I developed this workshop in the spring of 1996 with the generous support of the Libra Foundation, the Mary Hatch Trust and The Marshall Dodge Foundation, under administration of Maine Arts. Since then, I’ve presented it in Elementary and Middle schools from Limestone to York to Calais. Arrangements for funding were made by the Rev. Robert Bryan, who, in addition to his duties as a clergyman, is a legendary New England storyteller. Along with his partner Marshall Dodge, Bob wrote and recorded the original Bert and I records which have become benchmarks in the Downeast storytelling tradition.
I was born and raised in Maine, and for the past three decades I’ve made my living as a professional humorist and storyteller. During that time my appreciation for the art of storytelling has increased and my awareness of the importance of the oral tradition in shaping our image of ourselves has deepened. Despite a tidal wave of electronic “stories” crashing over us via TV, radio, and the like, we continue to tell our own stories in our own way and those stories, in turn, tell a great deal about us.
It is my belief that to an attentive listener, the anecdotes told and repeated, one local to another at Saturday night bean suppers, represent a keyhole through which an entire community may be observed. In many ways, storytelling is the oral version of an archeological dig. The family tale passed along from one Thanksgiving dinner to another, generation upon generation, remains the mirror in which we glimpse the truest reflection of who we are, how we perceive ourselves and what we aspire to be. Through this workshop I have sought to share my belief in the importance of storytelling with Maine schoolchildren. I believe that our storytelling tradition is a vital part of our heritage which deserves, indeed needs to be explored, nurtured, and preserved.
The Storytelling and the Oral Tradition workshop began back in 1995 when a friend of mine who then taught English in the Wiscassett Elementary School asked me to address her Maine Studies class on the topic of storytelling and the oral tradition and it’s importance in the cultural and social life of our state. My presentation was well received, word got around and the following year several schools contacted me requesting that I make a similar presentation for their students.
I have been inspired and encouraged by the talent and enthusiasm of the hundreds of Maine schoolchildren and teachers I’ve met while presenting this workshop. Without fail, the presentation of this workshop and the engagement with our children are my favorite and most refreshing performances. While the funding from the above mentioned non-profit groups has run out, I’m still always looking for schools with bright-eyed, eager students willing to explore the history and heritage of our uniquely Maine way of life.