Tuesday, July 1, 2014
I think I am like a lot of people, in that I feel like now - as opposed to December 31st is the end of the year. For people who deal with the school calendar, June is the time for summing up, reflecting, and looking both back at what was, and ahead to what may be - to wince a little at plans that went awry, and marvel at the grace of having things actually turn as you had envisioned - and sometimes even better! For me, this school year, was one where, though in theory, I was the visiting artist, was all about what I was taught, more than what I shared with the students. While I ALWAYS learn whenever, and wherever I tell stories, this school year was particularly ripe with lessons. And, I would like to thank the teachers, students, schools, and organizations that gave me such a capital education, and reinforced my love of the art of storytelling, and the fascinating world of folktales. My school year started off with my AMAZING trip to Thailand. Having the opportunity to, in one trip, visit classrooms of children who are fluent in SEVERAL languages, in schools that were akin to college campuses, and had theaters to rival those on Off Broadway, AND, go into the classrooms of preschoolers, that an inspiring organization called the Mercy Center runs for children from the slums - blew my mind. In both cases the teachers were completely invested in trying to enhance the education of their students. For one group, my mission was to help unlock the creativity that is in us all - I believe, especially kids, and help them learn to express themselves, and for the other, it was to bring a little joy and laughter - something that could be done without any language at all. That trip taught me, all over again, the power, and importance of imagination, playfulness, creativity, and compassion -all things that are good to be armed with, no matter what classroom you are walking into. Back here at home, I had the opportunity to have an ongoing relationship with three classrooms - one an English class for 8th graders, who, while not "special ed", were kids who were, as I thought of them "tender". Circumstances in their young lives making the road to adulthood a bit harsh. It was in this classroom that I met, what I can only describe as a wunder teacher - Brittany Spatz - a woman that, in our meeting told me, "I think it's more important that I help these kids feel good about themselves, and learn kindness - after that, I can use anything to teach them English" And, she did! Since Brittany is a lover of yoga, I got to combine two of my loves as I used tales of yoga poses, India, and yogic philosophy to introduce the kids to the physical practice of yoga asana, which we did in each and every session. Another group of students I saw regularly were doing something I find incredibly daunting -learning to speak this crazy language we call English, as a second language!! The teacher here, Virginia Rodriguez was nothing but heroic in her work in trying not only to teach the children English (which really, REALLY makes no sense!) she also had to try and bring them up to their grade level even in Spanish. Because of immigration and family obligations, some of these children had missed years of schooling. But like so many of the educators I am honored to work with, she - in her first year in this school, and her own child at home, gave more those kids a stable place for them to learn. Because of the level of English, I called upon my background in theatre and clown, and found ways of using language and narrative that were fun, and the stepping stones to storytelling. It was such a GREAT opportunity for me to, every visit, not think about what I wanted to do, but what they needed, and how I could possibly provide that. I often think that sometimes, with all my interests, I am too diversified - thinking, if I just stuck to one thing, I'd be better at it. But, this experience ESPECIALLY taught me that sometimes it's good idea to have many tricks in one's pocket!! And, the third was the classroom in a Youth Detention Center, where, almost unbelievably really, the administration has sought to fund, and keep storytellers coming as part of the in house schooling incarcerated young people. I have written about my experiences here, and I have learned lessons about judgement, tolerance, respect, and compassion, and even on days when things are "picture perfect" - and the storytelling isn't like out of those movies, where the "good doer" reaches the "hard on the outside, but ultimately soft and gooey on the inside" kid, I am more than glad I was there, if for no other reason than to be a witness to whatever they wish to share with me - their thoughts, ideas, even there boredom - part of storytelling is listening, and by that I mean the storyteller listening to the audience, and on some days they have taught me that's it is THE MOST important part. But, even more than the students this year, I learned from the trio of other storytellers who I, thankfully, get to partner with in this work. Paula Davidoff, Julie Della Torre, and Jack McKeon. All three FINE, FINE tellers AND teachers, who understand the importance of folktales and storytellers, and who's analysis of deep stories reaches those kids in ways that are surprising and wonderful. Most days I don't feel worthy to be part of this little band, but - selfishly, I might add, I try to "ride their wake", and having to stand besides them has made me go deeper into my own work. Sometimes, I just have to marvel at how lucky I am that I found storytelling, and that I have the opportunities to watch such skilled people work, read and hear deep tales of our ancestors, and watch the effect of the magic of stories on children of many different ages. Who needs the lottery when you get to do what I do for a living???
