by Brian "Fox" Ellis,
In November 1994, the Children's Theatre company, a touring theatrical group from Minneapolis, Minnesota, performed an operetta called Animal Fables From Aesop at the Franciscan Center in Sylvania, Ohio.
The seven matinee performances were rollicking, colorful, and well-attended. But they were really just the finale for a much bigger undertaking: a multi-layered, community-wide, arts education program called Fun With Fables.
Conceived by Franciscan Center educational director Julie Horn, the program was designed to enhance interest and community appreciation for the touring production. As consulting storyteller, I had the opportunity to develop and implement the program, which included a regimen of storytelling workshops, school residencies, and specialty events.
Local students, for example, took part in a Theatre Vision Day of storytelling workshops and puppet-making sessions at the center. Educators and storytellers attended an integrated arts workshop entitled From Aesop to Zuni: Storytelling Across the Curriculum, and learned interdisciplinary teaching plans based on multicultural animal fables.
Prior to the performance, I also worked in-residence for three weeks at the center, conducting day-long and half-day storytelling programs in 12 Toledo schools. These residencies included a storytelling performance of fables and either a Tale Tellers workshop or A Recipe for a Story presentation. The goal was to get students to perform a traditional fable, or for each class to create its own collection of original fables.
The Franciscan Center also sponsored a Family Fun With Fables night that included a pizza meal and family storytelling workshop.
Did Fun With Fables work? The numbers speak volumes: 6,000 children from the Toledo schools saw Animal Fables From Aesop; 1,250 students took part in Theatre Vision Day; and more than 7,000 took my fable-writing/performing workshops in the schools.
The experience made me recognize the value of connecting with venues like the Franciscan Center—and of planning storytelling activities around major touring productions. Fun With Fables received good reviews from both students and teachers, and plans to develop a similar program are already underway for an upcoming production of Frankenstein by The National Players. This time, the focus will be on integrating classic short stories into junior high and high school curriculums in Toledo.
This program was later recorded and is available as Fun With Fables. Several of the Lesson Plans are also available.