"traditional stories"

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.

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
Rumpelstiltskin

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.