I had the most fantastic luck to come into contact with a gentleman who has practically done everything you can think of where storytelling in concerned. It was indeed my great fortune to receive an email from Richard asking if I would like to place a link to his website. When I read about his work and about all the materials on his website, I readily agreed. He has written books, made presentations, written screenplays and the most interesting of all (for me at least), he has created a board game which teaches people based on all the concepts of storytelling.
Aneeta: Richard, thank you for agreeing to participate in this interview.
Richard: Thanks again, for this opportunity.
Aneeta: First, please tell me a little bit about yourself. Where do you come from, your home and what do you do?
Richard: I may be one of the few native Floridians in existence. While I spent my childhood growing up in Tampa, I left for many years attending school in New England, then Nashville, Tennessee, and finally at the Art Institute in Chicago before returning to live in Orlando.
I spent a number of years in the marketing business, starting out in the creative end writing copy for about every media that exists. While I didn’t realize it at the time, I was already telling stories for my clients, and some of my best work that won awards definitely were robust and wild stories that were entertaining as well as informative.
Aneeta: It says on your website, http://www.storywork.com that you discovered storytelling as an art form from sitting next to a couple of backpackers. Please, do tell us what they said and how was it a life-changing experience?
Richard: In late 1989 I met some folks on an airplane traveling back from a hiking trip in the Western U.S.. Somewhere in the conversation they asked me if I had ever been to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. I had never even heard of it, but subsequently became friends with them and traveled to the festival with them. While sitting in the audience I had an epiphany, realizing that my destiny was to be a storyteller. Soon after that I sold my ad agency and embarked on a journey to learn everything I could about storytelling, and haven’t looked back.
Aneeta: I have also read that you are the founder of StoryWork Institute. Please tell me, what does this institute do?
Richard: My vision in the early 1990s was to create an organization devoted to storytelling training and education in the fields of healthcare, business, and education. At the time they were few if any consultants or groups focused on the practical applications of storytelling in the real world. So, it was an adventure, looking at the needs of businesses to develop leaders and focusing the ways leaders need to become proficient storytellers to be effective. Then, I turned my attention to the hospice field, training hospice professionals and volunteers in how to elicit the life stories from patients. The work has branched out from there into a number of other areas of healthcare, from quality improvement to patient safety to employee communications. Just yesterday I spent the afternoon with two executives of a large healthcare claims and administration organization helping them look at the ways they can use storytelling to become better leaders.
Aneeta: I see that you a nationally recognised presenter. What does this mean and what do you do as a presenter exactly?
Richard: I guess if you make presentations at national meetings of major organizations you can make that claim. My presentations vary, but almost always involve some sort of interactive experience for participants to teach them the value of storytelling in their work. I think the largest group I ever worked with was 700 attendees at the National Patient Safety Foundation meeting. I had all of them telling stories to a partner. The hall was so big I couldn’t even see folks in the back row, but they all had a powerful learning experience.
Aneeta: I like the sound of this program, Healing the Family Circle Through the Art of Storytelling. Do tell me, please, what did you in this program and was it a success?
Richard: The idea was a simple one. In the U.S. parents have lost the skills of how to tell and use stories to engage their children. Unfortunately, television has become the central fire in people’s homes and most adults today have had no role models to teach them how to tell and share stories. So, the program is oriented to reawakening the storyteller in each of us. Just recently, I ran this program at a parent homecoming at a private school. It was a very powerful experience, and I can’t help but believe that it will impact the lives of those families for years to come.
Aneeta: You know, that sounds really great. Television has become central to lives here in Malaysia too. You have good ideas!
Your two books, Stories: The Family Legacy and The Healing Art of Storytelling, please, describe them and let us know where and how one can purchase these books?
Richard: Stories: The Family Legacy was created in response to a need in the hospice field for a short and easily accessible book that could guide the recollection process. I think we’re in the fourth or fifth printing right now and have sold nearly 20,000 books since it first came out in the mid-1990s. It can be ordered directly on my web site, www.storywork.com.
The other book, The Healing Art of Storytelling, was first brought out by Hyperion in 1996, and is now available from iUniverse. It is a guide to using storytelling as a tool to heal our lives, and can be purchased on line from most e-bookstores, including amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.
I have a new book that has just come out—The Kingdom of Nowt. It’s a story about the treemungermen who are creatures who live just under the surface of the earth. Trees and bushes are the tops of their heads. They reveal themselves one evening to a young boy and ask his help to preserve their kingdom and save them from the ways of humans who are destroying their world. It’s also available from most e-bookstores.
Aneeta: You’ve even written a screenplay, On The Spot. I’m beginning to ask myself, what do you not do? Tell us about your screenplay, please.
Richard: I have two writing partners who worked with me on this project, Enid and Syd Jackowitz. The premise of the screenplay is that a soon-to-be-wed couple decide that their oldest friends from elementary school would make a great match, but their misguided attempt to put them together at their wedding reception backfires badly. Yet, the two keep running into each other, which leads to all kinds of humorous and sometimes painful consequences.
Aneeta: I find it so interesting that you have created a board game for storytelling, Pitch. Please, tell us all about this.
Richard: About four years ago I was sitting in an unrelated meeting and suddenly had the thought: What if there was a TV game show where imagination is more important than knowledge. And as you know, storytelling is one of the languages of the imagination. I found a TV producer here in Orlando who had game show experience, Rhett Banning, who liked the concept, and we embarked on the show’s development. Along the way we had the idea that we should have a companion board game so audiences could play at home, and we spent the last three years or so developing and testing the game. The TV show is still a possibility, but the board game has taken front seat.
As you know, storytelling and what educators call oracy is the foundation of literacy. We decided early on to make this more than just an entertaining board game, but to find ways to bring it into the classroom. Deede Sharpe, one of the finest curriculum developers in Florida worked with us to create “The Story Invention Guide” for teachers, home schooling parents, and youth leaders that is included for free in every game.
The game is based on the world of entertainment where storytelling is king. Players get to both pitch stories as well as review the stories of their competitors. It’s great fun, and we’re excited about the role it can play in reigniting the imaginations of children as well as adults. It has just now hit the market, and can be bought on line at our web site at www.pitchastory.com.
Aneeta: Richard, I thank you so much for sharing all this information about storytelling. I will really look into this board game.
Richard: Thank you.
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