February 26th, 2015

By Frank Basile

Basile SmallestEmployees learn more about a company and what it stands for from incidents that happen with the CEO and other executives than from company manuals. Manuals simply state how things should be or how the writer wants people to think they are. What people actually do is the way things are.

Management consultant, author and speaker Tom Peters says, “The best leaders, almost without exception and at every level, are master users of stories and symbols.”

A great believer in the value of stories within a business organization is Patrick Kelly, who founded the company Physician Sales and Service (PSS).

“Fast Company” Magazine carried an article about Kelly titled “Every leader tells a story.” “Forget bullet points and slide shows. The best leaders use stories to answer three simple questions: Who am I? Who are we? Where are we going?”

In this article, Elizabeth Weil writes, “In the new world of business, where it’s every executive’s job to make sense of a fast changing environment, storytelling is the ultimate leadership tool.”

“Leadership is about change,” says Noel M. Tichy, a professor at the University of Michigan Business School and the coauthor of The Leadership Engine (Harper Business, 1997). “It’s about taking people from where they are now to where they need to be. The best way to get people to venture into unknown terrain is to make it desirable by taking them there in their imaginations.” In other words, by telling them stories.

“Faster Company” (John Wiley & Sons, 1998) is an entertaining, instructive account of Physician Sales and Service’s 15-year rise to prominence and prosperity. CEO Pat Kelly hopes it sells lots of copies.

But that’s not why he wrote it. “Now I have something to put in the hands of all my employees and say, ‘This is the way we treat each other. This is the way we treat our customers. If you understand this, you’ll make it here, and we’ll all be extraordinarily successful. This is our story.’”

In May 1996 I wrote an article “How to write a book about your company.” That book has now materialized into Born to Build.

The feedback we have received from those who have read the book confirm our decision to use Gene Glick’s own anecdotes and stories to relate the history of our company rather than the conventional approach of a third party providing facts and dates. It has made the book much more interesting and insightful, which is what we wanted to accomplish.

Each new employee with our company receives a copy of the book because we agree with Pat Kelly’s comments about the value of relating the company’s values and culture through stories.

For those interested in writing a company history, I would be happy to provide them with a reprint of my earlier article or respond to questions on the telephone. Though it was frequently frustrating, took three and a half years and cost $115,000, it was well worth it.

To provide some specific background as to why our book was written and whether the time, money and effort was worth it, I will quote from Gene Glick’s preface to Born to Build.

“The irascible Samuel Johnson observed that “no man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” Since it’s immediately obvious that this book will never make The New York Times’ nonfiction best-seller list, Johnson’s view is not the underlying inspiration for it.

So why did I write it? One of my reasons is that it would inform, perhaps inspire, establish some history, and, I hope, entertain with some humor. I didn’t want to write the kind of book that once you put it down, you couldn’t bear to pick it up again!

We hope that laying out what amounts to a case history of what can be accomplished, starting from scratch, will not only be of interest to someone with an entrepreneurial bent, but might be an inspiration to anyone wishing to make the attempt to follow a dream. And from a purely academic point of view, I hope this book will be an explanation to the student of how an idea grew to become a major force in an entire industry.

It will inform our colleagues, present and future, on the basic tenet on which the organization was built and how it prospered: that dedicated service by people of excellence would be recognized in the marketplace. It should become obvious that teamwork of those sharing a mission is the basis of success of an organization formed of people with vision and integrity.

It has taken far more time than anticipated, more work than we thought possible, and has admittedly been a source of exasperation at times. So the question arises: would you start the effort again? And the answer is a resounding “Yes”! Memories were stirred, factors of success were revealed, and the underlying value of the project was very much reinforced.”

If you want to learn more about storytelling and perhaps use it more within your organization, attend the Story of Your Business and the Business of Your Story series,

Telling Jewish Stories in Antarctica

January 27th, 2015

Bob Zalkin


I am perhapsBob Zalkin the only professional storyteller in the world who has told on all 7 continents of the world: North America, South America, Europe, Asia. Africa, Australia and lately, Antarctica. This was achieved because I serve as Jewish clergyman on world class cruise ships. The foundation of my programs is my stories, personal, traditional and literary from the vast Jewish repertoire. I am particularly attracted to stories that open the emotions, and that have a spiritual emphasis. My overall story signature is Stories and Songs That Touch The Heart

Last week, I returned from a 24 day trip to Antarctica. That trip was a study in contrasts: the pristine nature of the area and its history of rape and pillage;  the stark magnificence of the landscape and the ultra-luxury of the cruise ship; the difficulties of getting to and traversing the land and the comfort and ease on board. It was all quite wonderful!

