By Ellen Fix
What do a pig’s grunt, a kangaroo’s pouch, a poisonous well, a baker’s dozen and Paul Bunyan have in common?
They are some of the themes conveyed by first- through eighth-grade students of St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Brookhaven during the school’s fourth annual World Storytelling Celebration.
On Saturday, Dec. 6, 60 students performed dramatic recitations of tall tales, myths, legends, folktales and fables. Some spiced it up with accents, expressive gestures and dynamic intonations of voice, while others relayed their stories coolly, letting the words transport listeners to another time and place.
The tales hailed from countries on every continent and emphasized traditions and culture. Furthering the international nature of the event, the five-hour celebration – which was open free to the public – included lunch with dishes from Australia, Africa, Europe, Asia and South America. Italian Ice was served to represent Antarctica.
Heidi Cline McKerley, director of Speech and Drama at St. Martin’s, originated the celebration as a means to increase students’ confidence and to have greater poise in front of others. Besides teaching, she also acts and directs professionally in Atlanta theaters. Drama assistant Spencer Stephens, who is also a professional actor, singer and puppeteer, gave story-coaching sessions to students to assist them in spinning their tales.
“Storytelling combines acting and speaking. But unlike a play, you don’t have to memorize a script word for word. You learn the story and then perform it,” Stephens said. “If there are eight characters in a story, you have to come up with eight different postures to represent them.
We coach the students on how to embody the characters, and on physicality.”
William Boor, an eighth-grader who lives with his parents and brother in Brookhaven’s Hampton Hall subdivision and has attended St. Martin’s Episcopal School since first grade, told the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. He prefers the Greek myths, he says, because they are easy and fun to do. But what he likes most about storytelling is pleasing the audience.
“I like knowing they are having a good time; I just try to entertain,” he said.
Although he says he loves the stage, the hardest part is enduring the last five seconds before taking his turn. “Waiting is the most challenging thing, because you have to start on a good note.”
Participating in storytelling has helped William in other subjects, too. For instance, he says when he has to write an essay, it’s easier to develop what he wants to say.
In recognition of the School’s 50th anniversary, faculty and staff who had worked there at least 15 years recounted some of their memorable experiences in the early days of the school. Special guest Carmen Deedy, a renowned storyteller and author of children’s books, also made an appearance and signed books. Her high energy and masterful retelling of growing up Cuban in Decatur consistently charm audiences of all ages.