A Discussion Group of the National Storytelling Network

Story Circles
Children at the Well

Youth Storytelling Event Shares Commonality of Area's Religions, Albany, NY

Originally published in The Gazette, Schenectady, NY, March 17, 2008.

By Cari Scribner

Photo of Tellers, Coaches and Directors, 2008

"Tell me a story." Countless children make this request every night as they're tucked into bed, and even for adults storytelling evokes a cozy atmosphere of settling back to listen, laugh and learn.

Photo of Listeners When children are the storytellers, the ritual is all the more sweet. Sunday afternoon at the Hindu Temple Society of the Capital District, 15 kids ages 12 to 16 wove stories to a captivated audience as part of the 2008 Children at the Well interfaith youth storytelling event. The kids involved represent places of worship including Congregation Beth Shalom, the Islamic Center of the Capital District, Eastern Parkway Methodist Church, St. Paul's Indian Orthodox Church, AnNur Islamic School, Congregation B'nai Sholom, St. Helen's Church and the Hindu Temple. Made possible by grants from New York state and Capital Region arts councils, the Interfaith Story Circle has carried a mission of continuing peace "story by story" since its inception in 1998.

Photo of Marni Gillard, Coach Marni Gillard is a professional storytelling coach who helped prepare the students for their afternoon in the spotlight.

"The whole process working with these kids has had a profound effect on me; their thoughtful reflection has been inspiring," said Gillard. "Their faith made a huge impression on me. They feel it in their hearts and strengthen other peoples' faith just by listening."

Photo of three tellers listening intently The performances were drawn from sources such as Celtic and Polish fairy tales, and hadith, the oral traditions relating to the words and deeds of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Gillard pointed out that learning to weave stories vocally is much different from mastering public speaking, which relies on cue cards and power points more than creativity.

"There's no memorization involved, in fact we don't even use the word 'memorize,' because that means telling a story word by word," said Gillard. "You draw energy from the audience; It's all about images, and you'll tell the story differently every time."

Photo of three tellers Since January, the youths have been practicing how to convey the humor and wisdom inherent in the folklore and historical lessons from their diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. By Sunday, their performances were a blend of stand-up comedy, dramatic acting, and just plain personality.

Ilyssa Simsek, 14, a member of Congregation B'nai Sholom, told the story "When a Chicken is not a Chicken," from A Treasury of Jewish Bedtime Stories.

Photo of four tellers and little friend "It's a goofy story about a boy who was supposed to get a chicken for Shabbat," said Simsek, who attends the Voorheesville Central High School. "Not many people have ever heard the story, but it's a good one."

Simsek said she's been part of musicals at her high school, including the well-loved "Annie," but admitted to still having a mild case of butterflies.

Carthi Mannikarottu, 16, a member of St. Paul's Indian Orthodox Church, wore a lilac salvar, a traditional dressy pantsuit, to tell her story "Temptation."

Photo of tellers talking before the performance "It's about a saint," said Mannikarottu. "I'm used to being in front of an audience because I've been dancing since I was three."

Mannikarottu's main goal for the afternoon was to make her father, Sam, proud.

"He supports everything I do," said Carthi Mannikarottu.

Photo of three dancers The event also featured a performance of "Kisna," a dance by Amoha Ramanath and friends from Bindiya's Dance School.

For more information about the Interfaith Story Circle, visit www.interfaithstory.org.

Copyright (c) 2008 The Daily Gazette Co. All Rights Reserved.