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!

Press Clippings

Please click on the pictures to read the articles!

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!