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???

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