Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Call to Storytellers/Teaching Artists #1: Mentorship Part I

Quick Performance Update:  
     Thurs., Aug.6 - "Reading to the Rhythm" Storytelling Program as part of Summer Reading Program, Chuckatuck Public Library, Suffolk, VA, 3 - 4 pm
     Fri. & Sat., Aug. 14 & 15 - Storytelling at Umoja Festival 2015, Johnson City, TN
     Sun., Aug. 16 - "Faith 'n' Unity" Storytelling Program, Bethel Christian Church, 701 S. Depot St., Jonesborough, TN; 4 - 5:30 pm
     Tues., Aug. 25 - Storytelling at JOY Luncheon, First Baptist Church, Hampton, VA; 11:30 - 1 pm
     Thurs., Aug. 27 - Storytelling as part of First Baptist Norfolk Outreach, Bobbitt Apartments, Norfolk, VA; 2 - 3 pm
Upcoming Sept./Oct. performances:  MD (Hagerstown); NC (Storytelling Festival of the Carolinas, Laurinburg); NH (White Mountain Storytelling Festival, Waterville Valley); NY (Harrison, New Rochelle); OH (Southern Ohio Storytelling Festival, Chillicothe); TN (National Storytelling Festival, Jonesborough); VA (Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, Yorktown)


It seems as if I have been telling stories all my life, at least according to my Uncle Cosmo, who says when I was younger, I would force the family to sit and watch my “productions.”  Then, when my son, Kriss, was born, I started telling stories to him, and eventually to his classmates.  I started work as a Colonial Williamsburg Storyteller in 1998 and that was the first time I was regularly paid to be a teller. 

It was there, at Colonial Williamsburg, that I got my first taste of true, criticism and good feedback. Her name was Stephanie “Stevie” Kaufmann.  She was, and is, a fantastic storyteller.  I had to “clear” a story (or two) before her and 2 other people before I could tell stories to the general public.  I told an old whaling “scary” story, "The Charnel Ship",  and thought I did well, but Stevie just eviscerated me.  She wondered why I would tell a story about a whaling ship not knowing what that type of ship was, and not even using any proper nautical terms.  She asked if I had done any research at all?  I sputtered out “no”, and she sent me away, told me to go to the children’s section of the library and check out a book on ships and nautical terms, and come back later and see if I could "clear".  I was totally unprepared for that response, but her “kick in the butt” was just what my “natural gift” needed.  So, I went to the children’s section of the library, checked out a book on ships (with lots of pictures and nautical terms) and revised my story.  The next time I told it, all Stevie did was smile from ear to ear and say, “You’re cleared.”   
Stevie Kauffman as Christiana Campbell
from foursquare.com

First lesson in mentorship:  Sometimes you need someone to tell you the truth, kick you in the butt, and make you better – so just listen!

While at Colonial Williamsburg (CW), I met Diane Ferlatte at the second CW Storytelling Festival.  We instantly connected and I have to admit she overwhelmed me with the power of how she told story.  We exchanged phone numbers and I said I would call, although I knew I wouldn’t because she was a “national storyteller, so much better and higher than little ol’ me”.  (Yeah, that was my real thinking.  Yuck!)  I was driving toward home from a program in northern Virginia, just getting ready to pass the Lorton, VA exit on the highway, and here came a call from Diane, “Hi, Sheila.  I’m doing a program about bullying, and am looking for stories.  What would you tell?”  I pulled off that exit and stopped at the Shell station and talked with Diane – my eyes as wide as a deer!  Why had she called me, I wondered?  After some thought, I gave her a suggestion, we talked through the story, and it just wasn’t the right one, but I was delighted that she had at least considered it.  We talked about life and then she gave me the overall gist of her upcoming program, thanked me for listening and we said goodbye.  I was flabbergasted. 

Diane Ferlatte and I

That was the beginning of Diane’s mentorship of me.  She has “made” me stay at her home when visiting in the Oakland area, come to see my program while in the area and given feedback (which I use to this day for that program), sat with me and discussed upcoming programs and stories she wanted to tell and let me give her feedback, introduced me to African-American folktales, writers, folk musicians and the legacy of storytellers before my time; challenged my perception of myself and the limited goals I set; and, encouraged me to think for myself.  Diane was the one I went to for the final bit of advice before presenting at exchange place at the National Storytelling Festival.  Her advice was, “When  you get on the stage, take a moment, breathe and look at your audience for a moment.  Take in that moment.”  I did, and that moment will never leave me.  She continues to encourage me to learn and tell the old stories and to share story with others.

Second lesson in mentoring:  Live your life with your mentee.  Share what you do, not just hearing the other person. 

Next week I’ll share Part II of this blog.  If you have a chance, share with me and readers, who was the person who kicked your butt and got you straight? OR the one who shared their life to such an extent that you were able to see yourself and your career in a clearer light? 

What is Ms. Sheila reading?  Just finished reading “Gray Mountain” by John Grisham, which is an incredible book and a treatise about strip mining and the bureaucracies those effected by coal mining have to face.  It’s a book about Appalachia, a place I have a heart for, and even mentioned one of my favorite places:  Madison, WV.  Now reading a "The Boy who Drew Monsters" by Keith Donohue, a new author to me.
Most interesting thing researched this week? Read a historic society pamphlet about Lincoln County, OK and came across the term, “the 5 Civilized Tribes”, and this disturbed me to no end.  Now I am well aware they used the term in its historical context, but whoa!, it just hit me like a slap.  I often tell teachers to use the terminology used in a particular era, so students won’t be jolted when they hear it, and so they can deal with those terms.  This was proof of that to me again.  How much superiority is stated in those 3 words above, and that shows the reason why so many policies and laws were biased/slanted in the late 1800’s.  Sometimes we need to be shocked and dismayed about our history, to connect to those who were the oppressed, disenfranchised, segregated, abused and neglected

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