PST Recognizes Norah Dooley, Co-Founder of massmouth, inc for Leadership in the Arts

Reflections on a Creative Leadership Award

by Guest Blogger: Norah Dooley, Co-Founder of massmouth, inc.

This Tuesday, June 4th, 2013  I am honored to receive a Creative Leadership Award at Puppet Showplace Theatre at the Garden Party Gala, celebrating the occasion of their 39th birthday. 

When we first approached Puppet Showplace, in 2010, with the idea of a collaboration, massmouth was just over one year old. We had long known and respected Puppet Showplace Theatre as a venue that supported the art form of puppetry which, much like storytelling, it is an art form with ancient roots that evokes rather than replaces imagination. We also knew that Puppet Showplace Theatre were successful. They had a history that showed grit and commitment that we could admire and aspire to; they had survived as artists and had maintained a continuously operating theater right in the heart of Greater Boston for over 3 decades.

Three years ago, we were whippersnappers, who had just finished our first season of story slams and believed we had a some social capital to share. And if leadership is boldly asking for what one needs, whether  appropriate or not, then I have earned some part of this honor -  although Cheeky Monkey Award would be a name better fitted to my style. We were beggars at the Puppet Theatre gate and  very seriously in need of inexpensive or free office space because our operations had outgrown bedroom/living room arrangement. I suggested a collaboration based on our needs. Ultimately and not surprisingly, the first date between massmouth and Puppet Showplace Theatre did not lead to a relationship.

Norah Dooley Introducing Maria Tatar at our first "Grimm and Twisted" fairytale slam at PST
 - also the 200th anniversary of the Grimms
Skip ahead to this spring.  I am reading ( more precisely, skimming)  the email announcing I was being honored with this award. At first glance I thought that I was being asked to write a recommendation for Roxie Myhrum.  She was the one who helped us find a way to work together.  How perfect, I thought. Roxie is someone with vision, passion and drive. She really deserves this kind of award. I was so delighted to be able to do a small favor for Artistic Director of the Puppet Showplace Theatre that I started to read the email, just to be sure I knew when the deadline for my recommendation might be. 

This closer reading revealed a mind-blowing truth - The Creative Leadership Award was being given to me and Roxie had been my nominator. I know. It was crazy!  Immediately I was on the phone asking Maria Finison, PST Board Member, if the award could be expanded to include the other organizers and founders of massmouth who are still active in Boston. Specifically, Doria Hughes who co-hosted and planned the series at Puppet Showplace Theatre with me and Andrea Lovett, who is always actively promoting the art of storytelling.  They both are leaders in the very best in contemporary performance of traditional material. But, no dice. This is an award for one person and Puppet Showplace Theatre wanted me. They cited the other areas of my work as fitting their criteria; my picture books, workshops, curricula etc. and so, although it is awkward to be so honored, I realized that I had to man-up and take one for the team.  So I accept this award for me as a representative of the art of  storytelling. 

Last summer after a different kind of overture we shared a proposal with Puppet Showplace Theatre and created a project that worked. It had been a dream at massmouth,inc. that we would one day be able to entice a theater or another arts group to support traditional storytelling.  This was an area of storytelling that we had mastered and worked in for decades. When we saw all storytelling on the wane, we started massmouth. When we saw the new energy slams brought to the art form we came up with an idea to mimic our successful 1st person story slams only using traditional content.

Doria Hughes, storyteller fabulosa,  traditional storytellers from Greater Boston and the region and I presented a monthly series of folk & fairy tale slams events right here. Our Slamming the Tradition: Six traditional storytelling events for adults were part open slam, where tellers presented stories no longer than 7 minutes, that were fiction and in some traditional form and part featured performer. Unlike our other story slams, tellers could include props, costumes and music BUT no notes. We secured the prizes and the audience chose winners: A bag of magic beans, magic wishing stone and a small bale of hay were award each month along with a gift card, donated by the Brookline Booksmith. Our first event was written up in ArtsFuse OCT 21 2012.

