Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What's the Story with Storytelling?

David Crabb / Performer, Producer & Storyteller

I think a lot of people equate the word "storytelling" with two things. One: their childhood. And two: an obnoxious uncle. The fact is, storytelling is a part of our everyday lives, whether we realize it or not. Here's an example:

Think of the idiot you're forced to work with at the office. Now think of how you have to communicate an idea to this person. Do this, then this, then this... and it'll eventually (hopefully) lead to this. That's storytelling. And that's you, the storyteller, exercising your ability to connect the dots of the universe.

My mother, Judy DeCroce, was the first person to teach me the tricks of the trade. As a real-life professional storyteller, my mom would travel from school to school performing a series of bizarre, engaging and surprisingly morbid stories to students and teachers all around our home city of Rochester, NY. From children to adults, everyone fell under my mother's spell of imagination. She would transform onstage, becoming her characters, evoking a world that existed solely in the minds of the audience—leading them down whichever path she chose.

Judy DeCroce & Tina (Shumway) Fenton / Founders of the GOAL Program in Rochester, NY

My mother was also a teacher, who, with her creative partner Tina (Shumway) Fenton, founded a curriculum in the 70's called the GOAL Program, in which they used the power of storytelling to immerse children in the educational experience. The GOAL Program, like other sister methodologies like Montessori, allowed students (in this case 4th and 5th graders) to understand the world around them by learning how to connect the dots. Storytelling became part of everything the children learned and helped them build a thread between the past, present and future.

Many of the kids my mom used to teach have sought her out years later (yes, she's on Facebook) to tell her how much they loved her classes and what they remember most. And in each of their stories, one resounding comment always shines through—that hers and Ms. Shumway's classes were the only ones they remembered from their childhood—that if someone were to ask them to name something they learned in school, they would always return to those magical years as 9- and 10-year-olds.

Seeing as how (thankfully—for sanity's sake) I wasn't in my mom's school, and since I can barely remember anything about my pre-college school days, other than which teachers were hot and the opening sequence of The Heart of Darkness (now there's some 7th Grade reading!), I'd have to say that my mother must have been doing something right. It probably isn't surprising that I would eventually become a storyteller myself, or that I'd link up with a fellow storyteller like my mom did with Tina.

David Crabb / Storytelling Live at The Pit in New York City

My friend, co-producer and songwriting partner, David Crabb is a natural performer, a magnetic presence and one of the funniest people I know. He recently performed a story called "She" at The Pit in New York City—one which I'd heard bits and pieces of for years, but now finally got to experience the full, hilarious version of. "She" is classic David. It recounts the second half of his high school years in San Antonio, TX, and the sordid adventures of he and his eccentric partygirl friend, Roxanne.

Get the FREE Download
"She" a story by David Crabb / Live at The Pit in New York City >

"She was my best friend when I was sixteen and she was twenty," he says, "so she was like that first older friend you have that gets you into 'adult trouble' instead of 'teen trouble.'" David's story reminds me of everything I loved most about high school and the absurdity of navigating the outer edge of an adult world.

When you hear their stories, people like David and my mother may seem like they're one of a kind—which they are. I remember thinking after hearing David's story, "Wow, do I have anything that would even come close to that?" The answer: Sure I do. And so do you. The non-fiction of our everyday lives will always be infinitely more interesting than the fiction tables at Barnes & Noble, and the more we share these stories with others, the better storytellers we become. And that can have a huge effect on everything we do—from the roles we play at work to the relationships we have with our friends.

And the good news? Everyone loves a story. So let's hear what you've got. Comment back to this post with one of your favorite stories and I'll feature my favorite on THE SILVER THREAD.

Sparrow Hall (of The Silver Thread)

To learn more about Sparrow Hall, visit:


Anonymous said...

Granted, that story is long. But it is hilarious! I need to think before I can come up with my own Roxanne story.

Sparrow Hall / THE SILVER THREAD said...

Can't wait to read it!

Anonymous said...

that was so funny, cat-poop-breath is not your friend!

Sapphire said...

OK, I have a story for you...

