From Martha Cooney, storyteller and founder of Story Up!

In honor of Tell Me A Story's 5th Anniversary, we've asked storytellers that have been a part of the community to share a little bit about what they do and how it connects to the stories they've told on the TMAS stage. Below is a blog entry written by Martha Cooney, founder for Story Up!

I used to teach preschool, and we had a tradition of the “storyteller’s chair” at our circle time. The kid whose turn it was would come up - sometimes nervous, sometimes excited - and sit in the chair to share aloud their own imagined story. Fifteen other four-year-olds would listen, pay attention, and show the speaker that they were valued - that their words and ideas were something important, something that people enjoyed sharing. We would all laugh together. For that moment of story time, we were all on board in joining the magic. The experience of standing up in front of a group of adults and trying to entertain them with a funny story is no different. From preschool to grownups, we all like coming to the circle and laughing together. 

I started StoryUP! five years ago, teaching workshops for kids that integrated the story-creation experiences of writing, storytelling and acting, while building my own experience as a storyteller and performer. Pretty soon I had a team of improv performers and teaching artists who joined me in putting together an interactive show for kids, each performance a unique show based on the kids’ stories and ideas. Since then, we have taught workshops in schools and libraries, performed for packed school auditoriums and backyard birthday parties, and trained parents in the art of pretend play with their kids. 

I like to say that StoryUP! uses comedy and storytelling to inspire creativity, confidence, and literacy skills in kids. Creativity, because it shows kids a bunch of grown-ups acting goofy and wacky and gives them permission to let their own imaginations run wild. Confidence, because kids are given the opportunity to step up, be onstage, share an idea, and have their stories read aloud and celebrated and enjoyed. And literacy skills, because kids we work with are motivated to write when they realize how much fun making up stories can be. 

A lot of what we do is about finding stories in our pretend play, whether it’s a group of teenagers doing improv scenes to inspire a setting for their writing assignment, or a three-year-old imagining he’s on a dinosaur hunt while we write down the tale of his adventures. We invite kids to open the door to that magical place of imagination - and because we are performers and comedians ourselves, we want to go there, too, so we can laugh together.

Kids make the best comedians because their natural creativity is flowing all the time. There’s that old quote: “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.” I have so much to learn from kids, who don’t let self-censorship or fear stop them from trying out creative ideas. Kids know how to play, and their stories abound because of that. When I go onstage in front of grownups to tell a story, I want to channel that playful energy and remember that storytelling is for the fun of it - we’re just a circle of grownup kids who want to laugh together. 

To me, Tell Me A Story has always had the vibe that I want in a storytelling room - a circle of grownup kids who want to laugh together. Hillary Rea, thanks for putting out the storyteller’s chair for us. 

                                    - Martha Cooney

More info about StoryUP!:

On social media: @storyupphilly (Facebook, Twitter)

Check out Martha's story Tell Me A Story: Yesterday