Performing with Susan Miron on February 14th, 2013 at PST
Audiences and performers enjoyed the project and you can read more about specific nights here. One of the highlights of our series for me was that I was able to create a program and present a feature on Feb 14th,  2013, telling longer stories from Boccaccio's 14th century collection of tales, The Decameron. Giovanni Boccaccio, a favorite of mine. He was an Italian author and poet, and an important Renaissance humanist. Boccaccio is particularly noted for his natural, his skewering of hypocrites in high places, witty dialogue and his sympathetic female characters.

My stories ranged from naughty to lusty, and included romantic tales that came from ancient story traditions of India and the bards of the Holy Roman Empire. Susan Miron accompanied me on the harp. She drew on various ancient folk melodies and dances from Southern Italy. The music comes from authentic folk songs of Campagnia, Calabria, Puglia & Napoli as transcribed by John LaBarbera, mandolinist.

All the performers at "Love, sex and heads may roll." at PST
Thank you so much to Andrea, Doria and Stu, the co-founders of massmouth, to Paula Junn and Hannah Lapuh the staff, the Board of Directors and all the volunteers at massmouth. Thanks to all my friends and supporters especially Sheila Leavitt and Susan Miron. Thanks to all the storytellers and listeners. Thanks so much to all at Puppet Showplace Theatre. You are our artistic cousins and have treated us like family -and you all have been delightfully collegial and fun to work with besides.  And, saving the most important for last, thanks to my family for their support my art and endurance of my absences, rants and excesses as I follow a quixotic quest for a path that leads to right livelihood through work as an artist. Thank you, all.

Workshop Series at PST!


massmouth inc. Workshop: Family Stories
Sunday Dec 2 | 3 PM

Heirlooms, boxes, old photo albums - is your house filled with the beginnings of great stories?  Learn how to turn mementos and memories into compelling tales that can be sharedwith friends and family - just in time for the holidays!  Bring a photo (or any other object) or a memory that reminds you of a person or an event in your life or your family's history - anything that will inspire you to tell a great story.

About the Workshop SeriesPuppet Showplace Theatre and massmouth, inc. have teamed up to connect YOU to the amazing art of traditional storytelling. Join professional storyteller Norah Dooley for these fun, interactive all-ages workshops that will connect you to this timeless art form and unlock your storytelling abilities. Only 15 spots available, so register ASAP! 

Cost: $25/individual; $15/additional family member
PST Members: $20/individual, $10/additional family member
*Children under age 13 must participate with a parent or guardian.


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 info@puppetshowplace.org

PST to Host Traditional Story Slams

Traditional Story Slams for Teens and Adults

Have a favorite folk or fairytale you like to tell your kids? A soft spot for heros, evil kings, and talking animals? Want to dabble in the world of parables and fables? You're invited to participate in PST/massmouth, inc.'s monthly Traditional Story Slam. Each event, which will take place from 7-9pm at Puppet Showplace Theatre in Brookline, will feature seven story slammers and one featured storyteller. 

Slam guidelines include:
  • 7-minute story limit
  • content must be fictional and based in some tradition and the evening's theme.
  • content cannot be from a literary work must be teller’s own words
  • tellers may use props, costumes, and/or music
  • tellers cannot use notes
Prizes for top storytellers (chosen by the audience) include a bag of magic beans, a magic wishing stone, and a small bale of hay. Additional prizes maybe added.

Traditional Story Slam Dates!
2012: Oct 18, Nov 15, Dec 20 from 7-9pm
2013: Jan 17, Feb 14, Mar 14 from 7-9pm

Tickets will be $8 online and $10 at the door.  

Story Slams

massmouth storyteller
The primary way in which massmouth promotes storytelling is through story slams. Similar to a poetry slam, a story slam is a competition based on the art of storytelling. At each event, interested slammers will submit their names to participate and the chosen few (the lucky eight to ten chosen at random from a box) get to tell their stories. Each participant will deliver a five-minute story (based on the event’s chosen theme), which will be scored by volunteer judges. The judges’ base their scores on presentation, structure, exploration of and connection to the slam’s theme, and time limit. 
Additionally, the story must be an original, real-life adventure with a beginning, middle, and end. The two highest-scoring tellers are awarded prizes and an opportunity to perform at the “the big mouthoff”

Through the 2012-2013 season, massmouth, inc. will offer three to four story slams a month at venues across the Greater Boston area. Upcoming story slams include themes such as “night owl,” “foodie,” and “betrayal.” The organization’s next event will take place on Saturday, September 29, from 3pm-6pm at the Rosebud Bar and Grill in Somerville, Mass. The event’s theme is “labels.”

