Monday, October 12, 2009

Interview with Storyteller Naomi Steinberg

Naomi Steinberg believes strongly in the power of stories to catalyze and support change both personally and globally. She has told stories in places as varied as Jerusalem, Ramallah, Zurich, and Mendocino, California. In her home town of Vancouver, Canada she has produced shows independently as well as with the In the House Festival, Fringe Festival, and Sistahood Celebration, among others. Naomi has also developed storytelling workshops for schools in Vancouver, Morocco, Switzerland and India and for the Cortona Conference in Italy. In her current position as chair of the Vancouver Society of Storytelling, Naomi intends to foster an appreciation of the art in all of its aspects and applications for audiences of allsorts! (

Tell us about your work with stories? Have you always been a storyteller?

I think I have indeed always been a storyteller. I grew up without a television and can still remember the epic adventures that I created in my head. There were a few re-occuring favorites and they always involved heroic problem solving and disaster avoidance with a whole bunch of animal helpers and great moments of expansive quiet, floating on the ocean.

What will you be telling at FOOL?

I have been asked to share some of the Bedouin stories I was told while on a story collecting journey in Israel and Palestine. Mmmmmmm yum ! I am looking forward to it !

Tell us about some of your influences.
So many ! The international community of people who flowed through my parents' home as I was growing up. Working with a community based, youth driven, public art project - two years of conversation and actions around social justice and arts based empowerment. Being introduced to the quiet centre of my mind and heart through meditation. Having the opportunity to witness, listen to and learn at the feet of so many powerful storytellers (Dan Yashinsky, Laura Simms, Nan Gregory, Melanie Ray, Jean-Pierre Makosso, Abegael Fisher-Lang, Anne Anderson, that old man in Marrakech's central square....) Kitchen table conversations with my Grandma and Zeida.

Why do you think story is important in this day and age?
I think that the simplicity of storytelling (no technology, no props) is a non-threatening non-coercive vehicle which allows for an experience of universal truth, love, wisdom. The more I hear a diversity of stories, the more I remember that there is no blueprint for a happy life, and I sure don't need to buy in to what mainstream media or advertising companies are telling me. An act of imagination and the courage to share it is an antidote for sterile learning environments, fractured families, apathy and sorrow. Story is the making of the world. Image a good one, tell it into being, gift your heart and breath to the world and the return is instantaneous.

It is important to enhance existing models of cultural cooperation and to foster public awareness and celebration of diversity. As storytellers, we have an exceptional tool for promoting tolerance and understanding, as well as for fostering leadership and communicating vision. As we take charge of our personal narrative, we find the courage to live with hearts and hands wide open - despite the global economic downturn, despite calamitous weather patterns, aging populations, disease and all the most popular horror stories of the nightly news – we continue to tell stories of inspiring personal triumph as well as sharing the profound wisdom of ancient myths and fairytales.

Why do we need oral traditions when we have television, radio, internet?

human to human, heart to heart, breath to breath, heat to heat, presence to presence, instantaneous, scary, vulnerable, willing and reciprocal EXPERIENCE of the storied moment.

How do you create your stories?

I try to open all my sense doors and speak what I discover. I use traditional folk and fairytales as my guide. Perhaps it is because I so much love that little story about how Truth was wandering about the town, but no body would invite her in because she was so stark in her nakedness...when Story saw this, she approached Truth and offered to dress her in a beautiful shining cloak. Since then, people can listen to and feel the Truth much more easily.

Advice for aspiring tellers of tales, word artists, and web weavers?

Go for it ! Find your ground. Stand on it. Be proud.... and as you feel the earth beneath your feet, be humble, open you mouth and.....speak !

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