In the early days of Western activity in Antarctica, the harbors teemed with whales. Vast numbers of them were chopped up for their oil, and considerable fortunes were made, with no attention at all to the environmental price. Today, the opposite is true

Only ships with less than 500 passengers are permitted (Ours had 450).Then, only 100 people at a time are permitted to actually land. We were assigned a 2 hour period each day for land exploration. Since it never really gets dark in the Antarctic summer, on some days the land explorations started at 4 am! We dressed in layers, insulated underwear , several layers of shirts/blouses, water and wind proof pants, special boots, underparka and parka. All our outer clothing had been inspected and vacuumed to remove any possibility of an errant seed of an invasive species, and we stepped into a disinfectant to make sure our boot soles were pristine. We were strapped into life jackets for the trip to shore.

Then, specially trained (and strong!) crew members helped us from the boat onto the zodiacs (motorized rafts) that actually transported us to shore. On some days, instead of a land visit, we spent our time zooming into magnificent bays, watching the penguins and seals .One day, a penguin tried to leap into our zodiac. Not a good idea to have a penguin in your boat. If it is attempting escape from a leopard seal, you might find yourself with a vicious and hungry leopard seal in your lap, not a happy situation!

The landscape in Antarctica is so grand that the camera cannot capture it. Vast glacier covered mountains, fluorescent blue caves in mighty icebergs, penguins leaping onto floating ice islands. To top it off, we were blessed with almost perfect weather. The infamous Drake Passage rounding Cape Horn, home to some of the most tumultuous waters on the planet, a place where even hardened crew members get seasick, was for us an easy one day passage.

Here is my very favorite memory of my voyage to Antarctica. It is 8pm. I am sitting in the aft deck restaurant. The sun is still well above the horizon and the temperature is about 50(can you believe it?). There is no wind , and wind is the critical factor, which can turn 50 above into 30 below, in an instant. I am basking in a sunbeam and am surrounded 360 degrees by glacier covered mountains. In the distance is an incredibly beautiful and mystical mountain range that immediately brings to mind the entrance to that place of infinite peace and compassion, Shangrila, immortalized in the classic book by James Hilton, “Lost Horizon.” All the while, I am being served a gourmet dinner. As the saying goes, “it doesn’t get any better than this.”

I am truly blessed. One of my goals is to transmit ,with my stories, my sense of gratitude, excitement and delight in life.

I Call Home…My Mountains

November 18th, 2014

On_stage_with_banjo_1993Sheila Kay Adams

The moon is laying a silver shawl over the entire ridge and every where the snow still lingers it looks like a rainbow peeps out at you as you walk by. I’ve walked to the top of the ridge and back just marveling at the beauty of this place I call home… my mountains holding me close… Ahhhh this is where God lives. I can feel it in my very soul. I know where my mother, father, Jim and many aunts and uncles are tonight… somehow that’s a very peaceful feeling. There was a time when everyone I ever loved still lived – now they live on in sweet memories and fond reflection. Love going out to all y’all from an old soul who loves these mountains and all that lies beneath them. God’s blessing on each and every one of you. Drove back though Sodom and hold each voice and memory with loving hands. I am blessed.

” Just stood on the porch for a few minutes and my heart filled with such quiet joy and peace. Ain’t we a funny bunch, my dearest dears? Life is so precious and fleeting. All we have to do is ask and be still and we get it all. A world of wonder waits just outside our little selves. And I am so very thankful that sometimes, not all the time, but enough times I’m able to be still and know Something is there. The wind is still blowing and it is snowing and it is so beautiful. Love going out to all my dearest dears from a snow blanketed Eskey’s Ridge. Good night, loving hearts. Just watched ‘Pay It Forward’ and hope to keep doing just that. Take time to go out and give thanks for a night of wonder…. Wherever you are It is there! xoxo SK”

