LadyBug, StoryBug – interview with Karen Chace (25 June 2007)

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Introduction

Sometime in April, Karen wrote to me after reading the interview with Leanne Johnson. I then popped over to Karen’s website where I read about someone who is really dedicated to the art of storytelling. I will be wasting so much precious time by writing any more for you’ll read for yourself just how dedicated she is to the art of storytelling. Without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing to you Karen Chace …


Aneeta: Karen, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Karen: My pleasure Aneeta, I am always delighted to share my thoughts and experiences about storytelling. I am honored to be a part of your superb publication.

Aneeta: Thank you. Please tell me something about your early life – where did you grow up, what did and do you do for a living, where you live now?

Karen: I grew up in the historic city of New Bedford, Massachusetts, once known as “The Whaling City,” which is also home to the largest whaling museum in America. I have been blessed to offer a number of storytelling programs there over the years, particularly my program Tales with Scales ~ Fish Stories From Around the World.

The city was also part of the Underground Railroad and Frederick Douglass, leader of the abolitionist movement, made his home there for a number of years. It is rich with history and blessed with amazing cultural diversity.

Early in my career I worked in many areas of business, including marketing and human resources. I was working towards a degree in Business Administration when I realized my true passion lay with literature so I switched my college goals midstream. I remember my college advisor commenting that “No one changes from Business to English; it is always the other way around.” I smiled and said, “There is a first time for everything!” I have never regretted my decision and I plan on pursuing a master’s degree in Oral Tradition one day.

I now live in East Freetown, Massachusetts, only a ten minute drive from the city of New Bedford. It is a lovely, small, rural town with approximately 8,000 citizens; a close knit community where we still know our neighbors and the postmaster calls you by name. Five years ago I founded a student storytelling troupe, the Story Explorers, at our local elementary school. I teach third and fourth grade students the art of oral tradition. Approximately 180 students have gone through the program. Each June I produce their storytelling festival, spotlighting the children, their stories and new found skills. It is a joyful occasion, and every year I am astonished at the confidence and stage presence of these young students as they step out onto a bare stage and shine! This year our local newspaper covered the fourth grade festival. If your readers are interested they may view the article here: http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070621/NEWS/706210378

A group photo of the entire fourth grade troupe may be seen here as well:

http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070621/NEWS/706210378&Template=photos

I also travel around New England and beyond sharing stories at libraries, museums, schools and summer camps, as well as present workshops at various storytelling conferences around the United States. When not performing I love reading and learning about anything related to the art of storytelling and have developed a small niche as a story researcher.

When I discovered storytelling in 1999 I was fortunate enough to find the Storytell LISTSERV, (http://www.twu.edu/cope/slis/storytell.htm), an international online community of storytellers who freely exchange ideas, stories, and experiences. My neophyte questions were always answered with patience and encouragement, but it troubled me that I couldn’t offer anything in return. To repay their generosity I began surfing the net to support their diverse programming needs and a researching enthusiast was born!

From those first steps came the opportunity to share my research skills at storytelling conferences, teaching others how to wind their way through the World Wide Web. In 2002 I was asked to author a regular column for the national Storytelling Magazine called Stor E Telling, reviewing and highlighting different websites pertaining to storytelling and education, which I still write today. You just never know where each path may lead.

Aneeta: When did you first notice your interest in storytelling and once it was there, what did you do about it?

Karen: In 1999 I was a preschool teacher and attended a conference for Talented and Gifted Children. During lunch a storyteller entertained us with stories of her childhood in Africa. She was completely mesmerizing and I was immediately intrigued with the art form. When I returned home I began to research information about storytelling and places I could attend workshops and conferences specific to the art of Oral Tradition. I attended my first storytelling workshop in Marblehead, Massachusetts the following month, and my first conference in Iowa the following spring.

