By Vicki McCash Brennan
People have been sharing stories since the beginning of time. We know myths, legends and fairy tales only because people long ago passed them from generation to generation and place to place.
Although today we have many electronic ways to communicate with each other, people are still telling stories in decidedly low-tech ways.
“Sharing stories across a kitchen table is a wonderful way to start,” said Mij Byram, who coordinates the Palm Beach Storytelling Guild, an informal group that meets monthly in Delray Beach.
“It’s not about technology,” she said. “It’s real. It’s the real thing: looking eye to eye with one person or with an audience and connecting.”
Everyone has a story to tell.
“Storytelling is a human legacy. We all do it,” says Caren Neile, director of the South Florida Storytelling Project at Florida Atlantic University. Neile’s work takes her to hospices and Alzheimer’s day care centers, schools and libraries, storytelling groups and into the university, where she teaches two storytelling classes every semester. She also helps coordinate and promote professional storyteller performances in South Florida.
Neile teaches plenty of educators and librarians about telling stories to children, but her real passion is in cajoling adults to start sharing their own stories.
“I encourage people to form reminiscence groups,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be something that’s ready to be made into a major motion picture.”
All a story really needs is a beginning, a middle and an end.
“Be as vivid as possible,” Neile said. “Include the sights, the sounds, the sense details.”
An easy way to get started is to attend storyteller Glad McLeod's session, “I'll Tell You Mine if You Tell Me Yours,” at Palm Beach County’s Hagen Ranch Road Library in Delray Beach the first Friday of every month.
McLeod, who lives in South Palm Beach, said she likes to keep the group informal and non-threatening. “There’s no applause. We just say thank you. That way if feels less like you’re performing.”
Sometimes McLeod chooses a theme, such as “the time I was happiest” or “love stories.” Or she will tell a story from her own life to kick things off and spark other stories.
“It’s a natural process,” Neile said. “One person tells a story, and then another person says, ‘Oh, I have a story like that one,’ and on it goes.”
That’s what usually happens at a monthly storytelling competition called Vox, held the last Saturday of the month at Gizzi’s Coffee Gallery in Delray Beach.
In February, professional storyteller Rosalind Breznick-Perry, a part-time resident of Deerfield Beach, surprised the crowd by kicking off the evening with a story that involved the disposal of a Mrs. Goldberg’s cremated remains. Several other stories about grandmothers and cremated remains followed, topped by Boca Raton resident Peter Byron’s hilarious story about a time when, as a student pilot, he participated in a botched effort to scatter remains from a small plane.
The storytellers at Vox and other events are not professionals, and many stand up to tell a story for the first time, inspired by a story that came before.
“Just hearing all the stories inspired me,” said Gina Longo of Delray Beach, who won February’s Vox with a story she had never told before about her grandmother, whose “personality was about eight feet tall.” Longo remembered being “always the brunt of my grandmother’s advice and pearls of wisdom.”
Storytelling events attract all ages, but McLeod especially likes to encourage the over-60 crowd to open up and start telling. “We, as seniors, are living libraries. If we don't start sharing our stories now, we’re going to lose them forever,” McLeod said. McLeod, Byram, Neile and other storytellers emphasize that storytelling doesn’t have to be formal or intimidating. It’s something that comes naturally in conversation. The only difference with a storytelling group is that the audience is there to listen and tell, rather than to converse.
“I like to say it’s magic, but it’s not,” Byram said. “We’re all storytellers. We just have to realize it.”
Rules for Reminiscence Groups
• One person tells a story at a time, usually three to five minutes long.
• The group applauds or thanks the teller.
• A short time is allowed for questions.
• The Vegas Rule is enforced: What happens in the story group stays in the story group.
• A facilitator is helpful, but not necessary.
To find a professional facilitator, contact one of the people listed here.
SOURCE: Caren Neile, director, South Florida Storytelling Project, FAU
For More Information
• Palm Beach Storytelling Guild Mij Byram, on the Web at www.mijbyram.com, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
• Storytelling Facilitator Glad McLeod Call 516-582-9047
• South Florida Storytelling Project, FAU Caren Neile, email@example.com or 561-297-0042
NOTE: For upcoming storytelling events, please check the Community Calendar.