Monthly Archives: August 2011

Sherry Norfolk– Storyteller

From the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, TN to the Hong Kong International School in Hong Kong, China, (and hundreds of places in between!) Sherry Norfolk’s passion for storytelling incites the imagination of young and old audiences alike. In addition to an electric stage presence developed through professional storytelling since 1981, she embodies the term “teaching artist” – that is, an artist who can not only talk the talk but walk the walk.

As a teaching artist, she leads residencies and workshops internationally, introducing children and adults to story making and storytelling. She is on the roster of seven state arts councils, a testimony to her value as a teaching artist. Her dedication to and deep interest in children and literacy have been recognized with national awards from the American Library Association, the Association for Library Service for Children, the National Association of Counties, and the Florida Library Association. Sherry is the co-author with her husband Bobby of The Moral of the Story: Folktales for Character Development (August House, 1999); they are currently working on a series of Anansi stories for the new August House Story Cove label.

What made you want to become a storyteller?

I’ve always looked for ways to make learning meaningful for kids, and ways to motivate them to read. As a preschool and primary teacher, I haunted the library, searching for stories to introduce new topics and inspire the kids – and me – to learn. Later, as a children’s librarian, I discovered that storytelling was the most effective way to lure kids to the library and into books. I was sold!

Was the journey difficult?

The first steps were natural and easy – like breathing. Telling stories to the kids in my north Miami library district led to telling county-wide (it’s a HUGE county), and that led to telling at festivals all over the SE. Any help? Along the way, I was very fortunate to be helped by wonderful storytellers like Melinda Munger in Miami, and to be able to attend the NAPPS Institutes which were being offered at the time. When I married Bobby Norfolk — a fabulous storyteller, already internationally famous — he encouraged me to take the leap and become a fulltime teller, and has been my mentor and inspiration every step of the way! Any obstacles? Well, it’s scary! Leaving behind a guaranteed paycheck and benefit package and striking out into the unknown felt like walking off a cliff! I HATED the marketing aspect — and I still avoid it whenever possible! But I’ve been remarkably lucky. We received a contract for The Moral of the Story: Folktales for Character Development (August House, 1999) just before I left the security of the library, and that kept me productively occupied as my performing career got off the ground. We also spent the first 6 weeks of my new life in Anchorage, AK, telling and workshopping for Alaska Children’s Services. That led me to the discovering how much I love to TEACH kids to tell and to write their own stories.

What were some of your favorite stories growing up? 

I got hooked on the Hans Christian Andersen stories — the more maudlin the better, it seems. “Little Matchgirl” was a special favorite. Maybe I jsut loved th power of story to evoke emotion!

Is there a difference between writing a story and telling a story? For me, it’s one and same: I create text as a told story first — honing and polishing it with by responding to the audience reactions. When writing the same story, there’s a translation process — translating the actions, sound effects, character voices, etc., into words. You can’t see the audience response — no immediate gratification!

What is the difference between a fable, a parable, and a fairy tale?  The intent: a fable teaches a moral or lesson, and so does a parable, but the fable does it explicitly where the parable relies on intrinsic understanding. Fairytales often teach lessons, but that usually is secondary to entertainment value!

If you could be one character in a story who would you be and why? I love the title character in the Russian folktale, Woman of the Wood. She is brought to life and given the gifts of beauty and intelligence — but she chooses freedom above all else. A truly wise woman!

If you could have coffee with one famous storyteller who would it be and why?

My favorite storyteller and human being will always be my husband, Bobby Norfolk. ‘Nuff said!

What inspires you as a storyteller?

The faces of the listeners…their total surrender to story..their joy and surprise! Nothing better!

What advice would you give a storyteller faced with writer’s block?

Go tell stories, get away from the computer and work with living, breathing, responsive human beings. That’s where the inspiration is.

What stories are you working on presently?

Bobby and I are developing a series of Anansi storeis for the StoryCove label, and we have a picturebook titled Billy Brown and the Belly Button Monster in production.

Finally, what advice would you give kids who wish to pursue a career in storytelling?

Follow your heart! Find out what aspect of storytelling is the most appealing to you, and learn everything you can about it. Listen to lots of tellers and talk to them about their own choices and why/how they made them, then make your own choices — and most of all, believe in the power of story!

Where can we find out more about your work?

My website is www.sherrynorfolk.com and there’s plenty of info there!