Kentucky Folktales by Mary Hamilton

September 29th, 2014

Mary Hamilton

Mary Hamilton ResizedHave you ever wondered how a storyteller decides what story to tell, when to tell it, or how to tell it? What you see on the stage is akin to the visible tip of an iceberg. If you are at all curious about the underlying portions of the storytelling art, have I written a book for you — Kentucky Folktales: Revealing Stories, Truths, and Outright Lies. From the title alone you wouldn’t know, but the book is more than a collection of stories. Yes, there are stories – twenty-six of them – written down as close to how I tell them as writing allows. Each story is also followed by a commentary that includes not only the source of the story but an essay that delves into the storytelling art. Here’s what others have said about this unusual folktale collection:

“This book functions on two levels…great stories which will be fun for the casual reader…along with in depth notes showing how a contemporary storyteller…Mary Hamilton…shapes a tale for telling. Lovers of story will find a lot to delight them in this book. And Kentucky story lovers will just want to grab it and take it home with them to keep!”
— Dr. Margaret Read MacDonald, author of Ten Traditional Tellers

“Mary Hamilton has given us not only a glorious collection of dazzling tales, spooky, tall, international, regional, historical, personal, and family, but also an inspiring model of how a truly professional storyteller works.”
— Jo Radner, “Book Notes” Storytelling Magazine, June/July 2012

Kentucky Folktales received an Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Award and was also named a Storytelling World Winner in the Storytelling Collections category.

Essay topics addressed in the commentaries include:
• how audience responses shape tellings
• how and why telling a personal experience story to strangers requires a different telling from sharing the same experience with friends or family
• what a teller learns when the teller does not approach stories as words to be memorized
• how the writing of a tale differs from telling it
• what sort of research a teller might conduct to retell a folktale
• what makes a story a Kentucky folktale, or an Indiana folktale, or a folktale from any other place or people

Within the commentaries on five of the twenty-six stories, you’ll find archival texts so you can compare the story as I first encountered it with the story as I retell it. You may end up agreeing or disagreeing with my artistic decisions.

Following “The Gingerbread Boy” a creepy scary tale (not the “Run, run fast as you can…” tale you may recall from childhood, although running is not a bad idea for the main character), you’ll find a draft of a retelling by Chicago area storyteller Linda Gorham, who was inspired to retell it her way after encountering my retelling. Through this, you’ll have a peek into how folktales spread among contemporary storytellers.

Leonard Roberts, a Kentucky folklorist, collected several versions of two of the tales, so I created charts to show you the differences between ten versions of “Little Ripen Pear” and eight versions of “The Enormous Bear” from the Leonard Roberts Collection, Southern Appalachian Archives, Berea College.

A memory — I remember that when I was in first grade, an older girl named Anna Jo Hinton taught me how to run into the jump rope — became the story “Jump Rope Kingdom.” Find out how memory became story in the book. To hear that story now, visit:

In addition to “Jump Rope Kingdom” the book includes four more Hamilton family stories. Yes, family tales are indeed a form of folklore. Your family no doubt has tales too. You’ll also find seven haunting tales arranged from slightly spooky to truly terrifying with a bit of comic relief in the final selection. The outright lies mentioned in the title applies, mainly, to the tall tale section of six stories including “Some Dog” – an epic tall tale featuring my brothers, our family farm, and one truly amazing dog. A section titled “More Kentucky Folktales” includes a formula tale, a catch tale, a couple of realistic stories, and a fairy tale. In “Beyond Kentucky Folktales” you’ll find three tales not yet collected in Kentucky by any story collector, and yet, if I keep on telling them and my listeners retell them, someday a collector of oral tales may indeed encounter them.

My book is available from the publisher, University Press of Kentucky, in hardcover and electronic versions Hardcover only is available through my website An audio version is available from the Kentucky Talking Book Library accessible to all who use the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

A Practical Craft, a Convenient Art

August 26th, 2014

Charlie Chin

Charlie ChinIn my family, my father and uncles were the gatekeepers of the immense treasure trove of stories, tales, and legends that had been passed down for generations for over the last four thousand years in China. As a child in the early nineteen fifties, I respectfully sat with the other children after dinner and listened as we were instructed in the behavior of the wise and warned of the pitfalls that attended the foolish. Years passed and at age eighteen, when I move out on my own, I put away the stories and proverbs. They were quaint and seem to serve no purpose in the Sixties, an age of psychoanalytical buzz words, and “hippies.”