Thursday, February 13, 2014
I have to admit that even as a tween and teenager, I never got the allure of the type of boy I'll call "the pretty boy". You know the type - they are usually slight of build, but big of hair. Think Justin Beiber, before his spiral of lawlessness, or those guys from "One Direction" (although, if you put on their song "That's What Makes You Beautiful" I will dance EVERY TIME!) Even then I liked a guy who looked like a MAN as opposed to a BOY - not that any male at all was looking at me in those years!!! But, OMG - do the girls love them!!! In an English as a Second Language class I am telling stories in all this year, there is a classic "pretty boy" (from now on our refer to him as PT) - eyelashes that all the girls both want, and like to gaze at, a thick head of well cut hair, and a self confidence that makes the crowded halls of a middle school part like the Red Sea. And, of course there are the girls - lots of them - all wanting to sit by him, run their fingers through his hair, get him to brush their shoulder with his hand. In this particular class our PT had two girls vying for his affections - one a cheerleader - her long, long hair adorned with sparkly clips and bows. The other a scholar - in a class of students with limited English, it is she who knows enough English to help others, and tries hard to read a new language that mostly does not make any sense! For weeks I watched as our PT sat between both of the young ladies, gazing at the cheerleader, before asking the scholar for help with his school work. The girls seemed to hold each other no malice, and they laughed with each other at the adorable little things he did and said, but one day when I entered the classroom, I noticed something was VERY much different. It was almost like a boxing ring - in one corner it was the PT and the cheerleader, and, as far away as she could possibly get while staying int the classroom was the scholar - her arms crossed, eyes down, scowl on her normally sweet face. I would have had to be in a coma not to realize what has taken place since my last visit - the cheerleader had won. But what the cheerleader had taken in this little contest was not just the PT, it was the scholars self confidence as well. Where normally her hand would raise and wave to tell me she understood the story, or knew the answer, or would translate another students Spanish, so I could understand it, today she just almost laid there, present in body, but definitely not in spirit. My heart broke for her, and I wanted to yell,"Don't let this define you!! Do you know how many guys like that will come and go in your life?? Do you realize how amazing you are - having come to a new country, and having to learn a language from scratch??" But I couldn't, I could only hope that one day, she would see herself as I and her teacher saw her, and realize that the PT wasn't even worth her time. But then, a wonderful thing happen. My plan that day was to tell a "silent story", where I would mime a short story, and then have them tell me, in English if they could, what they thought the story was. The students did really well, clearly they were all able to visualize the tale, and most were able to , with help, tell me what is they imagined. The scholars take on the story was both imaginative and sweet - she not only captured the facts of the story, but the spirit and meaning behind it as well. I told them that I was going to take one of their versions of the silent story and enhance it a bit, and tell it to them the next time I came, AND I wanted them to vote who's story they liked the best. They wrote their choice on little pieces of paper, which I placed in a hat, and as I pulled scrap after scrap their was one name that showed up on all but two papers - the scholars!!! She smiled for the first time that day, as I announced her name, and I made her take a bow, as all the class - PT, and the cheerleader included chanted her name. Because of the snow, I have not been back yet, to enact the scholars story, but I look forward to it, and hope to give one of the best tellings of my life. Having me tell her story may not soothe the ache she feels when she looks across the classroom, and sees the PT and the cheerleader together, but maybe, just maybe, as she hears me speak her words, she'll be reminded of how much she has to offer, and what she is daily accomplishing in her new life, and that life is A LOT more than pretty boys!!!