I received a copy of Dr. Seuss’s iconic classic, Oh the Places You’ll Go, as a high school graduation gift from my parents. It now sits on my three-year old’s book shelf and is an oft-requested choice for bedtime. I’ve always loved the title — and this summer I found myself thinking, “Oh the Places You’ll Perform.” Never in a million years could I have guessed where or for whom I’d be performing when I got started on this crazy journey as a storyteller. But one thing I have learned – the importance of being flexible.
This summer alone I performed at libraries (both in Ohio and beyond); day care centers; churches; a hospital; a residential home for senior citizens; a city park in a beautiful amphitheatre. But perhaps most interesting of all I performed underneath a stairwell. You see, I was slated to perform at an outdoor community kids fest, but the day of the festival, it was raining. I called the organizer to be sure we were still on. She told me no to worry – there was an outdoor stage where we would be covered.
When I arrived, I found the “stage” – a small area of cement below a stairwell. It was overlooking a busy highway where the sound of cars zooming by was more than audible. Water was dripping down through the cracks in the stairs above, and I was doing my best to keep my audience helpers out of the puddle that had pooled at our feet. The best part of all was that directly to the right of me there was an ice cream cart. The only way to get to it was by walking right in between me and the audience members. Who can resist ice cream? I can’t! There was a steady stream of foot traffic which required me to use all my powers of concentration to stay fully present in the story. Still, the audience hung with me, and we created some wonderful memories. Be flexible.
Then there was the performance I did in a church basement for a group of Spanish-speaking adolescents. I’d been told that the purpose of the performance was to re-immerse them in English before the start of the school year. After a long summer of speaking only Spanish in their homes, they had likely lost much of their English proficiency. But when I arrived, I quickly learned that things had changed. This was a different group of students than previously expected. Many of these students had only recently arrived in the States and spoke almost no English. In fact, Spanish wasn’t even their first language — it was K’iche’, a Mayan language. So I told the stories in Spanish instead. It was like pulling teeth to get audience volunteers. I was practically begging. But then I discovered a trick. Once I could get one student to agree to help me, they would choose the next volunteer. The students wouldn’t say yes to me; but for a peer, they were all in. Despite their initial resistance, later I was told that my visit was the highlight of their week. Be flexible.
I have learned that the ability to be flexible is a gift. It keeps you open to all of the amazing things that can be when you see the possible instead of the impossible. I’ve grown a lot in the area of flexibility, but I still have a long way to go. While being a storyteller is good training, being a parent is even better training! Right now I’m gearing up for a three-week trip across the East Coast with my brother-in-law and his family who are coming to visit us from Colombia for the first time. With all of us crammed into our mini-van and a three year old and a six month old in tow, I’m going to need a good measure of flexibility. If nothing else, I’m sure I’ll have lots of stories to tell when we get back!