But in 1970, the call went out for volunteers to collect and record the stories and artifacts of Chinatown, and strangely I knew I had to participate. So forty four years ago, I found myself working in a small museum and artifact collection called The Chinatown History Project in the heart of New York City’s Chinatown. Back then, New York City’s Chinatown was a stable community of roughly 20,000 people whose history in the United States reached back to 1700’s.

For over two hundred years, driven by war, poverty, and disasters, Cantonese and Fujian Chinese had been dispersed around the world, even to the distant shores of America. Though there were Chinatowns in New York City and San Francisco, the many laws restricting Chinese immigration such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the Restricted Quota of 105 people a year in 1943, the Chinese American population had always been small. Politics played its role as well. When the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, since it was a Communist government, the United States refused to acknowledge its existence and so there was no immigration.

But in 1979, after 30 years, with the realization that it could no longer deny the existence of one quarter of the world’s population, the United States normalized its relationship with the People’ Republic of China and the quota for Chinese was made the same number given to other groups. By the 1980’s Chinatowns across the United States suddenly became bustling arrival points for several thousand new immigrants a year. And many were not the poor farmer and fishermen who had fled the wars and famine of two hundred years before. These twentieth century immigrants were coming with professional education, and often moving to the suburbs at once, completely circumventing the Chinatown experience.

The nineteen eighties was a time when local elementary schools in downtown Manhattan began frantically calling community organizations in Chinatown as they discovered that as much as fifty percent of the incoming student body were ethic Chinese and they knew nothing about them. Libraries, schools, and community facilities were dealing with a large arriving Chinese population and they had no programs to deal with this demographic. As one elementary school teacher confessed to me at the time, “Every year our school does the play, “Snow White,” but I don’t think we can do that anymore.”

Older Chinese American families like mine, who had been here for three, four, and in some cases five generations, quickly became the minority in our own community and today we represent only about 8 per cent of the population of Chinese in America. The other 92 percent has arrived in the last 35 years. The history, culture, and stories of the old timers, tales of the villages, the “Talk Story” of the Hand Laundries, restaurants, and field workers, are as foreign to them as to anybody else.

Storytelling was one of the most requested programs, and my office mates usually “volunteered” me anytime a call came in. The problem was I had a great number of stories but no actual skill or training in an ancient craft considered a respected profession for thousands of years. They say that when the student is ready, the teacher magically appears. I discovered a traditional Chinese Storyteller, Master Leong Chi Ming, of Toisan, China, plying his trade in the busy streets of Manhattan Chinatown and at once begged to become his student. His English was poor and my Cantonese was worse but we were able to converse and for the next year and half, he instructed me in his style. He called it, “A Practical craft, a Convenience Art,” because without “props,” or a stage, one could do a complete theater with many characters, and make the past glories of China come alive. I treasured every session we had.

Today, the men of my father generation are long gone, and even in my age group, there are more empty chairs every year. The stories of coming to the “Land of the Ghosts,” surviving the discrimination and unfair laws, eking out a living with hard work and frugal choices, are the cobwebs of an old attic. At age 70, I work as an historian in the Chinese Historical Society of America, in San Francisco. Most of my work and lectures have to do with Asian American history, and that suits the needs of most school and college audiences. But a couple of times a year, I’m asked to visit someplace outside the Bay Area and tell some of the old tales. It always pleases me to do.

Understanding The Heroic Journey — A Powerful Tool for Literacy.

May 9th, 2014

Jim MayJim May

I hope to present students with as many enjoyable and interesting storytelling moments as possible. I believe that if students are going to love to read and write, they will be at an advantage if they have a positive relationship with oral language stories, both in the telling and listening. I believe that the mythological principles below can become a foundation for a lifetime of writing and reading.

The Heroic Journey: This is the map of most good stories. It represents a take off point for the imagination. It reflects the fact that we all are on a journey through life (each one of us as heroic as Ulysses), and gives students a story structure. Some major elements of the Heroic Journey are below:

Problem, Wound, or Call: This element initiates the journey. This changes the hero/heroine’s life dramatically. He/she must take up the journey to change/respond to the situation: Cinderella’s intolerable home life, Luke Sky Walker’s enslaved home planet, the death of Harry Potter’s parents.  On the other hand, some heroic characters merely take up a quest to seek adventure – they are “called,” or “chosen” or respond to some inner destiny.

