Storyteller, Doria Hughes on PST Partnership with massmouth inc.


Doria Hughes
On October 18th, massmouth hosted our first Adult Folk Tale Slam at Puppet Showplace Theatre. Our theme was "Grimm & Twisted," in honor of the bicentennial of the publication of the Grimm brothers' famous collection of folktales, and the Slam was a blast. Folks at the show may not have known it, but returning to PST as co-host of the Grimm & Twisted Adult Folk Tale Slam was a kind of Homecoming for me.

I couldn't have been older than six years old when I first walked into the Puppet Showplace Theatre. I was aware of a high ceilinged room, made of cozy brick walls festooned with colorfully painted papier maché characters. Children and adults swirled about and laughed, waiting eagerly to pass through the enticingly curtained doorway to whatever lay beyond. Once through, the performance space felt well contained, rows of comfortable benches and cushions cradled between the embracing bricks and the modest stage. The walls gave an impression of softness, decorated with fanciful examples of the puppeteer's art, frozen in the midst of mysterious motion. The lighting was warm and inviting, not harsh the way other theater spaces had always felt to me. I felt fearless and thrilled, with no notion of what to expect, other than the certainty that I would like it.

Circa 1980, with my Dad, who read folk tales
 and fairy tales aloud to me all the way through
High School, and who took me to
 Puppet Showplace Theatre.
When the show began, I noticed straight off that the grownup who made the magic happen remained unobtrusive in the background, instead of dominating the stage, as was usually done in the theater shows I’d been to. The other children and I in the audience weren't fooled; we knew that the intricately fashioned creatures cavorting and speaking for our amusement were neither alive, nor independent of human agency. However, our understanding didn’t lessen our delight. In fact, it was enhanced; we enjoyed being allowed to view the arcane relationship of the dancing strings to the buoyant puppets and their clever master.

Beyond the beauty and clever movements of the puppets, I was struck by how well and truly the art of Puppetry served the art of Storytelling. And I was awed by the humility of the puppeteer, who lived only, it seemed to me, to serve the puppets, who in turn told and acted out the Story. I had always loved stories, which I had (and still do) eagerly read in books, but it was not until my first visit to the Puppet Showplace Theatre that I realized how beautiful and magical live Storytelling could be. My experience at PST taught me that books did not represent the limit of story transmission. In fact, books are a starting point, a key to an exciting and limitless world: the world of Storytelling.

Skip forward 25 years and I found myself a Professional Storyteller, with little more than a website and some homemade business cards to prove it. I was the rookie in a gang of four storytellers who meant to drag our ancient art form, kicking and screaming if need be, into the 21st century. Norah Dooley, Andrea Lovett, Stu Mendelson and I co-founded the Storytelling organization massmouth. Our goal was to spread the Gospel of Story beyond the traditional venues of libraries and schools, into more adult haunts - pubs, night clubs, and the web.
Telling at massmouth’s first Story Slam, in 2009

We launched an ambitious first series of Adult Story Slams and Mouth Offs throughout greater Boston. Story Slams offered ordinary people 5 minutes to share a personal story in public. The response showed that we had clearly tapped a vein of need in our community.

As gratifying as the popularity of the Slams has been, we didn’t want massmouth to be limited to the genre of Personal Narratives. Our passion for folktales had driven us to start massmouth, and we wanted to get those stories told - and heard. How? An Adult Folk Tale Slam series. Lots of folks were itching to tell those stories, and audiences wanted to hear them. But where would the magic happen?

Our Story Slams are often held in restaurant bars, following the unerring logic that personal stories and beer are old friends and belong together. But what about folk tales, where could they find a home? And, even more importantly, could folks still have a drink while enjoying them?? Norah, a Brookline resident, suggested the Puppet Showplace Theatre as a perfect venue for an evening of Adult Folk Tale Telling. I loved the idea, but worried they’d think we were a bunch of weirdos, somewhere between zebra feeders and bassoon repairmen. We introduced the idea of co-hosting a Slam series to Roxie, PST's Artistic Director, and were received with open arms - huzzah! While going over details, Roxie let slip that PST had recently acquired a liquor license, and could serve beer and wine at shows. Norah and I exchanged mental high-fives and tried hard not to grin like a pair of crazy Storytelling lushes. Which, to be clear, we're not, by any means.

The night of the first Slam, I was nervous, excited, and all the other things you are when you're about to perform in a place that is more of an iconic archetype than a simple theater space. Yet the moment I stepped foot inside PST, all the old memories and impressions came rushing back in an instant. There was the high ceilinged entry space, the alluring curtain, the puppets all around, and those beloved brick walls! It all looked just as I remembered it from childhood, lovingly preserved in all its sweet and colorful glory. Only now, for the first time, it was my privilege to step onto that modest stage, and tell a story. In the heady rush that is my personal experience of Storytelling, it felt so good to feel the Puppet Showplace Theatre simultaneously all around me and beneath my feet, florid and fragile as a puppet, solid and warm as a brick. I could have sworn one of the puppets on the wall winked at me, as if to say, Welcome Home!

On stage at PST for the first Folk and Fairytale Slam, 2012!

Want to experience Adult Folk Tale telling at PST? Our next Slam is on Thursday November 15th, from 7 to 9pm. The theme will be "Feast & Famine," co-hosted by Danielle Shulman and Laura Packer. Doors open at 6:30, and incidentally, beer and wine are available for purchase. Click here for more details.

Want to be a guest blogger for the Puppet Showplace Theatre blog? Please contact Brenda Huggins for details. 617-731-6400 x 201