Copyright 2005-2011, Jolene Owen. All rights reserved. This interview is free to copy, publish and circulate. You may reprint or publish it without permission in any format. Please credit: Jolene Owen as interviewer. The views expressed herein are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the interviewer or the official position of the publishing company, its various departments and/or the Institute of Interactive Journalism. If you’d like to be interviewed, or would like to send our team an interview, or just send us lots of gifts and candy, contact us at: inspiring.interviews@gmail.com.  Please do not try to contact interviewees through the institute. We never release confidential information or fwd messages. No exceptions.

 

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Priscilla Howe–Storyteller

Since 1988, storyteller Priscilla Howe has entertained audiences of all ages with (almost) true stories, world folktales and stories from books, most served with a generous dollop of humor.

Young children meet her mouthy handpuppet Trixie, while Priscilla offers sophisticated stories for older audiences. A former children’s librarian, Priscilla has a gift for sizing up crowds and delivering a whopping good time.

Priscilla grew up in New England and has lived in Vermont, Belgium, Kansas, Bulgaria, New York and Connecticut in her adult life. She now lives in Lawrence, KS with her cat, Joe Fish. She travels around the US and to Europe regularly. She performs mostly in English, and is fluent in French and Bulgarian. So are her puppets.

Priscilla is also on a quest for the best restaurant pie on earth.

What made you want to become a storyteller?
The first time I told a story at a school as a children’s librarian, I had a fantastic time. I told a story I made up when I was a teenage babysitter, as well as a story by Philippa Pearce. The kids listened attentively and they clapped at the end. I was hooked!

Was the journey difficult?
Like most journeys, it has had its potholes. I was fortunate to tell stories within my job for five years before I decided to take the leap into full-time storytelling. I worked at the craft with the help of my colleagues, friends and other storytellers in the area. In 1993, I left my job to be a full-time storyteller. It was especially difficult because I moved to a different state at the same time. Being a full-time storyteller also means owning a business, which can be a real challenge. One of the hardest parts of being a full-time storyteller is marketing my work.

What were some of your favorite stories growing up? What made those stories so special?
Growing up, I loved the animal stories by Thornton Burgess, as well as contemporary books like “Harriet the Spy” and “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle.” I felt quite comfortable with the characters in books–as I read, I entered the world of the book completely. I grew up in a family of readers and to this day, when there are several of us together, we’re content to sit and read quietly together.

Is there a difference between writing a story and telling a story?
There’s a big difference between writing and telling a story. The written story somehow has to include all the shades of meaning that come out in the storyteller’s face, body and voice. I can say the same sentence in fifty different ways, but it looks the same written down. Try that: take a sentence like “We’re having chicken for dinner tonight” and say it in an angry voice, a disgusted voice, a happy voice, the voice of a toddler. Also, when I tell a story, it may come out of my mouth differently every time. It’s not memorized, but I tell you the story of the movie in my head.

What is the difference between a fable, a parable, and a fairy tale?
Fables and parables have specific lessons to teach, and they sometimes have a moral tacked on at the end. Fables often use animals as the characters to show human characteristics. Fairy tales have a magical aspect, in which humans are helped or hindered by fantastic creatures.

If you could be one character in a story who would you be and why?
If I could be anybody in a story, I’d choose the Wise Old Woman, or maybe the Renegade Princess. Both are independent thinkers, willing to take chances.

If you could have coffee with one famous storyteller who would it be and why?
I’d like to have coffee with Willy Claflin. He’s one of the funniest storytellers I’ve ever heard. I know him slightly and every time we’ve talked, we’ve had a wide-ranging (and hysterical) conversation. We use puppets in a similar way, sort of goofy and serious at the same time.  I’d love to have coffee with Anna Deveare Smith, even though she’s not strictly a storyteller in the sense that I am. She wrote an inspiring book called “Letters to a young artist”, advice to a young person embarking on a life in the arts.

What inspires you as a storyteller?
I’m inspired by other storytellers, especially those doing interesting projects. I’m also inspired by art and music and good books.

What advice would you give a storyteller faced with writer’s block?
Not every storyteller is a writer, but I find writing to be a useful tool in my workbox. When I have writer’s block, I might pull out my copy of “Wild Mind” by Natalie Goldberg for a little help. Or I take myself downtown to a coffee shop and write in my journal. Or I just declare that I’m having a day off and I don’t write at all. If that goes on too long, eventually I get bored and go back to work.

