Thursday, November 29, 2007

Notes from the Field (V)

The Storytelling Rule I’m Glad I Broke

Generally speaking, I am what’s known as a “good girl”. You know my type – on time, works hard, takes multi-vitamins and flosses. But I have to admit, that I, a sometimes nauseating “goodie two shoes”, has done a bad thing. I have run with the proverbial scissors. I, a professional storyteller, have changed the ending of a folktale from a sarcastic joke to – GASP – a happy ending. With a morale, in fact. OH MY GOD!!

Now, for some of you this may sound unremarkable, harmless, trivial even. Let me explain. Very early on in my storytelling life, before I knew a chain tale from a porquoi story, I attended a story swap. Swaps are sort of like laboratories where storytellers can try out new material in front of fellow story lovers. This particular evening of tale telling began with a woman standing up and announcing, “I’ve been working on a REAL Cinderella piece.” The others in the group smiled and clapped. “No Disney versions for me!”

As the crowd roared it’s approval, I sank in my seat. What the heck were they talking about? “Real Cinderella”? “No Disney’? What could anyone have against a little bippity-boppity-boo! My shock only continued to grow as the woman began to speak. The story that she called Cinderella was nothing like the tale I knew. There was no mention of talking mice, no little songs, and to my absolute amazement and horror, the birds in this tale weren’t happy avians who perched on Cinderella’s shoulders – they were attack animals!!

The discussion that followed kept my mouth clamped shut, and my butt glued to the chair. Person after person talked with scorn about the folktales that had been “altered”, “sanitized”, and, in one person’s words “mutilated”. The more heated the conversation grew, the more confused I became. My then limited knowledge of stories, told me that folktales were ancient – from a time before books, when everything was passed along orally. And as these tales were shared by one person and then another, they changed, mutated – adding or subtracting details along the way. Sort of like that old game “telephone”, where the first person whispers in someone’s ear, “My sweater is blue.” and what the last person hears is “Your grandmother’s a kazoo.” If that was the case, why was everyone so upset about the fate of Cinderella’s sisters being softened, or not revealing that Hans Christian Anderson, the author of “The Little Mermaid” and other tales, had a REALLY BIG dark side?

I didn’t dare ask these questions at that meeting, so a few weeks later, sure I wouldn’t suffer some sort of folktale retribution, I spoke with a long time professional storyteller about what I had seen and heard. “Glad you asked”, she said, chuckling as she pictured my fear of questioning the tellers that evening. And with her, over a cup of tea (I know – very storytellerly!), I learned the following: yes, stories do and SHOULD change and grow with each telling and with each teller. That is why there are so many variations of even the least known folktales. Part of the beauty of storytelling is that a room full of people could all tell the same tale, and it would be different each and every time. But, she also explained, the basic plots of these stories all had meanings and significance. Long ago, before Dr. Phil, the experts on Oprah, or any of the ten thousand books on raising children and personal ethics, folktales taught lessons. The hero of a story was an orphan to signify he was at the cusp on manhood. The wicked Queen was killed to show that evil could be overcome. People were penniless, got lost in the woods, and threatened by things that went bump in the night. In other words, real, honest to God life happened. These stories were used to prepare the young, and not so young for the realities of the world.

As I learned all this, I began to understand why those storytellers were so fired up. Taking out all the “big time grown up stuff” as my friend B.B. calls life’s challenges, was akin to some store bought cakes. Really pretty to look at, but completely tasteless.

On the other hand, I could see why people would want to tinker with some aspects of a folktale. I know I just wouldn’t feel comfortable telling a group of seven year olds that Cinderella’s stepsisters got blinded by a flock of winged critters that must have escaped from Hitchcock’s “The Birds”.

So what’s a responsible storyteller to do? I suppose it’s one of those personal decisions that “only you can make”. I chose a middle (and I hoped not cowardly) path. I would simply not tell stories that had those things I felt uncomfortable giving voice to. Sure, I’d adapt aspects of the tale, and tell it in my own style and words; but I would always keep “the guts” of the story true to their original intent. That way, both I, and the tale, would keep our integrity. Problem solved. Case closed. Until I met the Knee High Man.

The story of the Knee High Man originally attracted me for a completely superficial reason – it was about someone shorter than I am! (Being called shortie all your life leaves an impression, I guess) The details of the tale basically go like this: tired of being only knee high, our hero tries to make himself more “sizeable”. He asks several large animals how they became so big, but nothing works. In fact, each new plan causes him to have a headache, which in turn makes him even smaller, until he is only about an inch tall. Finally, he asks the Owl, who mockingly tells him,”The only thing that needs to be bigger about you is your brain!”

