Monday, April 11, 2011

Notes from the Field: Story Triathlon

Any one that knows me, even a little bit, knows that I am what is called a “gym rat”. I like to work out – HARD, and A LOT. Once a fellow on the treadmill next to me asked what I was training for. I smiled, and said, “My life!” I don’t think he understood, but If he had followed me around this past week, he would have seen me compete in a triathlon of a very untraditional nature.
FIRST LEG: THE AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAM My first storytelling performance of the week was at an inner city after school program. I’ve been to this school eight times now, seeing different classes, telling stories, and if time permits, doing some follow-up activities. Because it is after school, the population changes according to whose care givers can pick them up when, so, while in theory, I was supposed to have the same group all the time, that really doesn’t happen. The students are 4th-6th graders, tired from a long day of school, wanting (as I know I surely would) to be released from the rules and regulations, or at least the physical bonds of the school building. This, plus some high school helpers that set my tween audiences hormones into maximum drive every time they enter the room, are my particular challenges in this residency, but, because I have “trained” I have a fighting chance against tween-age indifference. I reach into bag of story repertoire and bring out “slightly weird, almost scary” tales. While I stay away from TRULY frightening material – mainly because I scare the pants off myself – these creepy tales are the just the thing to grab the attention of this group who are riding the crest of teenagerhood . They sit forward, wondering how scary it’s going to get, wondering if they are the only one in the room that is wondering that. Telling this type of tale, my whole body is tingling, and I move with tension to the soundtrack of “Jaws” that is playing in my imagination.
SECOND LEG: THE JUVENILE DETENTION CENTER This “event” for me tends to take quite a bit of training and preparation. I know that folktales, though ancient are relevant to the here and now, and are rich with symbolism and mystery – but how can I convey that to these young men and women who, because of life circumstances have made a mistake. I have found that the first thing I must do, is exercise my compassion, and see these students as people who are probably victims themselves, coming from a world of few options, and therefore made the only choice they felt they could. When I look at this assignment in that way, I am able to tell with conviction and confidence any folktale I love, because the world of story is so full of imaginative happenings, it can perhaps open their eyes to a world that is bigger than the one they had imagined – a place where there is more options than they have ever dreamed.
THIRD LEG: THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL As I found myself rounding out my week with a four show day at an elementary school, I feel like the marathoner who has the finish line in site, and being past the physical exhaustion, is now high on the endorphins of the intense work-out. All the training becomes well worth it for the look of wonder, joy, and – there is no other word for it – spunk, that is on the faces of my audiences this day. I LOVE THIS AGE GROUP!!! They have an energy level and a sense of play that resonates in every cell of my body – I feel as if I am home. My actual physical training does come, literally, in to play – as I leap, dance, run, and squat – to bring the characters in these tales to life. But, I am not doing all the heavy lifting – for at this age, they are very much driving the tale. Because their faces are so very easy to read, as I see what they respond to, I adapt to give them more of what they love. Four shows fly by in a heartbeat, and my week – which also included clowning two full days in the hospital, and teaching four yoga classes is done.
Now, every week of my life is not like this – in fact one of the things I REALLY love about my life is that it is always different, but just like in stories, you never know what life will hold, so I find it’s best to train, and be ready. I’d write more, but I gotta go to the gym!!!

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