and pulled themselves together, glad to be alive.  But all too soon there was a cry ," They are coming back! " The passengers saw a long boat leaving the pirate ship and as the oars flashed it quickly closed the distance between the ships.  Don Pedro appeared on deck again, this time with a large package that he gave to Captain Wilson, "Mary's" Father.  Unwrapped it  revealed a bolt of beautiful, sea-green, silver threaded,  brocaded silk. "For her wedding dress!" he said and turned on his heel and left...
As I came to the moment in the story where the pirates return, I pointed across Fort Point Channel and... a long boat magically appeared! You can't make this stuff up. Coming from the Boston Tea Party Ship, with oars flashing in the bright noon sunlight, I found I was pointing at and narrating the movements of an actual long boat heading straight for our side of the channel. It was an exact replica of the picture in my head. This sure made it easy to explain to my young audience what a long boat was. In my 25 years of storytelling, it was the best serendipity-sfx I have ever experienced.

Storytellers and performers! I wonder what serendipity-sfx you have experienced during live performance ? Doorbells, thunder, loud knocking or a cry in the distance? Please feel free to share some in the comments below.

Monday, July 27, 2015

10 Favorite Riddles

 Norah performs at Boston Common for  July 23,2015
(Today I will be performing as Mary Read in an extra set of performances at the Boston Children's Museum  from 11:30am - 1:30AM in a show called Pirate Storytime sponsored by ) This summer, whether performing for Storymobile or Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, I love to use riddles to get people of all ages thinking. As Mary Read,  aka, Mark Read, a retired pirate from the last days of the Golden Age of Piracy, I emphasize that common sense and quick thinking were a pirates most important "weapons"  The connection between spoken word and literacy is strengthened through storytelling and word games like riddles. ReadBoston's Storymobile is a unique project that honors the spoken to written word connection every summer with an amazing program that brings professional storytellers to nearly 80 sites all over the city of Boston. The storytellers perform and then Read Boston gives out a free book to every participant. Recently, storytellers Andrea Lovett and Nicolette Heavey have brought a similar program to Brockton, Andover and Lawrence and other cities in the Commonwealth. Read more about their endeavor here:

As for Riddles?  Here are 10+ one of my favorites. And the answers to: Pirates: True or False

1.    What is greater than God, More evil than the devil?  The poor have it, The rich don’t need it, And if you eat it, you’ll die?

2.    What must I give you so I may keep it?

3.    What do I break every time I say it?

4.    Who makes it, has no need of it. Who buys it, has no use for it.  Who uses it neither sees nor feels it.  What is it?

5.    If you have me, you want to share me. If you share me, you haven't got me. What am I?

6.    Always coming but never here?

7.    Forward I am heavy, but backward I am not. What am I?

8.    What gets wetter and wetter the more it dries?

9.    Which creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?

10.    What occurs once in every minute, twice in every moment, yet never in a thousand years?

11.    Three big men under a tiny umbrella yet no one gets wet, why?

Give up?  Not yet! Come on. Think some more. Ask a friend. Try harder! And then check your answers below.

The answers are in Spanish. Se habla espanol ? ¡Bueno !  Otherwise? You will need to find a bi-lingual friend or Google translate to decode.

1. Nada

2. Mi Promesa

3. Silencio

4. Un ataúd

5. Un secreto

6. Mañana

7. Ton (No)

8. Una toalla

9. Un humana

10. "M"

11. No está lloviendo.

Answers to the T F Pirate quiz ( see handouts at live shows) :