Always being one for getting a laugh, I played up the Owl’s words – and the tale worked just as it was. Audiences enjoyed the Knee High Man’s journey, and they chuckled at the punch line. What more could I want?

But one day, as I watched a group of especially adorable faces staring up at me – I saw something besides delight at the end of the little guy’s journey. I realized the audience was rooting for him, they wanted him to succeed. And as I searched my storytelling soul, I did, too.

OH, OH!!

“What now, Einstein?” I recall asking myself. “You said you wouldn’t alter the arc of a tale, but now you REALLY, REALLY want to!” Darn me!!!!!!

I tried to keep telling “The Knee High Man” the original way, but more and more it felt wrong. Then I banished it from my repertoire, but I missed the little fella. I began to search for similar stories with endings I liked better, but to no avail. And then – I did it. I crossed the line.

I was in a classroom of fourth graders with learning disabilities, and zero self esteem. I had already told one or maybe two stories, and all was going well, but I was struck with the feeling that I wanted to do more. I wanted to leave those kids with something. And all of a sudden I knew what that something was. I launched into “The Knee High Man”, keeping true to the story all the way until the end. There, I broke the rule. I changed the story. Instead of making a joke, the Owl asked, “Why do you NEED to be more sizeable?” And as the Knee High Man thought about this question, he realized he didn’t need to be any different – he liked himself the way he was.

Every time the Knee High Man said, “I like myself the way I am”, he grew. When he was back to being knee high, he went home, and never tried to be taller, or more sizeable ever again.

I’d like to say I felt guilty about committing a storytelling no-no. But I didn’t. Especially not after going around that classroom, and hearing those kids say what they liked about themselves, and each other. Maybe, I thought, that’s what the Owl meant – maybe he was saying, “Dummy, realize what you have. Be happy with who you are.” Or maybe not. Either way, I found MY ending to this tale – and it has stayed that way ever since.

To this day “The Knee High Man” is the only story I’ve ever altered in that way. I still believe in abiding by the original plot of a story. And there are many tales I will never tell because they aren’t “me”, just as they are. But every time I see my audience chanting along with the Knee High Man, “I like myself the way I am.” I can’t feel anything but joyous. Happy that for a little while, at least, some people realize how wonderful they really are.

Upcoming Performances

January 2008

1/8: Parkchester Branch, New York Public Library (NYPL) 4PM

1/25: Huguenot Branch, NYPL 4PM

1/26: Soundview Branch, NYPL 2PM

1/30: South Beach Branch, NYPL 4PM

February 2008

2/2: Jackson Library, NJ 2PM

2/9: Toms River Library, 2PM

2/12: George Bruce Branch, New York Public Library (NYPL) 4PM

2/13: Columbus Branch, NYPL 4PM

2/22: Van Ness Branch, NYPL 3:30PM

2/23: Donnell Branch, NYPL 3:30PM

2/27: Grand Concourse Branch, NYPL 4PM

March 2008

3/11: Eastchester Branch, New York Public Library (NYPL) 4PM

3/12: Melrose Branch, NYPL 4PM

3/19: Stapleton Branch, NYPL 4PM

3/25: Kingsbridge Branch, NYPL 4PM

April 2008

4/13: The Morristown and Morris Township Library 2PM

4/15: Ocean Township Library 4:30PM

4/16: Eatontown Library 4PM

4/22: New Utrecht Branch, Brooklyn Library 2PM

Monday, November 5, 2007

Notes from the Field (IV)

“Storytelling Pants”

About the 4th or 5th time I perform before the same group of children - be it during a multiple visit residency, or because I’m fortunate enough that the school has had me back year after year – the same question arises. I’m not talking about the usual queries: “How old are you?” “Are you married?” “How do you talk so fast?”

No, this question makes me laugh, because it shows that, A) these kids have been watching me INTENTLY. B) They’ve been soaking in the most minute details of the performance. And C) They probably watch makeover shows like my guilty pleasure, “What Not To Wear” on TLC. Because no matter what age, economic, or racial group these children belong to, at some point they ALWAYS ask, “Julie, why do you always wear black pants?”

I giggle at this because they are ABSOLUTELY correct. I do wear exactly the same type of pants every time I perform. Newport News boot cut leggings. I order them two at a time, and when they wear out, they are relegated to work out and yoga wear for a few years, and then finally to the trash. Like the coat in the folktale “Just Enough to Make a Story”, I utilize these pants until they are “all worn out”!