Serendipity stepped in that first year when I was offered the opportunity to practice my stories with a first grade class at a local school in New Bedford. While it was not a paying job I was eager to build my repertoire and gain confidence in front of an audience. Since first graders are usually eager for stories, as well as a forgiving audience, I jumped at the chance. Soon the other teachers heard about “the storyteller” and for the rest of the year I visited five individual classrooms, filled with charming six year olds, twice a month and told stories. Although the work was pro bono, the experience and contacts I gained were invaluable. It also required me to quickly build a collection of stories, and to this day, many of those tales are staples in my repertoire.

Aneeta: I note from your website, www.StoryBug.net that you have several storytelling resources. Please describe them for my readers.

Researching Stories on the Internet: A Webliography of Storytelling Resources

Initially, this was a CD-Rom that listed a wide variety of story websites, by theme and culture. All of the sites were annotated and hyperlinked so storytellers and educators could easily locate the resources on the Internet. However, because I love to research, through the years I continued to amass hundreds of resources in diverse categories, and last summer I organized and categorized my overflowing cyber files, merging all of the resources into one location where they would be accessible, and hopefully useful, to all. The result was a new Storytelling Links page on my website in PDF file format with short synopses at http://www.storybug.net/links.htm

In addition, there are a number of Curriculum Connection websites to help educators combine storytelling and classroom activities at http://www.storybug.net/teachers.htm

I plan to add further sites and categories this summer as well; it is an ongoing project and my way of giving back to my colleagues in the storytelling community who continue to be so incredibly supportive.

Story by Story – Building A School Storytelling Club

The guidebook is based on my work as founder and director of the Story Explorer’s Troupe I mentioned above. I strongly believe in the power of storytelling, not only as entertainment, but as a compelling tool to help children cross cultural boundaries and embrace diversity. Storyteller Dan Keding once said, “You can’t hate someone if you know their story.”  Therefore, I developed a guidebook based on my program, which not only complements my workshop by the same name, but can also stand alone to help educators and other storytellers bring the joy of storytelling to their own students. I have presented this workshop at the New England Sharing the Fire Storytelling Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, the Northlands Storytelling Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, and the National Storytelling Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Storytelling can be easily merged with the educational state standards in any content area and the results can be amazing. Kendall Haven, http://www.kendallhaven.com/ renowned author and storyteller collected some powerful research on the subject and generously allowed me to offer his work on my website. Hardwired for Story can be found at http://www.storybug.net/teachers.htm, credible evidence for using stories to teach.

A Beginner’s Guide to Storytelling

Telling Stories to Children


Both of these guidebooks were released by the National Storytelling Network. Each one offers a variety of articles by nationally and internationally known and respected storytellers. I was honored to be asked to assist in compiling a number of Internet resources, pertaining to the subject matter, for both publications. If anyone is interested in developing beginning storytelling skills, these two books are a good place to start.  They are very affordable and may be ordered through the NSN at their website www.storynet.org

Aneeta: I understand that you are a member of the NSN Press Committee. Can you please describe what this membership offers you?

Karen: The National Storytelling Network (NSN)  Press Committee is comprised of five members. In the past, the members assisted the NSN in the development of the two guidebooks mentioned above. Since we are scattered throughout the USA, spanning from the west coast to New England, we meet once a month by teleconference. We report directly to the National Storytelling Board and our mandate is to explore and publish resources that best support the storytelling and educational community.

Aneeta: I’m always fond of other storytellers’ newsletters. So, please, do tell me what Working smARTS is all about.

Karen: Unfortunately, Working smARTS is no longer available. From 2001 – 2004 storyteller Dianne de Las Casas and I published this online electronic publication. It was designed to address the needs of professional children’s artists. We offered how-to articles, information, grant sources, arts news, resources, featured nationally-known and rising children’s artists, and arts-related web links.  While we both enjoyed working together, we realized our careers left little time to continue offering the quality publication our clients deserved; regretfully we ceased publication in December of 2004. However, I have placed many of the resources I reviewed during those years on my website so others may continue to access the information.

Aneeta: I’m asking you to do something different here and I hope you’ll oblige. Would you care to share a short story (of say no more than 300 words) here?