T √ 1.The name “Jolly Roger” may have come from jolie rouge –French for “pretty red”
T √ 2.Pirating was not for sissies.
T √ 3.Buccaneers were pirates who lived on meat from cattle and pigs in the areas of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Their name comes from the French word for outdoor roast or barbecue. Their name comes from French cooking frames used by hunters in France to smoke and preserve meat, "la boucane"
F √ 4. Pirates were more likely to smoke out foes below decks using stink pots rather than fight it out down below. If they needed to go down below they probably covered their eyes for a minute or two (if the situation permitted it) and then headed below. They would not wear eye patches. This is the same method soldiers use today (if they lack night vision equipment).
F √ 5. There are no historical cases of people being made to walk the plank. Pirates marooned,shoved overboard or hacked their enemies to death. Not very nice folk, really.
F √ 6.Pirates didn't have much gold or silver to bury and most pirates had a 1 - 3 year "career". Very few saved for a rainy day or retirement. And “booty” was often food stuff, gunpowder and other supplies. The idea of a buried treasure was made popular by "Treasure Island".
T √ 7. Ooo la la! and “Ho ho ho and a bottle of rum!” In 1655 when the British fleet captured the island of Jamaica the British Navy changed the daily ration of liquor given to seamen from French brandy to rum. The practice of watering down the rum began around 1740 a mixture which became known as grog.

F √ 8.When pirates were caught, they were brought to trial and sentenced to death by hanging and hanging was referred to as “dancing the hempen jig”
T √ 9.Bless their merry souls, pirates had such cute names for things.
T √10.Piracy is a big problem in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and particularly along the coast of Somalia. Modern day piracy accounts for $13-$16 billion dollars in losses annually.
T √ 11.Shi Xainggu (better known as Cheng I Sao) was active between 1801-1810 in the South China Sea. She commanded five to six squadrons of 800 large junks, about 1,000 smaller vessels, and between 70,000 and 80,000 men and women.
T √ 12.Clever and new agey before their time pirates may have known that the ear lobe is an acupuncture point for several eye conditions. It is quite possible that the practice of ear piercing was brought to the west from the eastern trade routes.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Norah Dooley, storyteller • Summer Schedule 2015

This summer appearing at various Boston Harbor beaches Photo: by Joe Prezioso Courtesy of Save the Harbor/Save the Bay
Summer time is usually a busy for me. Even more so this year. Not only am I transitioning out of the executive director role at  [See more here ]I am also really busy teaching [See more here] and performing for families and children. I am very grateful for the artistic challenges and the paying work. The summer started with a solstice performance for families at HubBub, an offshoot of the Boston Book Festival. It was a gorgeous day in Copley Sq. and fun to perform with Tony and Andrea.
with Tony Toledo and Andrea Lovett at HubBub on June 20th 2015
HubBub- June 20th Saturday, 12 noon in Copley Square Norah with Tony Toledo and Andrea Lovett.
Save the Harbor/ Save the Bay- I am, appearing as Mary Read, retired, cross-dressing 18th century pirate, near or, in Boston Harbor, or one of the beautiful islands. 10 -12 performances and workshops from July 2 - September 21st, 2015. Some details are:  July 25th- Hull Harbor Illumination - possible appearance
August 2nd- Boston Seafood Festival at the Fish Pier 10:30am-5:00pm August 8th- Family Fun Day at Tenean Beach in Dorchester from 9am-11am August 14th- STH Youth Beach Bash and Splash from 10am-2pm AUGUST 22 Saturday at 1pm • Princess and Pirate Parade at Winthrop Beach. Details TBA  Town Manager’s Blog or  Facebook August 29th- Dorchester Beach Festival from 12pm-8pm - my performance time TBA