It took me a while to find my storytelling “costume”. I tried skirts and dressed, but because I am known to roll on the ground at a moments notice, that didn’t pan out well. God knows, I love my jeans, but since I routinely lift my lift to my ear while telling how hard Anansi the Spider pulled on a rope in a folktale, the possibility of splitting inseams seemed to outweigh denim’s usual “all-purposeness”. And while I know many of my fellow African-American storytellers feel strongly about wearing kente cloth and Afro-centric clothing for their work, these garments didn’t mesh well with my “dancerly” tellings.

So, early on in my storytelling career, I looked in my closest and moaned,”I have nothing to wear!!” What would give me unrestricted movement, like the leotards and tights I wore in ballet class, yet be presentable enough for me to saunter into PS 548? What would not require tailoring, dry cleaning, or even folding? What could go with button down shirts or loose fitting tops? Boots for street wear, and dance sneakers for performance?

Newport News boot cut leggings. In black – the universal slimmer and neutral color. Very often – ON SALE!

As I’ve mentioned, the “storytelling pants” that have started to loose their color and elasticity get bumped down the clothing food chain to become sweat wear. Now, I am not one of those people who believe that one must look good while exercising. Catching me on the way to the gym is not a pretty sight. Any article of clothing that allows me to reach my endorphin high is fine with me. So, I have pairs of these black pants that, as my mother-in-law, famously said, “Don’t owe me anything.”

There are ones with bottoms so torn, you’d think I had a dog – a big one. There’s the pair I have to tie a shoe lace around the waist while wearing, to keep them from falling down. And then there’s my (and probably the guys in front of me at the gym when I’m doing squats) personal favorites – the three pairs that have safety pins holding together the crotch and thigh area.

All these poor misshapen pants live in my bottom dresser draw, along with my mangled tee shirts, sweatshirts, and equally pathetic dance wear. At least, USUALLY they do.

I “train” myself, as I like to say, to keep from loosing things. (Keys in the cup by the door, gloves in the bag in the closet) But, from time to time my generally sloppy nature over rides any such training, and things land up where they shouldn’t. And that is how one of my safety pin laden pants landed up in the storytelling pants section of my dresser, and eventually in my knapsack.

My performance wasn’t until the afternoon that day, so I was looking forward to one of my favorite schedules. Gym, ballet class, performance, home. I remember pulling on my “needs a shoelace to stay up pants” over my leotard and tights, and putting one of my favorite tops, and, what I THOUGHT were a pair of storytelling pants in my knapsack for later, before hitting the road for the day.

All was going so well. I got the machines I wanted at the gym, my pirouettes were “on” in class, but when it came time to get dressed for my performance, I hit a snag. A snag, a rip, and a big old hole. The very worst of the worst of my pants were curled up in my knapsack. Material pilling, hem chewed up, and at least five metal safety pins smiling up at me like a pair of brand new braces.

I was way too far from home to even think about getting back there for a good pair of pants. The “needs a shoe lace pants” were not only wet with sweat, but the bottoms were soaked by the rain (because, of course, it was POURING) And, Newport News is, unfortunately, a catalogue and a website, not a corner store.

Then I remembered – there was a Modell’s two blocks down. Checking my wallet, and tying on the moist pants. I headed out the door. They weren’t Newport News, but there might be something black, stretchy, and most importantly, without holes, that would work.

The rain was slamming down, turning the moist pants into heavy, wet, bunches of material that dragged mud across the entry way of Modell’s. The arrow pointing to women’s wear pointed downwards, so I ran down the steps, the bottoms of my pants looking and sounding like the flippers of a seal.

“Black pants, black pants”, was my mantra, as my eyes searched the racks (especially the ones that said,”SALE.”) But, apparently, every other woman my size must have been there that day, because I saw none. Oh, there were white stretchy pants (and okay, who is really confident enough to ear those?) and velour purple pants (Barney, anyone?) and MANY pairs of black capris – but nothing like my beloved Newport News.

I was beginning to consider buying a sewing kit, to at least get rid of the safety pin problem, when my eyes saw them. Black, stretchy, boot cut, my size, ON SALE!! I ran to the dressing room, and prayed they didn’t pucker, tug, or (god forbid) make me look fat. As they glided onto my body, I gave up a silent prayer of thanks to the clothing gods, and bought them.

Outside the sun had come out. Hiking up the rain and sweat sodden “shoe string pants”, I practically skipped up the block to a Barnes and Noble whose bathroom I frequent in that part of town, found an empty stall, and put on my new storytelling pants.

The show was a good one. Librarian happy, kids happy, parents happy. But more than anyone else, I was happy. I had found a new source for storytelling pants. One where I didn’t have to wait for delivery. One with many locations through New York City and New Jersey. One that offered up boot cut leggings for $14.99 on sale. Modell’s – home of Julie’s new storytelling pants.

