Art People: Gail Herman | storyteller, educator



Last modified: Wednesday, December 18, 2013

“Here comes Act I, Scene 2.” That’s how a boy once described Gail Herman, back when she was a theater-smitten 6th-grader, growing up in East Paterson, N.J. Herman says she wasn’t sure at the time if the comment was a compliment or a dig, but it did give her pause. She decided the description fit her perfectly.

“It made me watch myself,” Herman said in an interview last week at the Art in the Orchard exhibit at the Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton, the site of a recent storytelling session by Herman. “I’m happiest when I’m sharing ideas through stories.”

Herman, who combines the art of storytelling with educational principles, recently received a grant from the Easthampton Arts Trust, a program that helps finance creative projects that involve the community. She plans to develop storytelling events, and performances and workshops for a variety of local audiences, including senior citizens and students.

Herman, who lives in Easthampton, tells all kinds of stories — tall tales, personal pieces and folk tales that she reworks, adding music and movement. Recently at the orchard she told animated stories about how the owl got his feathers, and a baby dragon who lives in the South Seas — both incorporate sculptures featured in the exhibit.

She engages the children through the use of “authentic storytelling,” a technique that invites audience members to add to the story as it’s being told. As the youngsters answer questions posed by Herman, she incorporates their responses into the story.

“No matter what the contribution is, I have to make it work,” she said.

Herman, who has master’s degrees in theater and aesthetics in education and a doctorate in talent development, says she’s a storyteller and an educator with a mission: “To bring the arts into the schools ... to really have storytelling be part of the place where I live. Making learning creative and kinesthetic, that’s the mission of my work.”

Not only do stories help encourage people to exercise their imaginations, when they are used as a learning tool, she says, they may make the difference for some students between continuing in academics and thinking: forget it.

“I want to stimulate and strengthen the imagination. I’m trying to make an intersection between the creative arts and community and learning,” she said.

“Storytelling is something that makes people remember, recollect, come together,” she said. “When you hear a person’s story, you cannot hate that person when they are sitting right across from you. It brings communities together.” Besides, she adds, “In this media-addicted world, we need face-to-face contact.”

— Kathleen Mellen

Herman is running a storytelling and writing group at the Easthampton Council on Aging and Enrichment Center. The next meeting is Oct. 9. In the coming months, she will be involved in story slams in South Hadley, Amherst and Northampton, and a storytelling festival at UMass. For information, visit www.gailherman.net.


 


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