READ BOSTON Storymobile: A rocking literacy program in the City of Boston. Each storyteller has 3 shows per day at various sites around the city of Boston at 10am, 11:15am and 1:15pm.  Listed below are a few readily accessed public sites and at the 11am show unless otherwise noted. See below and more info at Read Boston site.
  • Mon   July 13 - Mattapan Library, 1350 Blue Hill Ave, Mattapan
  • Tue    July 14 - Roxbury YMCA, 285 MLK Boulevard, Dorchester
  • Tue    July 21 - Tierney Learning Center, 125 Mercer Street, South Boston
  • Wed   July 22 - Kroc Center, 650 Dudley Street, Dorchester
  • Thursday July 23 10AM TADPole Playground at the Boston Common, Boston
  • Fri     July 24- 10AM Children's Quarters, 36 1st Ave,  and Charlestown Library, 179Main Street, Charlestown
  • Mon  July 27 -  Salvation Army Learning Center, Dorchester
  • Wed  July 29-  Billings Field, Centre Street and LaGrange Street, West Roxbury
  • Fri     July 31- Boston Nature Center, 500 Walk Hill Street, Mattapan
  • Mon    August 3- 10AM Copley Library, 700 Boylston Street, Boston Back Bay and 1:15pm Salvation Army 1500 Washington Street Library,  South End
  • Wed    August 5 - Grove Hall Library, 41 Geneva Avenue, Dorchester
  • Mon   August 10 - United South End Settlements, 48 Rutland Street, South End
  • Wed   August 12 - 10AM Lower Mills Library, 27 Richmond Street, Dorchester
  • Thurs August 13 - Connolly Library, 433 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain
1794 Meeting House, July 19th, Sunday at 4 pm New Salem MA -  storytelling with Norah Dooley and friends; Brendyn Schneider and Jannelle Codianni.
Phinehas Newton Library, Royalston, MA  July 20th, Monday at 10am in Royalston, MA -  stories from the flora and fauna of Royalston with Norah Dooley
All Star Show at Club Passim - July 20th The massmouth All Star Show features 5 minute long stories by winners from 6 years of story slams in Greater Boston. These All Stars are storytellers who were finalists or winners in Boston story slam finals (The Big Mouthoff) with a cameo by Norah.

Norman Rockwell Museum - August 6th, Thursday 5:30pm  Stockbridge MA  features short stories on the themes "like family" and "in a different light". Featured tellers are Ben Cunningham, Tony Toledo and Norah Dooley will also lead a short workshop and open slam, as story slams head west from  Greater Boston. 

Roast and Toast & other fun! SATURDAY AUG 8th 2015 in Beverly MA •  Write to Tony Toledo for details... Fanueil Hall - starting in June a storytelling series on Tuesdays at 10 am I am performing on July 7th, August 11th and October 27th.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The (storytelling) work I love to do...

Teaching during StoriesLive-5 at Worcester South Community High this winter.
Over the past few months I was invited to teach storytelling skills to nonprofits and communities who will use their stories to make important social change. This is exactly the kind of work I love to do and hope to do more of when I transition from an administrator of a nonprofit to a working artist, freelance facilitator and agitator/instigator. Here are few snapshots of the groups and their work.

Horace Small,
May 16th 2015 Storytelling Workshop for the Howard Rye Institute
HRI teaches young people of African descent to be community leaders, activists and organizers to advocate for themselves and their community. HRI fellows learn the importance of history and how it relates to issues communities face today; develop an understanding of how institutions work and the politics behind them; develop the political and economic thinking that goes into issues and systems impacting our community. In developing the next generation of civic and political leaders, HRI uses experts and prominent leaders from universities, unions, government, business and nonprofits as trainers, speakers and mentors.
It was a warm Saturday and Centre Street in JP was busy. When I arrived  at the church hall, Horace Small, the project director,  told me to head up stairs and he'd be right back after he ran a quick errand. I started as I often do by asking participants what they already knew about storytelling and what they wanted to learn. Next I ask participants to think of an experience they can use to turn into a story. I emphasize that it needn't be a huge event - in fact the lower the stakes, the easier to work on skills and structure.   Horace was back right on time as I said one good story calls another and I asked him to tell a story. I was remembering his telling about being a conscientious objector back in the day the last time we had done this workshop together. But Horace had a more recent tale to tell. "Oh yes, I have a story to tell!" While on his errand Horace had been drawn into a strange altercation. "I saw this white dude punch a quadriplegic right in the face. In the face! Seemed like he may have run over the guy's feet with his chair? Not sure. But this young guy clocked him, right in the face! He hit a man in a wheel chair!!  Right in front of all these people waiting to get into Centre Street Café,  you know, just past JP Licks. So I step in and intervene. I say 'Hey man, Check yourself. You can't hit someone in wheelchair.  What are you doing?' And I am still talking to the perp when up comes two of Boston's finest.  Without a single question the police come right up to me and immediately put their hands on me! And I stop them. And I start to explain. (The quadriplegic man is well known in the area as a fierce advocate for handicapped rights and is unable to speak.- Ed.) Even with all these witnesses, all these folks waiting for their brunches and all, no one says one thing in my defense." It took a while but Horace says that finally some older white woman spoke up and said, "Why are you bothering him? And she pointed to the young white guy. "He did it."  Horace had work to do so he left that sorry scene and brought back his story, fresh from the racist streets of America. Even in integrated, enlightened Jamaica Plain, when faced with a street incident, by default it always the black man who is at fault. And it takes some time for white people to step up and confront racism.  As you can imagine, some amazing stories followed.

