By Amy Wenk
Storyteller Barry Stewart Mann brought a trunk of masks, puppets and plastic props to the Brookhaven library on June 8.
That night, to the delight of kids and their parents, the storyteller brought to life the people, gods and goddesses of four Greek myths. Mann used only his dramatic talents, the simple toys from his trunk and a little help from the audience.
Called the “Amazing Myths of Ancient Greece,” the special event is just one offered this summer at the library located on North Druid Hills oad. Another storyteller, Ken Scott, will perform with puppets, music and magic at the library on June 28, from 11 a.m. to noon.
Storytelling fuels a child’s imagination, Mann said.
“It engages their imagination, and it engages them,” Mann said. “Ideally, it is helping them learn to visualize as they read.”
Mann’s performance began with a question. “Do you know what a labyrinth is?” he asked the audience.
“Kind of,” said 11-year-old Jeanie Coffield, who came with her mom and friend 11-year-old Shania Fernandes. Both girls will be sixth-graders at Henderson Middle School this fall. Parent Sue Soha chimed in that a labyrinth was a series of paths or passages that are difficult to escape.
In ancient times, explained Mann, there was no Internet to search for answers to questions. The Greeks “didn’t have easy ways of understanding,” he said. “For them, life was like a big maze.”
Mann said the Greeks told stories about gods and goddesses to explain things that happened in the world.
“The ancient Greeks really believed these gods and goddesses existed,” Mann said. He tested the kids’ knowledge of Mount Olympus-dwelling gods and goddesses like Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Athena and Hades.
Andrew Soha, a 6-year-old who came with his mother, Sue, proved he knew almost as much as the rising six-graders.
“You sure he is 6?” Mann asked, pointing to the small, blond boy who wore “Crocs,” a popular brand of shoes for kids and on-the-go moms. Andrew’s Crocs actually looked like a crocodile with eyes and pointy teeth. “I thought he was just like a slow-growing 12-year-old.”
The first myth Mann shared was about Daedalus and his son Icarus, “the boy who flew too close to the sun” when the two attempted to escape a prison in Crete by flying with wings made of feathers and wax.
Jeanie played Icarus and flew around the room with Mann. Both carried sticks with yellow feathers. “Wee, I can fly,” said the young girl with pigtails, until Mann explained that Icarus lost his wings after the wax melted when he flew close to the sun.
Icarus fell “down, down into the Aegean Sea,” Mann said as Jeanie fell to the floor.
The next myth, which explained how the seasons of summer and winter came to be, enlisted the help of four kids. The children hid behind a folding table that was placed on its side on the ground.
Upon Mann’s command, the kids raised their puppets or stood with a mask as the story was told.
“Andrew, can you make the sound of Demeter crying?” Mann asked.
“No,” responded Andrew.
Sue chuckled at her son’s answer, and the other kids provided the sound.
Mann later told the kids the myth about Narcissus and Echo, as well as the tale of Atalanta.
“I think it was good,” said Shania over snacks after the storytelling ended. “You got to add a lot more and be part of the show.”
Shania said she enjoyed playing the god Zeus, which required her to hold a mask with a lightning bolt.
“[Mann] really grabbed everybody’s attention and held on,” said Jeanie’s mother Donnie Coffield.
Mann said after his show, “I can’t compete with what Pixar can do, but [a kid’s] imagination can.”