Mentor(s): The principle helper/guide/teacher. The fairy godmother is Cinderella’s. Luke has Yoda. Harry has Dumbledore. The mentor will help the heroine/hero solve problems, overcome obstacles, and defeat demons. Mentors are usually both kind and challenging (tough love)… The mentor role reminds us that we are not alone and should look for help and allies in real life.

Test(s): This is where we build the character of the hero/heroine. Does she/he show qualities of compassion, bravery, and intelligence under pressure/duress? And yet, paradoxically, the most interesting heroes/heroines are imperfect.

Reward, New Learning, Magic: If the hero/heroine passes the test(s) she/he is rewarded with something: magic, information, power, new insight…that brings to solution the problems set out earlier in the story:.

Problem Solved, (Climax): This is the moment of transformation where the character uses her or his new found power to achieves his/her goals, escapes danger and death, and wins in the end, solving the problems laid out earlier in the story. Cinderella gets the prince. Harry Potter becomes a powerful wizard. Luke destroys the death star.

*Paradox: This is a fascinating and intriguing contradiction in the story that is surprising, confusing but functions to take the reader or listener deeper into the meaning of the story and also into the meaning of life.

Dressed in cinders and rags Cinderella is the most beautiful sister, because she has the most beautiful heart.

The young Luke saves his home planet because the “force” is more powerful in him.

Even though the orphan Harry Potter doesn’t know it yet, he is predestined to grow up to be a most powerful wizard.

• Beauty falls for the Beast.
• The fool is smarter than the king.
• The youngest/smallest prince is the best warrior.
• The baby girl is stronger and less afraid than the big boys.

The element of paradox helps us all enjoy the mystery and surprise of the story and of life, and helps us learn not to judge others or ourselves too quickly, too harshly, or by our appearance and status in the world. The concept and playing out of paradox in the story defeats stereotypes.

*Accepting the paradox that every human being, including ourselves, is imperfect can be a wedge against bullying and oppression of all kinds.

I tell stories to children because I learned many years ago that nothing in my ten years of experience as a classroom teacher held my elementary student’s attention like a story.For some twenty-three years now, I have made my living as a professional, full time storyteller. That storytelling produces a singular, intensely vital experience in my listener’s imagination continues to be reinforced nearly every day of my professional storytelling life.

I remember a particular occasion telling stories to an auditorium full of primary-aged students (grades k-2). After the program was finished, the students filed past the front of the stage where I was standing and greeting a few as they passed. One second grade boy walking by, looked at me over his should and shouted in mid step: “Thanks for the movies!”

I am reasonably sure that he was responding very literally, simply and profoundly to the mechanism in the brain (the cortex where complex thought functions) that produces images in response to oral language. Joseph Chilton Pierce and others have theorized that the brain is activated by oral language in a manner that causes neural brain cells and neural pathways to be stimulated (and even to grow, creating new, neural pathways, etc) in a way that is not possible when image and language are artificially coupled as in television, dvds, computer screens, in which case the most creative part of the brain shuts down because the image is ready made, not personal, original or connected to the viewer’s personal, internal, neural life.

During This Trip, Each of My Parents Agreed to Let Me Videotape Them

March 18th, 2014

Ellen H. Munds
Executive Director
Storytelling Arts of Indiana

Fred and Midge MundsIn 2009, I drove my parents to Wilmington, North Carolina knowing that this would be my father’s last visit to his family’s ancestral home. We visited the homestead, the Episcopal church where the Munds’ attended for three generations, and the family cemetery plot where all of my father’s relatives are buried dating back to the 1800s. During this trip, each of my parents agreed to let me videotape them as they recalled their family stories.

Once home, I got busy and didn’t do anything with the recordings. They both died in 2011. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I pulled the recordings out to watch. It was such a gift to see and listen to my parent’s sharing their stories. I felt like they were sitting in the room with me again. I immediately made copies for my brothers to share with their children. I feel good because I now know that for generations to come, the Munds family will be able to share and listen to my parents stories.

Why am I telling you this? Because it only occurred to me to record my parents because of my involvement with Storytelling Arts of Indiana. Stories have value, and unless they are told and retold from generation to generation, they can be lost forever.