Names have been changed to protect the mysterious.

Christmas 2004 is upon us, and I, my sister, and our mother are once again reunited in an all-too-short visit back to the Dirty South...

(OK, I'm switching from the active voice to the passive voice right now for this one, but you'll just have to excuse me for that minor stylistic flaw.)


After the presents have been opened, the potato pancakes and apple pie grog (moonshine and apple cider, anyone?) have been consumed, and the evening is upon them, Ruby, Sapphire, and Topaz decide to emerge from their food comas, put on their dresses, and head out of in search of a madcap adventure at the aptly named Rhythm & Brews in Chattanooga, TN. Drinks, dancing, and wild times ensue, but one particular point in those wild times stands out:

It's the end of the night, and congregated outside in the moonlight are Ruby, looking svelte and sassy as always; Sapphire, smoking in a Marlene Dietrich fashion, looking tempting yet aloof; and Topaz, perched atop a granite podium, wearing what can only be described as Gypsy lingerie mixed with a kick of Carribean flair.

Enter two heavily intoxicated Sigma Chi brothers strutting toward the formidable trio, believing themselves to be surveyors of their own personal "kingdom," which seems to be populated by three femmes fatales breathless with anticipation of their witty repartee and smooth-as-an-oil-slick advances. (Unfortunatly, said "kingdom" would soon turn out to be nary but an abandoned gay disco. But, let us not foreshadow too much.)

Witty repartee does indeed ensue, at least from the mouth of Sapphire, who can barely contain her excitement at the young lambs who are willingly entering the slaughterhouse. The two gentlemen lavish praise upon Sapphire, believing theirs to be a night to remember... (Oh, how true that will soon prove to be.)

AHA! Topaz swoops down from her perch like a gilded parrot, demanding to know why the two gentlemen believed that they could procure a kiss from her sista when they had just 15 minutes before tried the same advance with her. (Oh, hell no.)

The gentlemen (actually, let us call them what they really are: sweaty, overweight frat boys) hastily defend their positions, declaring that neither proposition was in vain: In truth, what they REALLY wanted was for the two ladies to Kiss Each Other. Ah... the plot thickens. Topaz and Sapphire exchange knowing glances.

"All right."

(Sweet! The frat boys are stunned, and therefore that much more vulnerable.)

"On one condition."

(Oh, fine... anything is worth the exquisite pleasure that is soon to be ours! Bubba and Jeb nearly giggle with glee.)

"You have to kiss each other first."


And that, my friends, is how Topaz, Sapphire and Ruby managed to see two good ol' boys kiss each other.

(But that's not the end: Upon hearing the cacophany of laughter and realizing in their alcohol-induced haze that their would-be lovers' end of the bargain was not to be upheld, Bubba proceeded to Tear His Shirt Off and run after his tormentors, screaming "YOU DON"T WAWNT THIYUS!!!!??" until he fell down in a pool of his own shame. And vomit.)

Sparrow Hall / THE SILVER THREAD said...

Sapphire, I love how you and your friends went Y Tu Tambien on the Chattanooga fraternity set. But then, who wouldn't fall victim to such a tempting trap? Thanks for the story. It made my night.

www.inmobiliaria.cn said...

It will not truly have success, I feel like this.

Anonymous said...

I heard the word storytelling today and I had a little flashback to fifth grade and one of the greatest teachers I've ever had telling us the story of the time machine. So I googled her and found this page. I have never heard anyone tell a story like she did--and it's true--her storytelling is about all I remember of my years at Walt Disney. I hope she's doing well and I wish her all the best.

-a former Disney kid, 1995.

Anonymous said...

I was one of those GOAL kids at Disney - a very long time ago. Your mom and Ms. Shumway left a lasting impression on my life. I can't tell stories like Mrs. DeCroce - couldn't if I wanted to. Her words would carry us into a place far away from that classroom, and I've never forgotten that feeling of wonder. I've also never forgotten the value of the GOAL program. I truly wish a program like that existed now, as I have a 6 year old daughter who would flourish in that environment. It was one of the greatest times in my life.