Storytelling furnishes connection to past

Twelve-year-old Claire McCulley of Niskayuna told a story about an old woman who was desperate to


Twelve-year-old Claire McCulley of Niskayuna told a story about an old woman who was desperate to bake an apple cake.

However, the problem was she had no apples. She had a bag of plums and walked through her village seeking apples. She traded the plums for goose feathers, then the goose feathers to a man who needed to fill his pillow. He gave her beautiful flowers, which she traded with a man who wanted a gift to impress his beloved.

He gave her a gold locket in return. She was going to sell the locket to buy apples. However, she saw a poor woman with two children and gave her the locket in exchange for a puppy. She then gave the puppy to a lonely, elderly man who let her pick apples from his tree.

“She baked the most wonderful apple cake, and then she sat down and ate every last crumb,” McCulley said.

This was all part of a storytelling event put on Sunday at First Unitarian Society by Children at the Well, the youth project of The Interfaith Story Circle of the Tri-City Area.

McCulley said afterward she enjoyed telling that story because of its message to give to others.

“I’m Unitarian, so it kind of goes with our faith,” she said.

Eleven youths took part in the fifth annual event. There were participants from Maimonides Hebrew Day School, the Baha’i’s of Schenectady, the First Unitarian Society of Schenectady, the Islamic Center of the Capital District, the Hindu Temple of the Capital District, Eastern Parkway Methodist Church, Congregation Gates of Heaven, AnNur Islamic School and Bethlehem High School.

Gert Johnson, who serves as co-director along with Paula Weiss, said that the event is a way for the children to become more familiar with their own heritage and traditions by sharing stories with others. Students have been practicing their stories since October.

“They work on it becoming their own. It’s a very creative process,” she said.

Local storytellers Mary Murphy, Marni Gillard and Nancy Marie Payne, with coach-in-training Aviva Rossman, helped the children hone their skills.

Gillard said it is important for the children to immerse themselves in the character and have a clear sense of what their story means.

“The secret is having them really enter the story, really leave their sense of this room and anxiety or anything that might be getting in the way and become the character,” she said.

All together, 22 students participate in the Children at the Well program. Families typically find out about the program through word of mouth.

Macaela Rourke, 13, of Niskayuna, relayed a story about a Jewish baker who had not lived honorably, telling people his goods were fresh when they might have been a couple days old. The baker swept his sins into the basement and then threw them in the ocean.

The rabbi told him that his wife would bear twins but something would happen in seven years. Sure enough, seven years later, a monster called Gershon with scales representing the baker’s sins, threatened to harm his children, who always played in the ocean. The baker asked the monster to take him instead of his children. The monster freed the children and the baker was never bad again.

Rourke said the toughest part of storytelling is having to think on your feet. She admitted she kind of messed up the story in the middle but recovered. She said she enjoys the interactive nature of storytelling. “I like the reaction from the audience. If it’s funny, they laugh.”

Anafim, an Israeli dance group of Temple Israel in Albany, also performed.

Rishi Reddy, a freshman at Bethlehem High School, shared a Chinese folk tale about a king who had no heirs and was looking for a successor. He gave each candidate a seed to plant in a pot. The main character of the story couldn’t get his plant to flower. Dejectedly, he brought it back to the king, who proclaimed him the successor.

The king explained that he had given them all boiled seeds that would not bear fruit. All but one had figured it out and switched it for a plant that would flower.

“Honesty and truthfulness do count when you’re ruling a kingdom,” Reddy said.

Reddy said later that storytelling is very fluid. “There’s no one way to tell a story. There’s a billion ways to tell a story.”

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Categories: Schenectady County

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