January 2015 - June 2105 Homelessness Speakers Bureau - developing workshops to help advocates tell their stories. 
The Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance (MHSA) is a nonprofit public policy advocacy organization dedicated to ending homelessness in Massachusetts. Through strategic partnerships formed with government, private philanthropy, business leaders, homeless individuals, and service providers, MHSA works to ensure that homelessness does not become a permanent part of the social landscape. Faces of Homelessness Speakers' Bureau. The believe as we do that "Everyone has a story. Everyone deserves a place to call home. The Massachusetts Faces of Homelessness Speakers' Bureau is a group of currently and formerly homeless individuals who are passionate about sharing their personal stories of homelessness while advocating for solutions to end it. MHSA established the Speakers' Bureau in 2010, supported by the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). The presentations we give draw upon the speakers' powerful firsthand experiences with homelessness as well as MHSA's years of advocacy expertise. Our mission is to raise awareness, educate on the realities of homelessness, and inspire audiences with a call to social action." When Alex Loghran Lemothe from the MHSA called us and asked for help with teaching storytelling skills to help end homelessness, I was enthusiastic. The right to safe shelter is a human right. According to wiki" "In international human rights law the right to housing is regarded as a freestanding right. This was clarified in the 1991 General Comment no 4 on Adequate Housing by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights." Alex is working with people who work to make the right to housing a reality.
MAHT @ Harriet Tubman House
Since January we set to work making a custom curriculum for MHSA based on my StoriesLive curriculum. I went to some of his speaker's events and on his end, in addition to observing our work in high schools, Alex volunteered as a judge the BigMouth Off and our Regional high School slam in May. We met several times throughout the winter and spring to review his modifications and additions. I hope to have an update to share, soon.
Over the past four years have been honored to be even a small part of the work of these two (MAHT and UMN) nonprofits below who are on the front lines of the fight for social justice. We share space with them at the Haymarket People's Fund building and this has been just one of many benefits of our association with Haymarket's mission and community. June 6th 2015 Telling Your Stories, Saving Your Homes The Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants (MAHT and also the national group, NAHT are our neighbors) At their Annual Meeting they asked for a Custom Workshop for the only resident-run, membership coalition providing organizing and technical assistance to HUD tenants in Eastern and Central Massachusetts. Their mission is to preserve and improve at-risk HUD buildings as permanently affordable housing with a maximum of resident participation, ownership, and control. After a successful event at their national meeting 2 years ago, I was invited to run a workshop at their annual meeting this spring  The participants totally "got" storytelling, sharpened their skills and were so enthused about story they stayed for extra story sharing after the workshop had ended. To get the flavor of some of the stories, below is a short video from the National conference,  that has a powerful 1 minute story about an "Aha" moment of empowerment from housing activist, Charlotte Delgado - (story starts at 00:27).

