Storytelling at the Hospital

Last week I had the awesome opportunity to perform at Metro Health Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. This was one of my first experiences performing in a hospital setting, and it was for a children’s outpatient clinic. The clinic was having a back to school party and looking for a new form of entertainment. They happened upon my bio on GigSalad and decided to give me a try.

When I spoke with the Child Life Specialist who was coordinating the event, she warned me that since it was an outpatient clinic, the children could be coming and going as they arrived then got called for their appointments. Since they’d never had a storyteller before, she decided to give me a 30 minute time slot, and I agreed to tell three shorter stories in the hopes that even if the children did get called out in the midst of the performance that each one would be able to see at least one complete story.

When I asked about age range, she said that it could be anywhere from early elementary students all the way up to teens — it just depended on who was scheduled at the clinic that day. Not knowing exactly who my audience would be, I decided to pack my “story bag” with a lot of different props and gauge which stories would be most appropriate on the spot. Being that I was going to be in a hospital setting, I had also asked ahead of time if the children would be allowed to wear the different costume pieces that I typically bring. For health reasons, I was asked to avoid this — so I chose stories in which more puppets and props were used instead of costumes.

Upon arrival, I had no idea what to expect, but I was led to a little room with about 15 chairs for audience members. Three sisters showed up. They were actually waiting for their mother who was having a pre-natal appointment. Shortly after that, two other girls arrived; then two more; then two boys, one accompanied by his grandmother in a mechanical wheelchair. A few staff members were on hand as well. The crowd turned out to be rather diverse, both in age and ethnic background. At first I wondered how hard it would be to win over the older children who made up the majority of the crowd, but in no time, they were drawn in and participating as eagerly as the younger ones. Honestly though, I’m not sure who was having more fun — me or the children — as I regaled them with tales of frogs, snakes, giraffes and crocodiles from the African continent as well as my favorite Nasruddin tale from Turkey! They were such a fantastic audience that I think I could have stayed telling stories all day!

One of the young boys was having such a great time that when he was called for his appointment his grandmother whispered to the nurse, “Oh please, can he stay just a little longer? He’s enjoying this so much!” In between stories, she told me that she was too! At the conclusion of the performance, one of the nurses popped in and told me, “That was so much fun! I kept peeking in every chance I got. I wanted to stay and watch and hear how the story ended, but I kept getting called back to work!”

Afterward, the children returned to the regular waiting room. Some of them had siblings that had declined to come to the performance because they felt that they were “too old” for storytelling. Their somewhat younger siblings put them in their place saying, “You missed it! It was so cool!” Hopefully next time, they’ll reconsider!

As C.S. Lewis once said, “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

Are you there yet? I’m sure glad I am.

(As an aside, the performance received such a wonderful response that it looks as though I’ll be going back for an inpatient event in the future! I can’t wait!)

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