Director's Notes: Myths for Children
Why do we tell each other stories?
It hasn’t even been a hundred years (one long lifetime) since folks first started going to movies or listening to a show on radio. Before that a person sometimes went to the theatre. Or if they lived in the country, as most people did, they had to wait for a traveling theatre group to visit and perform at the local opera house. Sometimes kids kept themselves busy by going through mom or dad’s old trunk playing dress up, or making puppets out of Popsicle sticks. Mostly though, people just told stories to each other.
Story time is special. It is a chance for us to join together with family or neighbors and relate experiences— tales of love, bravery, humor, adventure, suspense, and even horror. Nobody can hear a story by themselves. Somebody has to tell it. The words “communication & community” derive from the same Latin origin. They mean “sharing.” And it’s always special to share a story with someone - especially when a story is really fun!
Stories can also teach us things. We all come on to this earth not knowing much at all. It’s rather humbling to see a spider spin a complicated web, or a three week old hummingbird fly up-side-down, when we as children had so much trouble just learning to stand up, let alone walk! We’re born with a lot of capacity, but not much in the way of what to do, or how to do it as we grow up. We have to be taught things.
Every culture around the earth has stories to teach their children— stories passed down from generation to generation. Grown-ups have stories they tell each other, too. Grown-up stories are called myths. “Myth: n. usually a traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.” Sometimes myths are acted out— like a marriage ceremony. In our country marriage can be just a legal thing, but in many cultures it is a mythic event— the mystery of two people coming together as one. Stories for children though, are called fairy tales or folktales, and they deal mostly with the questions and problems of childhood. And like all myths from around the world, these tales can seem very different in character and events but end up exploring the very same issues: How to live in a family. How to respect your elders. How to treat other people. How to handle our selfish impulses. How to grow up. How to be good! One of the best ways to tell someone how to be good, is by example— a role model. People especially like to tell stories of heroes. Everyone looks up to a hero. Heroes are those of us who fight against terrible trouble to help people in the community. A hundred years ago everyone had heard about George Washington and the cherry tree, or John Henry and the hammer. But what about today?
In our “age of communication” storytelling has become more a source of revenue than a sharing of knowledge. If you want a story, it will cost you. Nothing is free. Even on the Internet, a person must fend off advertisements, and give away a part of themselves to databank cookie collectors. Money becomes the dominant culture providing stories. And as a culture, profit doesn’t ask what kids need: It asks, “What will get kids to want more?” The ironic answer is found in commercialized entertainment’s vast appeal to cravings and naïve impulses, the very ones good stories help us to palliate. The “fun” experience is hyped, while the value of teaching, of role modeling, and of social involvement, is pushed to the side. With technology we don’t need a community to hear a story. We can hear, see, and even participate in a video game story, by ourselves, and at anytime. Children are plugged in to video iPods for short rides in the car or the subway, but a story ceases to be communication if it only takes and doesn’t give.
“Istwa” means story in Creole. And Istwa! is created from four traditional stories for children from four different cultures: Germany, The United States’ Appalachian Mountains, Haiti, and Ghana. Since mid-August The Ensemble of Istwa! has met a total of 150 hours together. Their goal has been simple, but not easy: To create a show based on the value of full communication— communicating with a direct total commitment to voice, body, and spirit with the desire to evoke a shared understanding and experience with an audience of children and adults of all ages. No batteries necessary.