The principles of effective storytelling...
UMN Public Speaking Workshop - telling your stories so people cannot forget them.  June 17 and June 23rd 2015  The voices of poor people of color are muted in civic life. Without knowledge of the systems at play, communities of color are unprepared to confront policies that adversely affect their communities. The Union of Minority Neighborhoods has several leadership training programs to develop skilled organizers, advocates and new leaders and to increase the engagement of Black and Brown community in the political system. We are creating a training-to-organizing pipeline by incorporating participants from our Institutes into our Institute for Neighborhood Leadership works to increase the knowledge and skills of grassroots activists and organizations of color through a series of trainings held in Boston. Designed for people of color, the Institute for Neighborhood Leadership holds workshops that provide a safe space for community members to speak freely about their issues, concerns, and experiences, as well as training in the skills of organizing and citizen empowerment.campaigns. The Institute for Neighborhood Leadership works to increase the knowledge and skills of grassroots activists and organizations of color through a series of trainings held in Boston. Designed for people of color, the Institute for Neighborhood Leadership holds workshops that provide a safe space for community members to speak freely about their issues, concerns, and experiences, as well as training in the skills of organizing and citizen empowerment. The UMN workshops were really focused on "public speaking " skills.  In this workshop we also grappled with the effects of racism on a speaker of color's authentic voice as well as more general skills. In both of these workshops many of the participants were seasoned speakers who had powerful voices and amazing presentation abilities which they shared with those who were less sure or who were less aware of their skills. Their stories of injustice and courage were inspiring.
...are the same, everywhere.  Storytelling is for humans.
Story Telling Workshop at Sunday Members’ Meeting June 28th 2015 EPOCA:Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement - Working together to create resources and opportunities for those who have paid their debt to society EPOCA Membership Meeting Sunday, June 28th 4:30- 6:30 p.m. Guest Speaker: Norah Dooley, Storyteller & Author Norah will lead a Storytelling Training to enhance our one-to-one intentional conversations. 4 King Street, Worcester MA 01610. 508-287-8430 Cassandra Bensahih was a participant in the MAHT workshop and she invited me to teach a workshop for her group. Ever since a young friend of mine was involved in the aptly named "criminal" justice [sic] system 19 years ago I have been painfully aware of the true nature of the prison-industrial-complex. From the view of a young man imprisoned under a mandatory 10 year sentence to a maximum security prison in MA I saw through his experiences the "criminal" justice system and its predatory nature. I learned how the prison system attacks people of color and the poor. I saw, up close and personal, how all this has a disastrous effect on our civil society. Again I was honored to be a part of this important social justice work at EPOCA.

It is a great joy to be able to use storytelling to help good people, help themselves. I look forward to doing more. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Don't Cry For Me...

Don't Cry For Me

Storytellers... the truth is, I'll never leave you.

Madonna as Evita Peron.
Don't cry for me Argentina ( storytelling), The truth is I never left you
All through my wild days, My mad existence
I kept my promise, Don't keep your distance...
I had to let it happen, I had to change, Couldn't stay all my life down at heel, Looking out of the window, Staying out of the sun...
- Evita  Andrew Lloyd Webber,  lyrics by Tim Rice

Not to get too dramatical but, hey... if I don't self-dramatize, who will? It is kinda a like brushing your teeth, right? It is hard for someone else to do it for you. 

Anywho, this July,  I will be resigning as ED of massmouth,inc.  My "new" job is really my old job as a professional freelance storyteller and educator. Plus office work in my husband's company. After we do some necessary fundraising and settle the nonprofit books and reports to finish out another season/ fiscal year I will  pass along the massmouth baton/brand to a small cadre of storytellers. They are H.R. Britton, Dan Dahari, Cheryl Hamilton, and Theresa Okokon. Come to the All Star Show at Club Passim where we will announce details. If you cannot make the show the news will be posted in a newsletter, twitter, FB and  

As we work on the transition, the world still turns, irregardless, as we liked to say in NY.  And I still need to work. By mid-August, I hope to be more free to be the active freelance artist, performer and educator I was before massmouth,inc. 

To be clear, I am not retiring and will continue to direct the StoriesLive® program and create events, programs and projects that promote the art of storytelling. Basically I will continue to do the work I love, the work I am good at and work people are happy to pay me for.  

So many people were so kind for years and I thank them all for their support and generous donations of time and money to the massmouth project. Thanks to all of you, we have raised up storytelling in Greater Boston and throughout the Commonwealth - which was our mission. We truly shared our common wealth of story and we did "... promote the timeless art of storytelling in the 21st century." 

Drama is fine but gratitude is truly called for. I have been privileged to be able to do this work because of the contributions and sacrifices of others.  Here is what I posted in my "official" letter to the massmouth,inc. lists this past week:

Thank you! It has been a pleasure and honor to play an integral role in the revitalization of storytelling in Greater Boston through my position as co-founder and executive director of massmouth,inc.