Upcoming Performances

November 2008:
11/14-7pm at Barnegut Library, NJ
11/24-1pm at Westfield Library, NJ

January 2008:
1/8- 4pm at Parkchester New York Public Library (NYPL)
1/25-4pm at Huguenot Park NYPL
1/26- 2pm at Soundview NYPL
1/30- 4pm at South Beach NYPL

February 2008:
2/2-2pm at Jackson Library, NJ
2/12- 4pm at George Bruce New York Public Library (NYPL)
2/17-12pm at Afro-American Historical Museum, Jersey City, NJ
2/13- 4pm at Columbus NYPL
2/22- 3:30pm at Van Ness NYPL
2/23- 3:30pm at Donnell NYPL
2/27- 4pm at Grand Concourse NYPL

March 2008:
3/11- 4pm at Eastchester New York Public Library (NYPL)
3/12- 4pm at Melrose NYPL
3/19-4pm at Stapleton NYPL
3/25- 4pm at Kingsbridge NYPL

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Notes from the Field (III)

"What I did on my summer vacation!"
Notes from the Field- Fall 2007

When I was a little girl, my dad would take my youngest brother, Robby, and I to Kennedy Airport to watch the planes take off and land. Fido, as we have always called him, (don’t ask why – but I’m pretty sure I was the one who started it all!!) worked for the Post Office there in foreign mail, and knew all the back roads in and around the runways.

Robby and I would bring along empty suitcases, so we could look like we were actually going somewhere, and gradually fill them up with any brochures or pamphlets we saw along the way. This was, of course, long before beverages, nail clippers, and crochet hooks were considered deadly weapons, and one could stroll, without taking off ones funky sneakers, right up to the giant windows overlooking the runways.

I don’t know why my dad took us on these little trips – maybe it was just to get us from under my mother’s feet, so she would only have four children to look after, instead of all six - but what those journeys instilled in me was a HUMOGOUS case of wanderlust, that I’ve been lucky enough to indulge my entire adult life.

This summer, my husband Jim and I, were fortunate enough to go to Rome for nine days – and what an experience it was!! People call it “The Eternal City”, and I get that, I do. But, I call Rome “The Madonna of Cities”. And by that I don’t mean the one in the Pieta, I’m talking about “The Material Girl”.

Much has been made of Madonna’s (the singer, that is) ability to reinvent herself – from “voguer” to “kabbalist”, Brooklyn girl to Londoner. The same could be said of Rome. From the ancient days, where the Christian’s were the underdogs (to say the least), to the rise of Catholicism, Rome has under gone many a makeover! For example: under a seemingly “old” 15th century church, is buried a home that existed hundreds of years prior to that. Pedestals that one supported statues of various and sundry gods, now hold aloft Catholic saints. Like a character in a hero’s journey tale, Rome keeps moving forward finding what it needs to go on, to survive, to thrive.

It was this sense of evolution that touched me the most about Rome, this tangible symbol of one thing, literally building on another. We are, all of us, standing on the shoulders of those that came before us, continuing what another generation has started.

As an artist, I have sometimes been plagued with doubts about my multiple interests and bizarre career trajectory. (I mean, how does a classically trained ballet dancer land up as a storyteller and a clown???) I’ve sometimes craved to be more “one disciplined focused” or more traditional in my creative endeavors. But what my sojourn to Rome showed me, is that to evolve, to change, to grow, is not only natural, it’s beneficial. It makes things a whole lot more interesting, rich, real, and beautiful.

So now that I’ve said, “Ciao!” to that city of a thousand identities, I cherish the fact that layered over, and mixed into my dance, is my storyteller, my clown, my stiltwalker, my American Sign Language skills, and even my yoga practice. I love the fact that I know that any tale I told last year, might be unrecognizable in six months, because I have grown through the telling of it – that what I did in a dance performance has informed how a character moves, or what I found works in the physical comedy of clown is prefect for a story. I will ALWAYS cherish the fact that every single day, I seem to find something new and fun that inspires me to take all of my many layers, and use it in my art. Mille grazie, Roma! Ciao!!