Storytelling Arts of Indiana strives to demonstrate the importance of stories whether from a stage or sitting around a kitchen table through such programs as: The Life Stories Project, As I Recall Storytelling guilds, Summer Performances in the city parks, Ghost Stories at Crown Hill Cemetery, Jabberwocky, Weekly storytelling at a local hospital, Storytelling performances from the stage and family storytelling performances.

If you believe in the importance of stories, please help Storytelling Arts of Indiana sustain itself by making a contribution.

The Secrets to a Happy Family

February 4th, 2014

Kim Weitkamp

Kim WeitkampOn December 21, 1968 Apollo 8 was launched into space.

This would be the first manned spacecraft to leave Earth’s orbit. The astronauts were able to see the far side of the moon, orbiting it 10 times. Finally, mankind’s longing to reach space and see the moon up close and personal had come to fruition. But an amazing thing happened along the way. Once the astronauts entered space, they could not stop looking back, gazing at planet Earth. Their desire to look upon where they had come from became more powerful than looking ahead to where they had not yet been. It became such an overwhelming desire that they named it Earth Gazing.

I think life is a lot like that.

In our youth and in our quest for new and exciting things, we propel forward with great passion and excitement hoping to discover new worlds but then, we hit a certain place where we realize that where we’ve come from is just as amazing and awe inspiring as where we are going.

I am always searching for new experiences, creating new things and trying to discover new worlds but a year and a half ago I realized that my personal history is just as fascinating as the unknown that lies ahead.

I guess I have reached a place where, as I float among the years of my life, I have decided to turn and look back. It is addictive. I cannot stop gazing into the history of me. This is not narcissistic; it’s a natural human desire, to feel a part of something bigger.

I have always told personal/family stories, it’s how I make my living, but a year and a half ago I decided to start digging into my family history. Using online resources I started to uncover information, documents and pictures that helped me see the whole picture of where I come from.

One hour turned into two hours turned into 8 hours turned into a yearlong project and now, an ongoing expedition. I can’t stop. I’ve uncovered pictures of my great, great grandfather. I’ve found documentation of my grandmothers addresses, which gave me a map of her life. I’ve found my great grandfathers marriage certificate, my grandmother’s marriage certificate and…her divorce records. I learned about aunts and uncles and I learned things about my mom and dad. Slowly, my whole world is coming into focus.

Doing this family research led to some deep and meaningful conversations with my parents. They are at the time of life when all they do is look back. When I started sharing with them what I found, they sounded young again…thirsty for information. No matter how many times I called and told them about the latest family puzzle piece I had found, they wanted more.

How sad it is that I was in my late 40’s and my parents in their late 70’s when we began this journey. I wish we had started when I was younger.

Recently Parade Magazine had an article titled, The Secrets to a Happy Family.

Get this.

When a team of psychologists measured children’s resilience, they found that the kids who knew the most about their family history were best able to handle stress. The more children know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives and the higher their self-esteem. The reason: These children have a strong sense of “inter-generational self”—they understand that they belong to something bigger than themselves, and that families naturally experience both highs and lows.

Your family knows they belong to something bigger, but knowing it and actually hearing about it…seeing it, are two very different things.

Whether you share your family history by doing genealogy/family research or by sharing family stories at the dinner table…who cares? Just do it. Better yet, do both. Here is the best part; your family isn’t looking for fairy tale endings. Share with them the good, the bad and the ugly. It will help them through their own good, bad and ugly times. Let them gaze upon where they came from.

The main word in history is story. Share your stories. You were designed to.

Mining for Gold, Red Gold

January 20th, 2014

written by Stephanie Holman

Stephanie_Holman CompressedI love research! It was my favorite part of high school and college and may be a big reason why I am a librarian. Getting research into a presentable format though, now that is a bit more tricky my friends.

So when asked by Storytelling Arts of Indiana and the Indiana Historical Society if I would like to write and perform a story on Red Skelton, I knew the research would be my favorite part.

Serendipity had already been at play. I had just read an article about the 2013 opening of the Red Skelton museum in Vincennes! It would be my first visit for research. The museum is opening Phase 2 in the summer of 2014 but is already a must see for all Hoosiers. I learned so much from the curator Shirley Ray and from watching the visitors interact with the fabulous exhibits.

Next I read and read and read biographies on good ol’ Red. I watched the few dvds of his skits that are available from his television years. I watched some of his films. I was really starting to “see Red”.