What stories are you working on presently?
Right now I’m thinking about an English folktale called “The small-tooth dog”. It’s a version of “Beauty and the Beast” that I like quite a bit. I’m also thinking about the Medieval romance “Aucassin and Nicolette”, which I’ve told a half-dozen times. I’ve been having a problem with the main character seeming too whiny. My audiences didn’t like that, so I’m working on finding a way to soften his tone. I’m also considering doing an evening of stories of the Turkish trickster Nasruddin Hodja. I always have several projects going at once, just as I’m always reading several books at once.

Advice?
Here’s the biggest rule in storytelling: only tell stories you love. If you don’t love them, your audience will know this and they won’t love the stories either.Storytelling is wonderful, but it’s not an easy career to have. I think it was storyteller Elizabeth Ellis who said, “If anything can keep you from being a full-time storyteller, let it.” That means that if you’re completely full of passion for telling stories, you’d better do it. If it’s just an interest, do it as a hobby, do it as part of another job like teaching or being a librarian. There’s great value in that. No matter what, have fun!

Where can we find out more about your work?
You can learn more about me and my work at http://priscillahowe.com/ There are even some stories to listen to on the website. I also have three CDs and a DVD, available from http://storyteller.net/

Copyright 2005-2011, Jolene Owen. All rights reserved. This interview is free to copy, publish and circulate. You may reprint or publish it without permission in any format. Please credit: Jolene Owen as interviewer. The views expressed herein are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the interviewer or the official position of the publishing company, its various departments and/or the Institute of Interactive Journalism. If you’d like to be interviewed, or would like to send our team an interview, or just send us lots of gifts and candy, contact us at: inspiring.interviews@gmail.com.  Please do not try to contact interviewees through the institute. We never release confidential information or fwd messages. No exceptions.

 


Patti Christensen–Storyteller

Patti is a professional storyteller with a rich, diverse background.  She
works in many different venues including bookstores, hospitals, museums,
Juvenile Hall, religious groups, festivals, scouting groups, senior centers,
as well as other school and social service settings. She believes in the
power of storytelling for all ages, preschoolers through Seniors, both in
listening and telling stories.  Patti is an artist in residence with the
SUAVE Program, a cultural and professional development program using the
arts to work with classroom teachers and students through Center ARTES, at
California State University at San Marcos, and was the Families for Literacy
coordinator for the Escondido Public Library Literacy Program.

Her BA in History taught her the magic of “making history come alive”. She
has Masters of Theology and Masters of Social Work degrees, which make her
uniquely qualified for work in different settings using story to speak to
important value issues.  Patti is also a founding member of The Patchwork
Players Story Theatre. Recent performances have included the J. Paul Getty,
San Diego Museum of Art and LEGOLAND California

 

What made you want to become a storyteller?

I always loved stories.  I grew up with a dad who was a storyteller as well
as read books to all four of us kids every night until I was in 8th grade.
We covered a lot of ground during all those years of stories.

The first time I saw professional storytellers I thought, “Wow, that looks
like fun.”  Then, I was asked to be part of a Girl Scouting event where
women in the community researched and then dressed up like a historical
woman and told her story.  I chose Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little
Women.  I had such a fun time telling her story.  Then the director of the
county historical society asked if I would be the speaker at a Women’s
History month event, and she would pay me $50.  I said, “Yes!” and was
hooked.  I knew I would become a real storyteller.
Was the journey difficult?

Any journey has its difficult and its fun times.  The hard parts early on
were learning new stories.  At first I thought I had to memorize them word
for word.  This is very hard and takes a long time.  Then I learned that
storytellers actually just learn what the events are, in what order did
things happen, and then tell it their own way.  This was so much easier.

I had a lot of help, including many great storytelling teachers and friends.
Most storytellers go to a lot of classes, trainings, and workshops as well
as read a LOT of books an listen to others tell stories.

A storyteller named Papa Joe says, “If you want to be a storyteller, tell
stories.  If you want to be a great storyteller, tell a lot of stories.”  I
really got a lot better when I was in charge of a preschool storytelling
program at a local bookstore every week for a couple of years.  I had to
learn a lot of stories because many of the families came back over and over.
That gave me a lot of confidence, and taught me how to learn stories fast.
What were some of your favorite stories growing up? What made those stories
so special?

I loved many stories.  One that my dad told over and over (and still tells
to this day) is Br’er  (Brother) Rabbit and the Tar Baby.  That story is so
funny, and it teaches an important lesson about never giving up, even when
you are in a really difficult position.  You may still be able to use your
brain and get yourself out of it.