After so many story slams, events, and workshops, my head and heart are full of stories and it has been a source of deep joy and inspiration. Yet, after six years of full time commitment, I am stepping down from my position as unpaid executive director.

Fortunately, I am able to leave the day-to-day running of this organization in the hands of a small cadre of dedicated storytellers, including H.R. Britton, Dan Dahari, Cheryl Hamilton, and Theresa Okokon. The team is eager to see massmouth continue and we are currently working together to redistribute the behind-the-scenes operations of the organization. Knowing these individuals well and their deep commitment to advancing the art of storytelling, I believe massmouth is poised for future success. 

The new officers ask for your patience during this transition. They look forward to sharing next steps in the near future. At this date we can confirm that there will be a Season VII Slam series beginning as always in Sept/Oct, 2015 at Club Passim in Cambridge and Trident Book Store in Boston. Additional venues are also being considered. To extend your support or ask questions, email

Meanwhile, I am excited to refocus my time and energy on remunerative freelance storytelling, teaching, recording and writing. [See more here]. I intend to redouble my efforts on StoriesLive, the school based youth education program I designed. My dream is to see the StoriesLive curriculum implemented throughout the country. The change in my relationship to massmouth should give me more time to work towards that goal and a related dream;  seeing storytelling and oral language incorporated as a standard part classroom curriculum from K-8. 

The successes and achievements of massmouth,inc. have been possible through the support of so many people. We honor and celebrate the co-founders, volunteers, and benefactors, the audience members and, most importantly, all who shared their stories. I will be ever grateful and always remember fondly the whole crazy village that was required to "raise" this organization and the art of storytelling in Greater Boston and our Commonwealth. Please join me in acknowledging the generosity of all our host venues, who made space for our events and helped us build a place for storytelling.

Cannot say it enough...Thank you! 
Photos from massmouth 2009 - 2010 - the first season of story slams

And in the moving on department?  Below is what I know about my schedule for the summer of 2015. Here are some dates, a few details and some links: HubBub- June 20th Saturday, 12 noon in Copley Square Norah with Tony Toledo and Andrea Lovett. Save the Harbor/ Save the Bay- Norah, appearing as Mary Read, retired, cross-dressing 18th century pirate, near or, in Boston Harbor, on one of the beautiful islands. 10 -12 performances and workshops from July 2 - September 21st, 2015. READ BOSTON Storymobile: 3 shows per day at various sites around the city of Boston at 10am, 11:15am and 1:15 pm Venues TBA From Tue    July 13 to Thursday August 14th.  1794 Meeting House, July 19th, Sunday at 4 pm New Salem MA -  storytelling with Norah Dooley and friends; Brendyn Schneider and Jannelle Codianni. Phinehas Newton Library, Royalston, MA  July 20th, Monday at 10am in Royalston, MA -  stories from the flora and fauna of Royalston with Norah Dooley  All Star Show at Club Passim - July 20th The massmouth All Star Show features 5 minute long stories by winners from 6 years of story slams in Greater Boston. These All Stars are storytellers who were finalists or winners in Boston story slam finals (The Big Mouthoff) with a cameo by Norah. Norman Rockwell Museum - August 6th, Thursday 5:30pm  Stockbridge MA  features short stories on the themes "like family" and "in a different light". Featured tellers are Ben Cunningham, Tony Toledo and Norah Dooley will also lead a short workshop and open slam, as story slams head west from  Greater Boston. Roast and Toast & other fun! SATURDAY AUG 8th 2015 in Beverly MA •  Write to Tony Toledo for details... Fanueil Hall - starting in June a storytelling series on Tuesdays at 10 am Norah Performs on July 7th, August 11th and October 27th

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"We believe in the power of storytelling." - LeVar Burton

LeVar Burton at USC
Back in the day, when we had three children ages 5 and under,  Reading Rainbow was our favorite TV show. It was also one of our only TV shows as I had my husband break the set someone gave us so it would only get Channel 2. I was so against TV in my home that it was a major compromise on my part to have that much television.  Our daughter's godmother gave us her old TV so we could watch videos on the VCR someone else gave us. Yes, we were poor back then AND I was even more of a butt pain than I am now. Hard to imagine, I know. 