Karen: A storyteller share a story? I thought you would never ask!

The Difference Between Heaven and Hell

Many years ago a wealthy man asked a wise Buddhist to see the difference between Heaven and Hell. The wise man obliged and when the gates of Hell were thrown open their eyes fell upon a magnificent hall. Before them lay a table set with the finest china and crystal, each plate sumptuously filled with food and fruits from the far corners of the world. Every goblet was filled to the brim with sweet wine. Around the lavish table men and women sat, but their faces were distorted in agony, their voices rang out in anguish, they were malnourished, emaciated.

The man didn’t understand, for each person held a golden spoon in their hands, how could they be starving, until he looked closer. Although abundance lay before the people, the handles of their golden spoons were too long to reach their mouths. The man could look no more. “Take me away from this terrible place! Please, show me heaven!” he begged.

The wise man did as he asked and when the gates of Heaven were open, the man was confused. He turned to the wise man and asked, “What is the meaning of this?”  For before him laid the exact same scene as he saw in Hell. The table was overflowing with food and drink of every kind, men and women filled each chair, each holding the same golden spoons in their hands, with handles too long to reach their mouths. But their cheeks were tinged with the colour of health and the room resonated with the sweet sound of laughter. Was this a trick? “Look closer” said the wise man. When he did he discovered that in Heaven, the people had learned to reach their spoons across the table and feed each other.

Aneeta: Thank you so much. As you may know, my website caters for storytellers. What advice would you give those who would like to venture into storytelling?

Karen:

  • Read, read, read! You will have to read many stories before you find one that you LOVE but it will be worth it. When you find it, you will know it; it will jump off of the page and shout, “Tell me!”
  • Develop a good repertoire of stories.
  • Make sure you respect the work of others. Always ask permission to tell someone’s original story or folktale adaptation and give attribution whenever possible. Good professional ethics is key! Bad professional ethics will spread through the storytelling community like wildfire and your reputation will suffer. Just remember the Golden Rule, “Do unto others…”
  • Find a storytelling guild whose members will support and guide you.
  • Join a local storytelling organization where you can network and meet other storytellers
  • Join an online listserv where you can talk with other storytellers, librarians and educators. The most supportive online community for storytellers I have found is the Storytell Listserv, run by Texas Women’s University. It is a free service and storytellers from all over the world are ready to share their knowledge, all you have to do is ask! They were there for me when I took my first storytelling steps and have continued to be an invaluable source of friendship and support through the years.  For information on joining go to: http://www.twu.edu/cope/slis/storytell.htm
  • Take every opportunity to attend storytelling festival and concerts. We all learn from each but don’t copy someones telling style, develop you own unique own voice. My favorite festival is the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. You can find information at http://www.storynet.org/Events/Festival/
  • If time and money allow, attend storytelling conferences, which offer wonderful, useful workshop opportunities to learn new skills, both for beginners and seasoned tellers, as well as networking opportunities. Three of my favorites conferences are:
  • New England storyteller Papa Joe once said, “If you want to be a good storyteller tell stories, if you want to be a better storyteller, tell more stories!”

Aneeta: Karen, this is all I have to ask. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Karen: There are some very talented tellers who make a good living storytelling. However, most of us will never become wealthy, in the monetary sense, as storytellers. Today, many art programs around the country have been decimated, and grant funding is being cut, there will be many discouraging days. But when you stand in front of an audience, whether they are preschoolers, elementary students, or adults, and witness the power of story, see the spark of imagination begin to burn in their eyes, and watch them be transported into another realm, I know there is nothing else I would rather do and I know I am wealthy in the truest sense of the word.

Aneeta: Wise words, Karen. Thank you.

Karen: You are doing important work Aneeta and I thank you for your time, energy and wisdom, and the opportunity to speak to your readers. I would love to hear from them and answer any questions they might have now or in the future. They can reach me at storybug@aol.com. I would like to leave you with this quote…

“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe.
But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”
Indian Proverb


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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