I also really grew up on a lot of classic European stories like: the
Gingerbread Man, little Red Ridding Hood and the Three Little Pigs.  Last
summer, I was able to make digital recordings of me and some of my nieces
and nephews telling those stories together, from our hearts.  It is so
satisfying knowing that another generation of kids in my family is getting a
chance to know those stories that I grew up with.

I was recommend that families try telling some of those old stories that
they have read so many times…to put down the book and say them from memory.
This is so much fun and kids of all ages can be involved if the adults help
them remember what comes next.

I also loved hearing Christmas stories as a child.  Now, at Christmas time I
get to dress up as Mrs. Santa and tell stories to children.  This is such a
joy for me.   Mrs. Santa is an unsung hero.
Is there a difference between writing a story and telling a story?

Yes, many of the stories that I tell I also write down or made up in the
first place. The way that we write and we talk sounds really different.
Sometimes stories that are written down are not very “tellable”, they might
have so many details and descriptions that aren’t that interesting to hear
out loud.  And sometimes when you try to write down something that is really
clear when you say it, it sounds not very good in writing.

I enjoy doing both and know that most storytellers also work on their
writing skills, too.
What is the difference between a fable, a parable, and a fairy tale?

There are ever so many different types of stories.  You mentioned just
three.  A fable is a short story, often with the characters being animals.
The story has a moral or a lesson at the end.  A man named Aesop in Ancient
Greece developed the most famous fables.

A parable is also a usually short story that teaches a lesson.  Many times
these stories might be religious or spiritual in nature. There are many
parables that are in the bible that were told by Jesus.

Fairy tales are stories that often have some type of magical component to
them.  They often include settings such as a kingdom long ago and far away.
The characters are also often royal (such as kings, queens, princesses,
princes and knights) as well as magical (such as witches, fairies or
wizards).

There are also many other types of stories such as biography, ghost stories,
folktales, literary stories.
If you could be one character in a story who would you be and why?

There are so many characters that I would love to be.  I ALWAYS love getting
a chance to play princesses in stories.  Left over from liking dress up as a
kid.  I would like to spend some time actually being one of those
princesses, at least for a while.  Servants and getting my way sound like
fun.
What inspires you as a storyteller?

I am always inspired by the powerful stories that people share with me,
especially true life tales.

One of my most satisfying jobs as a storyteller is working on staff as a
storyteller at a children’s hospital.  Every Friday I go with my
storytelling partner and tell stories to the children there.  Many of those
children have very difficult health and life circumstances that they have to
cope with.  I feel very honored when I can go and hear their stories as well
as share some of my own. Storytelling is very healing, as important as
medicine and surgery.  I love being part of that healing process.
What advice would you give a storyteller faced with writer’s block?

My storytelling teacher Doug Lippman offers this advice, that you sometimes
need a safe person to listen a story out of you.  If you are really stuck
and don’t know where to go with a story, sit with a good listener and just
start taking.  There is magic in having a delighted listener just allow you
to explore.  This works very, very well.
What stories are you working on presently?

I am also working on learning new true stories about the state that I live
in, California.  I am also working on special stories about my dad and my
husband’s dad.

Because it is just about Halloween, I am also working on learning some new
scar and not too scary stories for that spooky time of year.

Advice?

When I was a kid, my report card often said, “Patti is a little to social.
Patti talks too much to her neighbors.”  Boy, wouldn’t those teachers be
surprised to find out that I now get paid to talk!

If you want to be a storyteller, you must read a lot of books.  Read, read,
read.

You can also listen to a number of stories and storytellers on-line.  A
great website to go to that has a bunch of stories (including some of mine)
is www.storyteller.net.  Listen to others telling stories will give you
ideas for what stories you would like to tell.

You can look at my websites:  www.pattistory.com  and www.patchworkplayers.com and
www.myspace.com/pattipanchita

These include a lot of photos, stories and information about my storytelling
work alone and with storytelling partners, James Nelson-Lucas, and Spanish
speaking friend, Panchita Acevedo.  Storytelling is so much fun, and there
is always a new story to learn or tell.
Copyright 2005-2011, Jolene Owen. All rights reserved. This interview is free to copy, publish and circulate. You may reprint or publish it without permission in any format. Please credit: Jolene Owen as interviewer. The views expressed herein are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the interviewer or the official position of the publishing company, its various departments and/or the Institute of Interactive Journalism. If you’d like to be interviewed, or would like to send our team an interview, or just send us lots of gifts and candy, contact us at: inspiring.interviews@gmail.com.  Please do not try to contact interviewees through the institute. We never release confidential information or fwd messages. No exceptions.