Upcoming Performances

October 11th: New Providence Library NJ 6:30PM
October 12th: Fort Washington Branch, NYC Public Library 4PM
October 19th: Van Nest Branch, NYC Public Library 4PM
October 20th: Donnel Library, NYC Public Library 3:30PM
October 24th: Morris Park Branch, NYC Public Library 3:30PM
October 26th: Kips Bay Branch, NYC Public Library 3:30PM
October 27th: Summit Library, NJ 2PM
October 30th: Fair Haven Library, NJ 3:30PM
October 30th: Peapack-Gladstone Library, NJ 7PM
November 14th: Barnegut Library, NJ 7PM
November 24th: Westfield Library, NJ 1PM
February 2nd: Jackson Library, NJ 2PM
February 17th: Afro-American Historical Society Museum 12PM

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Upcoming Performances

September 9th: Mine Brook Park, Flemington, NJ 1:30PM
September 30th: New Jersey Festival Storytelling, Hamilton, NJ 3PM
October 12th: Fort Washington Branch, NYPL 4PM
October 19th: Van Ness Branch, NYPL 4PM
October 20th: Donnell Branch, NYPL 3:30PM
October 24th: Morris Park Branch, NYPL 3:30PM
October 26th: Kips Bay Branch, NYPL 3:30PM
October 27th: Summit Public Library 2PM
October 30th: Peapack-Gladstone Library 7PM
February 17th: Afro-American Historical Society Museum, Jersey City, NJ 12PM

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Notes from the Field (II)

“Wouldn’t You Rather…”
Notes from the Field- Summer 2007

The other day, as I sat in Barnes and Noble, trying once again, to master the subjunctive verbs of the French language, with my VERY patient ami, Patrick; an actor, who I had worked with a LONG time ago, stopped by our table. He hadn’t seen me in ages, but I had seen him – on more “Law and Orders” than I could count on all my fingers, toes, teeth, and quite possibly hairs. On commercials that played daily on every channel, and in a string of Broadway shows, one of which had earned him a TONY nomination.

We chatted about our spouses, my bad French, and his latest Broadway show. As my one time cast mate hugged me, and walked away, I could see the question in Patrick’s eyes. “Est-ce que tu veux un carriere comme ton ami, Julie? Don’t you want a career like your friend’s, Julie?”

For once, finding the words in French was easy. Non!

Now before you all go,”AAAAAH!!! Isn’t that great!! Someone COMPLETELY satisfied with their life choices!!” Let me say this: I wouldn’t turn down a TV show, commercial, and most especially a Broadway show. The fun, paychecks, and I’ll say it “stature” of it all is sometimes really tempting after a day of performing in a “gymatorium” for 300 second graders hyped up after lunch. And I know full well that if I were doing eight shows a week of “Spamalot” instead of three shows a day at PS 1543398765, my parents wouldn’t mumble, “See, we KNEW she’d never make it in showbiz!!”

But, and this is a big BUT (one T) – even with all that, the answer would still be, “J’aime ma vie! I love my life as a storyteller!”

I love finding a tale that makes me think, laugh, or long for a plane ticket to the country where it’s from. When I search for different versions of this new beloved story, the thrill of the hunt fills me! Visualizing the people, places, and events of a tale, happily puts my imagination on a virtual treadmill; and I happily jog away. Feeling the characters inhabit my body and voice is like being in a magical fantasy movie, where all the characters and special effects are produced by ME! And, of course, there is the best part – the joyous experience of sharing a story with an audience!

While it is true that every live performance is different and unique – in storytelling, it is especially so. No “fourth wall” separates me from the people who sit before me; their presence is the last, best, and most important part of any story I share. The audience informs me of the style, pace, and sometimes the wording of my story. To quote from a movie that I, personally, found WAY too sappy (although I did think the kid was awful cute!), “They complete me.”

And what a divine group my audiences have been! From inner city teens, who first eye me with contempt and boredom, but who are leaning in by the performance’s end. To the pre-schoolers who mirror my every move. To the senior citizens, smiling, all the while recalling the many stories they’re heard in their long, rich lives. As a storyteller, I truly have something for everyone.

And then there’s the simplicity of it! No sets, no costumes, no disco balls – just me. Me, using all that I am, to get a story across. I cannot tell you the satisfaction I find in watching a group “see” the story, knowing full well that the only thing they are actually viewing, is 5’2” of ME!

So, Patrick, Mom, Dad, and anyone else out there who thinks, “Poor Julie!” when they learn that the bulk of my audiences members go to bed at the same time that the curtain rises on my friend’s Broadway show. Think again.

I get to create worlds, with only my body and voice. I get to see audiences from ages 4 – 100. I get to share countries and cultures with children who have never even heard of them. I get to keep alive an art form that has been around for centuries. I get to be a storyteller!!!!!

Monday, June 11, 2007

What They're Saying About Julie! (part I)

For the past three years, I have been asked to visit a Children’s Literature Class at Hudson County Community College by the teacher, Elaine Foster. It is one of my favorite performances to do, for I love not just telling stories, but teaching others about storytelling and folktales, and dispelling some myths about my profession. Each year, Ms. Foster has her students write a reaction paper after my visit. Here are some comments from this year’s visit!