For more information about massmouth, inc., check out their website.

Traditional Storytelling

Where the massmouth/Puppet Showplace Theatre collaboration differs from usual story slams is the emphasis on traditional storytelling. Where massmouth events typically require stories to be first-person narrative based on lived experience, traditional stories must be based in fiction and borrowed from a traditional source.

These adults-only events are geared towards restoring the rawness and roughness and eliminating the “knee-slapping and feel good endings” of watered-down folk and fairytales. Contrary to fairytales of the Disney era, these stories should not provide tidy moral lessons.

Similarly, massmouth, inc. founder Norah Dooley warns participants to be wary of the term “adult.” According to Dooley, “‘adult’ [does] not mean simply tacking on promiscuity, gender issues and substance abuse one has created an "adult" tale… an adult tale is one that is complex, deep, and resonating enough to entertain and challenge even the most jaded grown up.”

For more information on traditional storytelling, check out Norah Dooley’s blog post on the subject.

Organizations Unite to Promote Storytelling

Puppet Showplace Theatre to collaborate with storytelling 
nonprofit massmouth, inc.

This 2012-2013 season Puppet Showplace Theatre will be teaming up massmouth, inc., a nonprofit organization focused on promoting storytelling in the 21st century, for a new partnership to promote traditional storytelling in Boston. The non-profit organizations are set to collaborate on all-ages, family storytelling performance-and-workshops with massmouth, inc.'s Norah Dooley as well as adults-only Folk and Fairytale slams.

Storytelling Workshop Series Dates

How to Tell a Great Fairytale,” Oct 8 from 3-5pm - Experience the magic of a well-told traditional tale, then learn how storytellers can make fantastical characters and settings come to life using the power of words and imagination. Bring a favorite fairytale, or use one from our collections! Register Here

Family Stories,” Dec 2 from 3-5pm - Heirlooms, attic boxes, old photo albums...Is your house filled with the beginnings of great stories? Just in time for the holidays, learn how to turn mementos and memories into compelling tales that can be shared with friends and family. Bring a photo or any object that reminds you of a person or event in your life or family history. Or simply bring a memory that you think would make a good story. Register Here

Single registrant: $25/person ($20 PST members)
Family pricing: $25/ first participant, $15 additional ($20/$10 for PST members).
Children under 13 must participate with an adult.

massmouth, inc.

Founded in August, 2008 by Norah Dooley, Andrea Lovett and Doria Hughes, massmouth, inc. is a Massachusetts-based nonprofit committed to promoting the timeless art of storytelling in the 21st century through digital and social media, education and live performance. massmouth aims to reinvigorate storytelling in Massachusetts and restore it to its rightful place as a recognized art form.  Additionally, the organization hopes to improve storytelling’s accessibility to all and empower others to listen to, create, and share their stories through education and community outreach. 

For more information, check out massmouth's website. 

Norah Dooley
Norah Dooley, workshop leader

The massmouth, inc./PST collaboration has been spearheaded by massmouth founder Norah Dooley. A storyteller, critically-acclaimed children’s author and educator, Norah started a story slam series in Greater Boston as co-founder of massmouth, inc. Additionally, Norah has published six storytelling CDs, and her widely acclaimed picture book, Everybody Cooks Rice is one of four titles in a series about her former neighborhood in Cambridge, Mass. She teaches storytelling, performance skills, directs theater, and performs in schools, libraries and teacher’s conferences. Norah was the featured storyteller in the Christmas and Spring Revels in Cambridge and Boston, Mass., the Cambridge River Festival, Newport Folk Festival, Albany NY River Festival, 3 Apples Storytelling Festival, MA and at the Clearwater Festival.

For more information about Norah, visit her website.