Turns out that LeVar is signing my song about storytelling. This is great news. He is not a butt pain and I have always been a huge fan of his and the books that he chose for Reading Rainbow are still classics. Burton's ideas are sound and they are a welcome antidote to the wrong-headed thinking of David Coleman, architect of the Common Core, who disdains literature and wants students to read "information based texts". 

 "An oft-repeated assertion of self-proclaimed Common Core architect David Coleman is that non-fiction is where students get information about the world and that's why schools must stop teaching so much fiction. In this assertion, Coleman is echoing the corporate world which he is hired to serve." 

Coleman's attitudes mirror Bill Gates' who also has little use for literature in education.  We need a heavy hitter like LeVar Burton to even up the score.David Coleman said that he believes in emphasizing so-called “informational texts” over literature and have the "the core standards for the first time demand that 50% of the text students encounter in kindergarten through 5th grade is informational text…" But Mr. Coleman was not quite done. He rocked on as he spoke at a New York State  Teacher's convention and added this beauty of a statement:

“[A]s you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a s%$* about what you feel or what you think.” - David Coleman

Right on, LeVar Burton ! You will have an uphill battle and are fighting some very well resourced adversaries.  The Ed Reform movement has no place for education or any reforms that empower and enliven students unless they can make a buck off it. But you, LeVar, you will have all of human history, biology, neurology, pedagogy and child development on your side. Oh yeah, and most teachers and all of us storytellers too.

Reposted  from University of Southern California's News

LeVar Burton seeks to couple storytelling with education

Former Reading Rainbow host tells USC audience that storytelling is an ‘essential element of the human experience’

by Matthew Kredell
February 11, 2015

LeVar Burton discusses the importance of storytelling for youngsters. (Photo/Tom Queally)
When the iconic PBS program Reading Rainbow started in 1983, America’s children were hanging out in front of the television.
“We wanted them to read more, so we went on TV and steered them back in the direction of the written word,” said LeVar Burton, host and executive producer of the acclaimed program that ran for 23 seasons. “That was revolutionary. The conversation at that time was television was rotting the brains of our children and will be the death knell of education in America, and we were able to prove that wasn’t the case.” Burton explained how he’d like to see storytelling better integrated into education during a recent Holt Distinguished Lecture Series event presented by the USC Price School of Public Policy’s Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise.

Building the brand

After the Peabody and Emmy Award-winning series went off the air, Burton and his business partner acquired the rights to the brand and turned it into the No. 1 educational application.
In 2014, he went to Kickstarter to help revive Reading Rainbow as a Web series, and it became the most popular Kickstarter campaign ever with more than 105,000 backers and a final tally of $6.4 million, well over its $1 million goal.
Children are now reading 200,000 books a week through the RRKidz app. The conclusion he’s drawn from the success of Reading Rainbow, both on television and as an app, revolves around the importance of storytelling to capture a child’s attention.
"We believe in the power of storytelling." - LeVar Burton

“Storytelling, being such an essential element of the human experience, is an invaluable tool in the service of educating our children,” Burton said. “That’s our secret sauce. We believe in the power of storytelling.”
“Having Burton as our Holt speaker was truly an honor,” said USC Bedrosian Director Raphael Bostic, who led the conversation. “His cultivation and development of the Reading Rainbow franchise is both interesting and innovative. His vision, passion and warmth were on full display, providing inspiration for me and our audience.”

From Roots to Rainbow

Burton made his acting debut as Kunta Kinte in the trend-setting 1977 miniseries Roots, while he was a student at the USC School of Dramatic Arts. He also played the role of Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation. 

In addition, Burton won 12 Emmys in his roles on Reading Rainbow.
Where Burton hopes to have an impact on public policy is bringing storytelling into the classroom. He said the Reading Rainbow classroom edition will go through testing over the next couple months with the goal of being ready for the next school year in September. Burton hopes to see new education policy that would require literature and reading become more of an integrated part of all aspects of curriculum.

“Storytelling is a shorthand language that all human beings have in common,” he said. “My belief is that if we are successful in bringing more storytelling into the educational process, we will be more successful at educating our children.”