  • Quite honestly, I did not know what to expect from Julie Pasqual, what actually tickled my brain was the fact that she is a storyteller. I wondered how hard her job can really be; sitting all day telling helpless young children how cruel Cinderella’s step family was. All I could say to myself was, “will she leave soon enough so I can present my report?” I was really skeptical, and didn’t have many expectations. I did expect a lethargic plus size, middle age, pale woman, who was going to speak about her cat, Hairball. She would speak softly, rub her nose a great deal, and gesture lifelessly. To my surprise, Julie was the total opposite; thin, caramel complexion, young and full of energy. I was amazed at how much of my attention she attained, and how much she went into character and was excellent at it. I just loved her personality and how animated she was, which I was not prepared for one bit. Her energy level was through the roof, and was enough to go around a few times. I absolutely loved her, and wished I knew of her sooner, I would have hired her in time for my son’s birthday party.

  • Storytelling could be boring if not performed in the right matter. I think Julie Pasqual is amazing. She had this great energy, and she was so flexible. Performing in front of many people can be nerve racking, but she did a wonderful job. She kept me entertained the whole period. She told chain, porquoi, and trickster tales. In one of the tales she told, she had the class interact with her and make turtles with our hands. When I first heard we were going to have a storyteller, I assumed it was going to be boring, but Julie Pasqual changed my whole perceptive. The tales she told were from all around the world, told from different cultures.
  • When I sat down in class to listen to Julie Pasqual, I thought immediately, “This woman is crazy”. She’s standing there making all of these funny faces, and practically dancing around the room. I wondered, “Maybe she is in the wrong class? We were expecting a storyteller. I imagined someone was going to narrate a few stories to us and then leave.” Then I realized, that she was acting.

  • She did more than just read the words from a book. She drew me in with her dramatizations. She captured my interest, and made me want to know what would happen next. When she spoke for the “rock” in the story she gave it life and emotion, which made it real. She did the same for the fishing pole, and the chair, and all of the other components of the story.
  • To be honest, I had not the slightest clue what to expect from Julie Pasqual’s visit. I have never met or heard of a professional storyteller before, and it was interesting as well as relieving to hear that she often received the same reaction from others. Her performance was energetic and well interpreted. Therefore, it was not hard to keep interest the whole time. The way she acted out each character and her theatric mannerisms were quite notable. It was hilarious to see the class get involved with the story as well.

  • Aside from her marvelous storytelling, I found her presentation quite informative. I was not aware that there were so many different types of stories. As well as amusing to learn that there was an entire storytelling circuit, with conventions, gatherings and contests. The history of the connections between the many stories was also interesting to learn about. The story connection reminded me of how languages are all connected to a type of metaphoric tree. I can only wonder how many stories have been lost throughout the ages.
  • Ms. Pasqual’s enthusiasm in her storytelling reminded me of my grandfather’s. Although most of his stories were ghost stories, his enthusiasm would definitely scare the living daylights out of me. Yet, it was all in good fun. If anything, Ms. Pasqual’s storytelling made me wish that I could remember some of those ghost stories from my youth.
  • As a whole, I found the presentation both exciting and revealing. It definitely made me think of my past experiences with hearing stories from others. It was also eye opening to learn about the history and present state of storytelling. Thus, making this experience an entirely positive one.

Notes From the Field (part I)

“My Old Men”
Storytelling and the emotionally shut down child

Let me see if I can set the scene for you. The room, though rather brightly lit, seemed like a cave. There was a sadness and hopelessness in the air that topped any homeless shelter or drug rehabilitation facility I had ever performed in. My audience sat in a semi-circle facing me with world-weary faces and dead eyes. There was a sense that someone had hit their “off switches”. They all looked about one hundred years old, when in fact they were between ages ten and twelve.

Fast forward eight months. I enter to a chorus of “Hi, Ms. Julie” and “It’s my turn to tell a story, isn’t it?” Lively eyes search my face for what’s in store this week. The air feels like a giggle; buoyant, energetic, and full of fun.

The transformation that took place in that class might seem like something from a fairytale. But there were no magic wands or secret potions. It was the telling of tales that allowed a class of emotionally scarred students to trust, open their minds, and risk expressing themselves.

Storytelling can be the ultimate safe space; teaching lessons, while giving hope and inspiration without being preachy. Trickster tales, hero’s journeys, stories of fools, and personal sagas can all be used to open the door of a locked down soul.

