Saturday, May 26, 2012

NOTES FROM THE FIELD:From Pre-Schoolers to Prisoners

(KEEP SCROLLING DOWN FOR MY UPCOMING PERFORMANCES - SPOILER ALERT - I'M HEADED TO SOUTH AMERICA!!) Thanks to two AMAZING projects, I have had the opportunity, several times this spring, to tell stories to pre-schoolers and to incarcerated teen age boys on the same day! The lessons that both groups have taught me are as varied as one would imagine, but more than anything, these experiences have shown me, for the millioneth time, the power of folktales, the commonality of people, and that kids are kids are kids – no matter whatever age. For both of these, as a teller, I must be engaged, and ready for anything. Both of these populations can spot a phoney a mile away. And while the teenager who is doing “time” may cut his eyes at you, and the pre-schooler may begin to run around the room, or actually get up in front of you, as if to say,”I can do this better than you!” - both of these reactions signal the same thing – they see that I am being tentative, they see they I may fear them, they see that not every part of me is prepared to give my all to them in that very instant. And, that’s the beauty of storytelling – the teller – no matter who the audience is, should ALWAYS be that engaged, ALWAYS be that present. The part of me who is a yoga instructor, sometimes thinks I do my best teaching of yoga when I am telling stories, because I am all in, every bit of me is united, every bit of me is present. It has been a gift for me to do this work, because yes, there have been days for both groups, where, frankly, I walked into a charged situation – tension in the air, “acting out” apparent, the harsh reality that I was interrupting something else that the audience was way more into than the prospect of hearing folktales come out of my mouth. But, as Parker Palmer says in his luminous book “The Courage To Teach”, one can feel their fear, but not tell/teach/act from it. It’s in that moment, when the kid who looks like he’d rather be ANYWHERE in the world – even in his cell – than be sitting there with you, or the tiny soul, who looks a nanosecond from having a full blown “I WANT MY MOMMIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” tantrum - it’s then that I found, if I stayed the course, committed to the tale I had prepared, and did my best to respectfully communicate it with my audience – pre-schooler or prisoner, that is where storytelling “magic” occurred. That’s when the young man who’s head had been down on the table, voices his observations on a story – drawing a parallel between the tale and something he has heard or experienced. Or when the kid who’s been whirling around the room like a tornado, calms, sits, and listens with their full attention. Sometimes when I tell people about what I do, especially things like telling stories in prisons, their voices grow full of wonder, and they look at me like I was a taller Mother Theresa , and say, “That’s just WONDERFUL, what you do for those kids!!” But, I’m not foolish enough to believe for even a second that I’m the reason those kids become engaged – I may be the vessel, but what got those kids were the folktales that I am blessed and privileged enough to use as the material. Time and time again, I am amazed at the depth in even the simplest of tales, the way they speak to everyone; the lessons, and mysteries that they contain. That’s what draws in those pre-schoolers and prisoners alike. My job, then, is like that of a postal worker – to deliver these treasures in one piece - when they are most needed and wanted. Just as a mail carrier can’t keep a package they are set to deliver for their own, the tale isn’t “mine”, I’m only bringing it my audiences. Looking at storytelling this way, and serving these two diverse populations, fills me with something that I could use a whole lot more of – humility. It puts me much more in the mood of service; it allows me to see that whatever gifts I may have for this storytelling stuff , or anything else for that matter, are only truly fulfilled when I use them as Ghandi advised when he said, “The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.” UPCOMING PERFORMANCES Here’s the BIG news: 6/11-6/29: STORYTELLING TOUR IN ARGENTINA WITH DREAM ON PRODUCTIONS!!!!!!!! I’ll be touring schools telling stories in English for students there – as well as tangoing and going to anything Evita related!! So,,, where is Julie when she’s not storytelling? She might be….Performing as Dr. Ima Confused, her character for the Big Apple Circus Clown Care hospital program at Harlem Hospital for the pediatric patients and their families.(More info on the circus below) Or, you could catch her stilt walking at any number of special events. And, of course, you might find her…teaching yoga at Devotion Yoga Studio in Hoboken, NJ - mostly Monday, Tuesday, and Friday nights, but some other times as well (more info on Devotion Yoga below)And, never forget that sometimes she’s cleaning chimneys – okay, not for real – but I just looking for an ending!!! Big Apple Circus Clown Care hospital program: is a community outreach program of the Big Apple Circus, an award winning presenter of live family entertainment and a leading not-for-profit performing arts institution. Using juggling, mime, magic, music, puppetry, storytelling and lots of improvisation, we are specially trained “doctors of delight” who bring the joy and excitement of the one ring circus to the bedsides of hospitalized children one to five days each week, year round, nationwide. As Meredith Vieira, our national spokesperson and honorary clown doctor, phrased it: From ringside to bedside! Clown Care makes “clown rounds,” a parody of medical rounds where humor is the prescribed treatment. As “clown doctors”, we are professional performers who work one-on-one with the children, their parents, and hospital staff to ease the stress of serious illness by reintroducing laughter and fun as natural parts of life. A national network of host hospitals, generous contributions and grants from individuals, foundations and corporations support Clown Care. Storytelling Arts: Here’s the organization I do a lot of storytelling residencies in schools with: They are dedicated to bringing the art of storytelling to underserved populations. Storytelling Arts works with schools and community organizations to bring the benefits of storytelling to a varied audience. Storytelling Arts programs serve to boost literacy and build community through: • Classroom residencies in schools • Professional development opportunities for teachers • Programs in community organizations • Educational services in juvenile detention centers Website: Devotion Yoga: Devotion Yoga is a community dedicated to creating a safe, peaceful, and non-competitive environment which offers individuals the opportunity to learn the practice of yoga through classes, workshops and related events. We are committed to providing high quality, inspiring, unique, and balanced programming that support our members in living a healthy and fulfilling life. Website: