The Hippo


Aug 23, 2019








Rebecca Rule. Michael Sterling photo.

Annual New Hampshire storytelling events

Granite State Story Swap: Saturday, May 6, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Seacoast Science Center, 570 Ocean Blvd., Rye, featuring Judith Black
White Mountain Storytelling Festival: Sept. 29 through Oct. 1, in the town square of Waterville Valley, featuring Sharon Kennedy
Tellabration! Saturday, Nov. 18 (from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the New Hampshire Technical Institute Library, 31 College Drive, Concord, produced by the Central NH Storytellers; and from 7 to 9 p.m. at The Stone Church 5 Granite St., Newmarket, produced by the Seacoast Storytellers)
Dawnland Storyfest: 2018 date TBA
Other organizations
New Hampshire Storytelling Alliance,
League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling,
National Storytelling Festival,
Inspired by The Moth
Tales Told: The event occurs the first Tuesday of the month at Hatbox Theatre, 270 Loudon Road, Concord, in which audience members’ names will be drawn from the hat and called up at random to tell a true, original story onstage; the next two occur Tuesday, May 2, at 7:30 p.m., and Tuesday, June 6, at 7:30 p.m.,
Long Story Short: It occurs every other month at 3S Artspace, 319 Vaughan St., Portsmouth; about four or five speakers are scheduled to go up each night, and one name is drawn from a hat; the next is Wednesday, May 10, at 7 p.m.,,
This weekend
The New Hampshire Institute of Art presents its inaugural Storytelling Festival Saturday, April 8, at 2 p.m., at the school’s French Building, 148 Concord St., Manchester, which will be emceed by NHPR’s Virginia Prescott and feature about 10 storytellers, with participants ranging from students to refugees, in the style of The Moth. Admission is free.
One of the speakers is Wayne Burton, a state legislator and vet whose story centers on his time in Vietnam in the late ‘60s, which he began writing several years ago. He was inspired by the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and the letters he wrote to his wife at the time, which she saved.
Burton has spoken on the floor of the New Hampshire House and made speeches as president of North Shore Community College, but this is different than anything he’s done before. Telling his story will involve reliving one of the toughest times in his life, but he hopes to send an important message to listeners. 
“I want people to know, especially the next generation, about Vietnam,” he said. “It’s a war people would like to forget, but the truth is, Americans fought and died there, just as they did in other wars.”
Ongoing meet-ups Storytelling guilds
Souhegan Storytelling Guild, first Tuesday of each month from 6:50 to 8:30 p.m. at the Amherst Town Library, 14 Main St., Amherst,
Seacoast Storytelling Guild, first Wednesday of each month from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Portsmouth Public Library, 175 Parrott Ave., Portsmouth,
Central NH Storytelling Guild, second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m., at the Horseshoe Pond Place Senior Center, 26 Commercial St., Concord,
Southern NH Storytelling Guild, third Tuesday of each month from 7 to 8:50 p.m., at the Nashua Public Library’s media center, 2 Court St., Nashua,
Monadnock Storytelling Circle, third Wednesday of each month from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord St., Peterborough,
Mountain Storytellers Guild, fourth Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at Conway Public Library, 15 Greenwood Ave., Conway,
Tea & Tales, last Tuesday of each month,  7:30 p.m., Franklin Public Library, 310 Central St., Franklin; the next is April 25 and features Ruth Niven,
Mariposa Museum, 26 Main St., Peterborough, features regular storytelling events on various topics, visit for upcoming events

Share Your Story
Where to hear true and tall tales and how to tell your own

By Kelly Sennott

 The Concord City Auditorium was packed on a recent Wednesday night, bustling with chatter as the crowd waited for Northwood storyteller Rebecca Rule to step onstage.

For those who don’t know about Rule’s strong local following, the size of her audience might come as a surprise. Sure, the event was free, part of the Walker Lecture series, but the auditorium seats more than 800. The event was two hours. It was a Wednesday.
When she finally did step under the light and behind the microphone, Rule told stories about a selectman at a town dump, a supervisor with a glass eyeball and a moose she chased down for its “rack.” Listeners laughed and cheered at particularly funny tales. 
There’s nothing like telling stories aloud to a group of strangers, said Rule, who got into the medium while promoting a short story collection about 20 years ago. 
“It’s a little bit addictive. If you’re able to make somebody laugh, you want to do it again,” Rule said via phone. “My early work was pretty serious, but as I’ve gotten more and more into storytelling, I’m looking for the laughs. I want the whole room to be laughing.”
Rule is one of New Hampshire’s best-known tellers, but she’s just one of many sharing stories the old-fashioned way — in front of people. Some, like Rule, do it professionally, while others muscle up the courage to tell personal anecdotes onstage to connect with people and feel less alone in the world.
“My stories of motherhood have connected me to other mothers in a way that made me feel like, OK, I’m not alone now,” said Erin Laplante, who recently told a story part of Long Story Short in Portsmouth. “What happens to me is that once I tell the stories out loud, I can let them go. I can forgive myself for a lot of things I have gone through.”
New Hampshirites have a multitude of avenues in which to hear and share stories. Here, a variety of tellers talk about what makes a good one and why the art form is so important. 
Elements of a story
Of all narrative media, oral storytelling requires its users to be the most vulnerable. 
There’s no director to tell you what to do, no other actors to rely on. Screw up, and you can’t press the delete button. It requires you to not only see your audience but to interact with them, feed off them.
“Actors can be on stage in the light and do their thing, and they’re aware of the audience but they’re not feeding off the audience,” Rule said. “I need to see the audience, to have eye contact with them to do a good job.”
In that respect it’s kind of like comedy, but with one major difference — the relationship between the speaker and audience. Rule’s listeners are forgiving, and they talk to her from their seats all the time. In comedy this is heckling, but in storytelling it’s engagement.
“Comedians talk about bombing, but I’ve never really felt that experience,” Rule said. “I think with stand-up comedy, there’s a kind of adversarial relationship between the comic and the audience. The audience is kind of saying, ‘OK, funny guy, let’s see what you can do.’… But with a storyteller, it’s like we’re all in this together.”
Laughter is, of course, Rule’s favorite reaction, but silence works too.
“If people are really engaged, the room gets very quiet. There’s no fidgeting. It’s like how when little kids listen to stories,” Rule said. 
Oral stories can take many shapes. They can be true. They can be fictional. They can be somebody else’s. They can be based on a true story but altered slightly for a more entertaining ending. But all have the same four elements, said New Hampshire storyteller Papa Joe Gaudet (who has a seven-minute narrative about how he got his name).
“There’s the storyteller — the person telling the story. There’s the story itself. The people listening to the story. And the environment in which you’re telling the story,” Gaudet said.
As such, the experience is different every time. 
“The storyteller can adapt [the story] to the audience, whereas a movie can’t, and that’s the difference. It’s organic, and it’s alive,” he said.
Lots of storytellers, like Rule, are writers. Rule just released a children’s book, N is for New Hampshire, and New Hampshire Storytelling Alliance co-founder Lauretta Phillips is expecting to publish her latest project, Sarah’s Quilt, next year. Beth LaMontagne Hall, founder of Long Story Short, a regular Portsmouth event inspired by The Moth (which invites people to tell true tales in five minutes or less, and has become popular because of The Moth Radio Hour) is a professional journalist. But being a writer isn’t a necessity by any means. 
“If you think about it, we’ve all been to a party or barbecue or something where there’s somebody who has the most amazing story to tell, and they tell it in such an entertaining way. I think it’s a skill that doesn’t really rely on how well you can write. I think about my dad, who tells great stories, but he’s not a writer by trade by any means. I’m constantly looking for those people,” Hall said.
Career storytellers
Some New Hampshire storytellers get paid to tell. Gaudet is one of them; he’s been telling professionally at festivals, schools, workshops, libraries, farmers markets, senior centers, even prisons — all common venues for professional New Hampshire storytellers — for 30 years. He estimates the state is home to about 50 professionals. Of them, 12 to 15 make a (modest) living this way. 
Gaudet got into storytelling as a single parent making wooden toys at Renaissance Fairs. That first year he booked 300 gigs, and today he has 200 tales in his repertoire, many of which are old tales his mother told him growing up.
Phillips, who recently won the Brother Blue and Ruth Hill Award at the Northeast Storytelling Conference, fell into the form 30 years ago. She was vacationing in Colorado when, on a whim, she decided to tag along with her sister, Cora Jo Ciampi, who was attending a storytelling conference there. She loved it. Five years later, a friend asked her to entertain with stories at a seniors’ dinner.
“I said, I’m not a storyteller. I’m a writer. ‘Nah,’ they said, ‘You’re a storyteller. We’ll pay you $50.’ And I said, ‘OK,’” Phillips said.
Most of the state’s professional storytellers are involved in the New Hampshire Storytelling Alliance, a statewide organization comprising several regional guilds. It organizes a handful of big events (the next is the Granite State Story Swap on May 6) and ongoing programs each year. 
Several interviewed attended the 2017 Northeast Storytelling Conference, “Sharing the Fire,” in Plymouth, Mass., the last weekend in March, organized by the League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling, or had participated in the National Storytelling Festival, which was established in 1973 and is held every fall in Tennessee. 
Collecting tales
Today, Phillips writes most of the stories she tells. Some are personal, and some have a vein of truth, but most are fictionalized. Other tellers, like Gaudet and Simon Brooks, retell folk and fairy tales and fables. 
“Many people seem to think if the story’s not true, then it’s probably not worth knowing — that fiction and fantasies are escapism. But I think they’re metaphors, and that they’re important ways of presenting ideas and concepts,” Gaudet said.
Brooks, who first started telling stories while working at youth hostels overseas, said his narratives come from researching old texts and at libraries. It’s easier to uncover these old cultural tales than it used to be. He dreams of someday spending hours in the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Until then, there’s the internet.
“A lot of books now are being scanned and put online, which makes it a lot easier to find certain books,” Brooks said. “Before there might have only been one copy in the whole country, and I’d have to go to New York City to get it.”
Rule says her stories are like poems, free of unnecessary words. Most have plot twists at the end and are infused with Yankee humor. She collects them through observation, research and talking with locals. Generally, they’re unscripted, but she pays close attention to word choice and timing in punch lines.
“If you move one word to the wrong place or flip words, then you can lose the whole rhythm of the story. It’s not like I memorize them, but the key lines have to be told in just the right way, with the right inflection and in the right order,” Rule said.
Inspired by The Moth
Gaudet says most adult programming today is in The Moth style of storytelling, inviting people to tell true tales in five minutes or less, no notes allowed. The Moth was launched in New York in 1997 but blew up when it established The Moth Radio Hour in 2009. The event travels the country, and its most recent Granite State pit stop was at The Music Hall on March 25. 
You can see The Moth’s popularity reflected in New Hampshire events inspired by the form — for example, this Saturday, April 8, the New Hampshire Institute of Art hosts its first-ever Storytelling Festival, emceed by Virginia Prescott of NHPR, which will feature 10 speakers telling real stories live in front of an audience. Monica Bilson, who chairs the NHIA creative writing program, said she looked for a variety of submissions, with topics ranging from cancer to war. 
“We [didn’t] just want writers submitting; we wanted immigrants, refugees, senior citizens, veterans — anyone who has a story to tell, which everyone does,” Bilson said. 
In addition, the state hosts a couple ongoing events inspired by The Moth — like Tales Told in Concord and Long Story Short in Portsmouth.
Everyday tellers
The latest Long Story Short on March 22 saw an especially large crowd, perhaps because the previous one had been cancelled due to weather, but more likely because this style is aimed at normal people sharing personal experiences.
“It’s been so long!” Hall said, stepping onstage that night, explaining the format and introducing the first speaker, Debbie Kane. 
Kane, an Exeter writer who talked about being a soccer mom, used to hate public speaking but found this format attractive. 
“There was something about this that seemed safe and fun,” said Kane, who has told live stories several times now. “Some people are professionals, but there are a couple of people who come in here and haven’t ever told stories on stage before.”
Kane told her first tale, about joining a cult in her 20s, a year ago. She practiced her story beforehand — in the shower, in the car, to her cat Chloe — before taking it to an audience. It was exhilarating.
“I was on a complete high. What’s great is that the audiences were really receptive,” she said. “I think people see themselves in the people onstage.”
Another speaker that night talked about an accidental kidnapping that turned into a therapy session, and another tapped into her experience traveling to a foreign country and ziplining for the first time. Past storytellers include bartenders, executives, newspaper reporters, marketing professionals, bloggers and city councilors. The anecdotes tend to be personal, and that’s why people connect with them.
“When you have somebody who’s not a professional radio journalist, like on This American Life or something like that, you’re going to have a story that’s a little rougher around the edges. It’s going to be more conversational, and they’re going to put in those real-life observations that I feel add so much more depth and color to the story,” Hall said.
The last speaker of the night was Laplante from Kittery, Maine, who talked about having her daughter as a single mom, and the kinds of things she struggled with in the beginning, like staying in, pregnant, when her friends went out Friday night; breastfeeding; and “constantly feeling like a failure.” After she finished, a woman she didn’t know walked up to her and expressed similar feelings and experiences — a common occurrence at these events.
“It’s just motherhood. It’s hard,” Laplante said. “I think there’s always something that you’re experiencing that someone else is experiencing. That’s why the event is so much fun.”
The effects of a good story
Entertainment and enlightenment are two reasons people tell and listen to stories, but the art form can also have an enormous impact outside of storytelling events, which you can see when you look at some of the most successful business leaders and politicians, Gaudet said. It’s a good skill to have when pitching ideas and marketing products.
“For them to be able to get their story across, it will make it easier to get the project they want to do done, and sell it once it’s created,” said Brooks, who teaches the craft in public schools, universities, community centers and business workshops. “And that can happen with any business structure.”
Phillips said one of her most rewarding storytelling encounters happened at a preschool. One of her listeners, a 4-year-old with autism, struggled to sit still during her presentation, so she let him stand nearby and play with a puzzle as she spoke. Afterward, as she was readying to leave, he grabbed her pant leg. 
He loved her story, he told her, and he recounted the entire narrative from start to finish.
“The teacher said it was the first time he had ever spoken in class,” Phillips said. 
With the best stories, the teller vanishes, and the audience is transported; Brooks said it’s like falling down the rabbit hole, and you’re with the storyteller, seeing what he sees, smelling what he smells. In an age of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, it’s still the most effective form of human communication, said Wayne Burton, who performs at the Storytelling Festival in Manchester this weekend. 
“It’s important we never lose sight of the emotional impact of face-to-face storytelling. That’s why I’m interested in doing this — so I can see the reactions on people’s faces, and they can see mine,” he said. 

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