A firm believer in the healing power of humor, I chose stories of “noodle heads” to begin my time with the boys I nicknamed “my old men”. Outlandish tales like England’s “Lazy Jack” and Puerto Rico’s “Juan Bobo”, in which the main characters do ridiculously silly things, were my openers. My telling style is large, physical and humorous anyway, and for these boys I went over the top. I sensed that to see even the slightest reaction from them, I would have to risk making a fool of myself.

As I shamelessly hammed it up, wringing every bit of silliness I could out of the story I began to see flickers of life. I’ll never forget their sly “I’m watching, but I don’t want to look too interested” glances.

Using these wacky tales accomplished a number of things – right away the children knew that storytelling was not a somber lecture-like activity. It was fun! By pausing often to have them weigh in on the hero’s outlandish behavior, they knew that their opinion counted, and that any story I told wasn’t just mine – but theirs as well. Questions didn’t come with answers that were strictly right and wrong – they were each allowed to have a completely different take on things, and those differences were celebrated.

By my second class with the “old men”, R, a student with so much aggression and lack of impulse control that he merited his own teacher in this small class of ten, sat up, smiled and even answered a question. His “on switch” had been activated.

Stories of fools abound, and in choosing them I suggest ones that have the hero repeating a pattern of silliness so that the children can begin to figure out the ending. The children gain great confidence when they guess the outcome. Personally, I live for the excited whispers saying,”Oh, I know what’s going to happen now!!”

Also, the sillier the tale, the more opportunities for those comedic moments that work so well at opening people up. Dare to be as “out there” as the story dictates. Your openness will lead the way for theirs to follow.

From fools I moved on to tricksters. Every culture has their own trickster tales; stories where the little guy, usually a small animal, wins out over “Mr. Big”, using brain instead of brawn.

Knowing that most of my ten “old men” were victims of some kind of physical abuse, it didn’t surprise me when they cheered on Monkey as he escaped from the jaws of Crocodile, or Turtle’s swim away from the greedy farmer. But what did take me aback was the way they made connections between one story and another.

It became a game as each student recalled some bit of a story I had told before, and related it to the tale of the week. Tiny, and I mean miniscule, details were remembered. When one student brought up a tale from weeks ago, it sparked another boy’s memory.

One needs to be careful in choosing trickster tales for abused populations, since often there is a “comeuppance” of some sort involved in the story. I generally choose those stories with animals instead of people, so any sort of retribution is in no way real, and can be viewed as funny.

Interspersed with the trickster tales about Anansi the Spider, Brer Rabbit and others, I decided to, as my “old men” would say, “show some skills”. There are tons of tales that incorporate origami, handkerchief folding and cats cradle-like string figures. Taking something as ordinary as a piece of paper and creating elements of the story you are telling is a great attention getter. But the real magic comes when the students learn to do it too.

Thinking back on the first time I handed out paper for them to fold almost always makes me smile. Their fingers mastered the shapes faster than their teachers (which they LOVED), they helped each other, and during my next visit I heard from at least half the class that they had shared the story at home.

Other skills, like scarf juggling and simple magic tricks can be easily worked into many folktales and are teachable to children.

Just as each culture has it’s buffoon and trickster, they also have their wise man. Wisdom tales that teach profound life lessons without nagging were the next group of stories I added to the mix.

By now, the students felt free to express themselves, so I would stop at crucial points in the story, and find out what they thought should happen next and why. In the Irish tale “The Blanket”, a farmer is about to throw his father out of his house because he has gotten too old to be useful. I put the story on “pause”, and, helped by their teacher, each child gave their opinion of whether the son was right or wrong, and what should happen next.

Of course there were some,” He shouldn’t do that!”


“I don’t know – just ‘cause.”

But for the most part, after a little time to think, they were able to come up with compelling replies. Viewed through the lens of a folktale, issues like greed, jealously and anger were a lot easier to talk about and explore. Long after I was gone, their classroom teacher sometimes used these stories as jumping off points for further discussion.

All through this process, I felt it was important to make myself as available to my “old men” as possible. If I was asking them to come out of their shells, who was I to hide. I answered every question and considered every comment, and eventually did something I’d never done with children before – I told a personal story. Not a “this is what happened to me yesterday at the grocery store” anecdote, but a structured tale with a beginning, middle, and end. I shared a moment of my childhood, where, I finally shed my label of “THE SHY ONE”. I even brought in my childhood teddy bear.

They could barely believe that I – who they had seen be everything from a turtle to a llama, had once been terrified at parties – and in fact sometimes still was! But the greatest moment came when they realized not all stories came from books. I had long ago explained that I spent a lot of time looking through the 398.2 section of the library for the folktales I used, but once I told a tale I created myself, it unlocked their minds.

On a spring day, as I walked to the front of the room, A raised his hand and said,”Ms. Julie, I made up a story I’d like to tell.”

