BAR HARBOR — Student storytellers told tales of a souped-up go kart, a shape-shifting unicorn and a pumpkin squash pie on fire at the Jesup library last week.
The performance was part of a new program called “The Write Stuff,” a collaborative program among local schools and the Jesup to “help kids become story-makers,” according to organizers.
This group of 10 students in grades three through five met once a week for seven weeks with Andrew Simon of the Barn Arts Collective to study and practice storytelling performance.
After physical warm-ups at each meeting, Simon led the group through games and other exercises to practice skills they’d use in performing their stories. They’d practice, for example, picking an emotion and trying different ways of expressing and indicating that emotion with their voices, faces and bodies.
That work was evident in Ashlin Marsh-Hodgdon’s story about her little brother’s frustration with diapers. When playing her brother in the story, she put on an impressive, memorable pout, howled like a toddler and sank to the floor.
Then the group worked on choosing stories and practiced performing them for each other.
Simon said he was impressed — especially since they were meeting during squiggly after-school hours — at how well the students listened to each other’s stories and offered feedback.
“I wanted to focus on them being able to be there with each other,” he said. That focus formed a strong group connection even though the final performances were solo acts.
Most of the stories were about the kids’ own experiences. “You know [your own story] better” than something you’ve heard or read about, student Martin Hurley said. “So you can express it better.”
When looking for a story to tell, student Porter Graham sought out his grandfather. “He’s always told me all sorts of crazy stories,” he said. He settled on a story about a go kart that became a do-it-yourself small engines workshop for its owner and his friends.
The storytellers looked for moments of suspense in the stories, so they could highlight them in the telling.
“You get tense,” student Gwendolyn Stager said of the desired reaction in the listener. “It’s like, what’s gonna happen next?”
Graham agreed that suspense helps keep the audience’s attention. “It keeps you on the edge of your seat,” he said.
In addition to Marsh-Hodgdon, Hurley, Porter and Stager, the group included Rowan Preston-Schreck, Maya Laplant, Kitty Saltysiak, Hayden Graves, Maeve Hurley and Simone Sargent.
The Write Stuff kicked off in October with a visit by award-winning children’s author Carole Weatherford. During her two-day visit, all students from Conners Emerson had the chance to work with her at the Jesup. Weatherford also gave a presentation at the high school as well that high school librarian Davonne Pappas called one of the best author visits there ever. This was intended to inspire kids to create their own stories and jumpstart their creativity, said Melinda Rice of the Jesup.
“We hope that some graduates of this year’s workshops will return as peer mentors in the future,” Rice said.
The program is funded by a grant from the Maine State Library and a donation from Machias Savings Bank, with additional financial support from the Jesup, Jesup Young Readers Committee, Conners Emerson and MDI High School.
The second workshop, on written storytelling with Carrie Jones, will be held at the Conners Emerson School Library on Thursdays from 3:15 to 4 p.m., from Jan. 3 to Feb. 7. It is open to students from any school or home school. A public reading and author event is planned for Thursday, Feb. 28 at 3:30 p.m. at the Jesup.
A third workshop, focusing on poetry and improv, will be led by Nicole Cardano. It runs from March 7 to April 11 at Conners Emerson and is also open to all. The poetry performance for the Jesup is set for Thursday April 25 at 3:30 p.m.
Contact Rice at 288-4245 or firstname.lastname@example.org.