Sunday, April 26, 2015

Try round-robin storytelling at crafts fair

From page A11 | August 31, 2014 |

By Sally Parker

What do Japanese court poets, Girl Scouts and partying fraternity members have in common?

It’s a social event, suitable for all ages, and best done around a crackling fire.

Japanese court poets did it with cups of heated sake. Think of one of the most powerful but underused weapons against writer’s block. Think of the round-robin story.
Leaders at this month’s Square Tomatoes Crafts Fair will hold a round-robin storytelling workshop as part of the festival’s Celebration of Children. The fair runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7, in Central Park, and the workshop will be held at the fair from noon to 3 p.m.

It’s my hope that teachers and writers choose to join. A lesson plan is posted at under “coming soon.”

If a few classrooms take on the project of storytelling and can send us four or more students with a good story, we will hold a storytelling contest with a prize at our Nov. 2 fair.

The lesson plan cites teaching objectives of public speaking, building a narrative, summarization, powerful word choice and drama. Despite these lofty objectives, here’s my real interest: Storytelling is downright fun. Visitors find stage presence they didn’t know they had and see possibilities for stories they didn’t know they could write.

More writers groups should practice round-robin storytelling to generate ideas. At their worst, writers’ groups awaken everyone’s inner grammar Nazi. We awaken your inner canned ham.
Round-robin storytelling, Square Tomatoes style, starts with a story seed. In this workshop, the seed is a spooky drawing by Chris Van Allsburg, the illustrator for the children’s book, “Jumanji.” The workshop visitors brainstorm the drawing and invent or guess what went before and came after.

After brains are sufficiently stormed, the group leader begins the story with a grabber opening.

Here’s a possibility based on one of Van Allsburg’s drawings: “A door appeared in the basement of Tom’s new house. No, he hadn’t seen it before. The door was too small for anyone to use but a cat, but it wasn’t a door for a cat. There was a doorknob. Did Tom dare open the door?”
The leader calls on volunteers to add tidbits to the growing tale. Sometimes leaders have to call for an ending. A leader may have to step in and say, “OK, the mold in the frat-house fridge has evolved to the point of political self-determination. Three students sold their souls to it in exchange for completed term papers and one fell in love with it. How does this story end?”
If writers, students, children and parents develop a good story and some brave soul is gutsy enough to repeat the tale, Michael O’Hearn of the New Harmony Jazz Band has promised to provide incidental background music for the speaker.
As part of next Sunday’s Celebration of Children, Tag and Bonnie Grisham will host an art letter table where guests can personalize a card with zentangle doodles, cut paper, designs and commemorative stamps. The table also will have printed riddles and jokes if visitors want to include one.

Eva Dopico will run an origami table where visitors will learn to fold paper animals and toys. All workshops are run by donation for the service of teaching.


Join us for plenty of fun! For more information, go to the website at

— Sally Parker is the founder of the Square Tomatoes Crafts Fair, which takes place monthly (sometimes more frequently) under the pavilion in Central Park, Third and C streets. Upcoming fairs are Sept. 7; Oct. 19; Nov. 2, 16 and 30; and Dec. 14.



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