A tale that was rich in details (and tidbits from some of the stories I had told) emerged, and our “storytelling festival” began. Each week I let two students tell a tale before I began. I made a list of all the stories I had told them through the year and they were welcome to tell any of those or make up their own.

Their teacher was stunned (as was I) when R stood up and perfectly retold a paper-folding story. Did some kids loose track of what they were saying? Of course – but it didn’t matter. Without forcing them, and without begging them, one by one these “old men” came out of retirement, and returned to their childhood, barking like dogs or walking like a man carrying a donkey on his back!

Having children, especially this population, tell tales, is such a huge learning experience and gift. Their confidence, focus and imagination can grow in unbelievable ways. And the chance to express themselves safely is priceless.

As the kids (which I could now call them) began to be more interested in telling stories, I shared with them the following techniques. I asked them first to imagine the story until it became like a movie in their minds. We worked on them showing in voice and in body how the characters behave. As a memory aide they drew “cartoons” of the story – highlighting the important parts.

Did they perform before the whole school or go on to win American Idol? No. But they were a changed group who felt freer to let their emotions show, and their imaginations run free. They were now children and not old men.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Upcoming Performances

  • June 12th: Port Richmond Branch, NYC 4PM
  • June 15th: Baychester Branch, NYC 4PM
  • June 19th: Oceanic Library, NJ 3:30PM
  • July 13th: Warren Township Library, NJ 11AM
  • July 18th: Little Egg Harbor Library, NJ 6:30PM
  • August 8th: Rocking Hill LIbrary, NJ 3PM
  • August 14th: Little Ferry, NJ 2PM
  • September 8th: Hans Christian Anderson Statue, Central Park, NY 11AM

Available Performances and Workshops

For each performance, I draw from my large, ever growing repertoire. I have material from many different cultures, various holidays and themes, and FOR ALL AGES. Generally, I put together what tales I’m going to tell for each specific performance. But, listed below are some of the story “groupings” and titles I sometimes perform. Pick from one of these, ask for something special, or leave it up to me – all these options are available to you.

For The Youngest Listeners, Ages 4-6:

Tiny Treasured Tales: Delightful short stories just right for the pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade set.

Downward Facing Dog Tales: Yoga meets folktales, in this performance designed to stretch your body and imagination. (Also available for elementary aged children).

Elementary School Aged Children:

Loud and Rowdy Tales: This collection of world stories that dance, stomp and shake will do it all – except put the audience to sleep!!

African and African-American Folktales:Anansi the spider and others, are here in this program that highlights both African and African-American folktales.

Circus Tales: Combining folktales with circus skills, this performance is a trip to the Big Top, story-style!!

Another Language: Starting with a short story about language itself, these stories build the viewers understanding of American Sign Language.

Older Children and Adults:

Simply Stories!: Every culture has a story to tell – some make us laugh, some make us gasp! This show is full of rich tales from around the globe.

Stories with a Point: Without being preachy, these stories all teach a lesson. From sharing, to being happy with who you are – there’s something here for all who listen. (Also available for younger audiences).


How to Tell a Moving Story: In this workshop we’ll explore how to tell at tale with more than just the voice, and unlock a storytellers secret weapon – their body!!

Create Your Own Folktale: Using different story types, workshop participants will fashion, and tell their very own tales.

How to Get Away with Talking Loud in Libraries and School: This “Storytelling 101” workshop offers the basic “how-tos” of telling a tale. Available for the young, and the young at heart!

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Welcome to Julie's World!

Julie Pasqual is a renaissance woman whose first art form was dance. She is a student of renowned ballet teacher Dick Andros, and a graduate of New York City’s High School of Performing Arts. Julie has appeared with ballet and modern dance companies, and her work in musical theatre has taken her to 48 of the 50 states.

As an actress she has performed in everything from Shakespeare to the work of inner-city teenage playwrights. As a clown she is part of the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit, performing as Dr. Ima Confused for pediatric patients in New York City hospitals.

Her storytelling work encompasses all of her performance skills, (along with her knowledge of American Sign Language and occasionally, her stilt walking ability) and she has told at venues such as the Kennedy Center, the New Jersey Storytelling Festival, The Connecticut Storytelling Festival, and at numerous schools, libraries, museums, festivals, and even weddings!

Julie was chosen to record three stories for the Cotsen Children’s Library in Princeton University, and she is the voice for several children’s and young adult audio books at the Andrew Heiskill Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in New York City. Her written short stories have won several prizes in Byline Magazine; and Julie would like it known that she is a whiz with a crochet hook, and bakes a mean cookie!