Sorry, bad pun.

Early on I also made a trip to the archives held at the Indiana History Center. I love spending time in their library on the third floor. The staff is so helpful and I culled their Red Skelton files for more background.

Then I had to mine this research for nuggets and find the beginning and end of my particular story in his long life. I felt strongly I would tell the story of his early training ground in poverty and how he beat the Great Depression by making people laugh.

To start the writing, I talked to local greats such as Sally Perkins. She steered me to an article by Beth Horner called “Pipeline Blues: Crafting a Historical Story”. I also took an online class that took me step by step through the writing of the three act story.

As I completed the assignments online I wrote my story, starting with exploring my passion for the story, the theme and premise. Or as Beth Horner would have you ask constantly as you write, “What is this story about?”

I had grouped the mined nuggets of research into subject areas and after the outline of my story was completed, I began plugging elements into the spine of the story. Then the writing began, carving and sculpting draft after draft to show my audience the emotions of Red Skelton’s early journey to theatre.

There were so many great moments in the writing process; the museum visits, talking to people about Red and how much they love him, and the 1952 “Look” magazine my dad found with a great article for example. But my favorite moment so far is finding my voice, my narrator’s voice. I am telling the story in three acts and each will be narrated by a woman in Red’s early life; middle school friend Norma, first teenage love Velma and his first wife and co-writer/manager, Edna Stillwell.

These three gals show through their voices the real experiences and emotions of Red’s early journey in Vincennes Indiana. The antagonist of the story, the Great Depression, worked against Red at every turn but also helped to make him one of America’s favorite entertainers.

The opportunity to tell Red’s story has been such an honor and pleasure. My passion for telling this story is to show how a fellow Hoosier followed his path in life. He made so many people very, very happy at a time in our history when laughter was as valuable as food and shelter. I hope I do him justice when the story premieres on January 31st. Purchase tickets by calling the Indiana Historical Society, 317-232-1882 or order tickets on line.


Seamus Heaney

September 11th, 2013

Patrick Ball

ball_celtic-harp-story_200_overSeamus Heaney, Ireland’s greatest contemporary poet, died last week. A sad day for the world. And a sad day for me because I loved his work, the heft, the rub, the grain of it. Perhaps the reason I enjoyed it so much was because I spent quite a bit of time listening to him reading his own poetry.

Now, I have to say that I have listened to many poets reading their own work and almost always found it a pretty unsatisfying experience. Writing poetry and reading it aloud are two very different skills. Seamus Heaney, God rest him, was brilliant at both of them.

He had a lovely, rich voice. And, of course, he had the deepest understanding of his poetry. But, he also had a glorious sense of the sound and rhythm and melody of words. He had a wonderful understanding of how words spoken can bring new power and meaning and joy to words resting on a page. Seamus Heaney’s readings allowed his work to, as Yeats would have said it, “clap its hands and sing, and louder sing.” He was both a poet and a storyteller.

Irish people are generally thought to have “a way with words,” “a gift of the gab.” And, honestly, I think it’s true. Some of them certainly are more eloquent than others. But, all of them, whether they are aware of it or not, seem to be tuned into the music of words. Words spoken in Ireland are not simply tools to get something accomplished, they are notes in a song, they are colors on a canvas, they are steps in a dance. That’s why we Yanks love to ask for directions in Ireland. The answer may not get you where you want to go. But, the lilt, the whimsy and the artistry of the response are always well worth getting lost.

So, it must have given Seamus Heaney great pleasure to read his poems on stage. Not just to hear those marvelous vowels and consonants and silences resonate in the hall and create their world anew. But, for the sheer joy of playing with words and enchanting an audience asking for directions.

But, he must also have found great satisfaction in knowing that his poems will be forever preserved on the printed page. I remember once, many years ago, when I was trying to decide what to do with my life, I had a job interview with a rather celebrated chef. I had asked him what it was like being a chef. He replied (in a very aggrieved French accent), “you spend ze day creating a masterpiece, ze diners sit down at ze table, zey eat it, and, poof, it is gone!

Seamus Heaney’s work will continue to be read as long as we crave the beauty and solace of poetry. But, his storytelling is over. For storytelling is a living, breathing, fleeting thing. On the stage of the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center or at a crossroads in Ireland, the storyteller creates a masterpiece and, poof, it is gone.