by Hope C Lewis c. 2016
I grew up spending all my summers in Acadia National Park. Headquartered on Mount Desert Island in Maine, this Park boasts rocky coast, tidal wetlands, mountains, clear spring-fed lakes and an extensive network of hiking trails and original carriage roads. Acadia National Park protects more than 47,000 acres. I have volunteered for the Park for many years.
Mount Desert Island has hosted summer visitors for thousands of years, from the native Abenaki tribes on. Today, Acadia National Park generally receives more than two million recreational visits each year, making it one of the most-visited national parks in the United States. What this means for a storyteller is an opportunity to apply storytelling in the incomparable setting of a stunning National Park. The Park has a robust educational program, with rangers and volunteers striving to answer questions and share the Park’s message. This means that planning a program of stories for the Park required thinking seriously about the Park’s mission.
It also meant creating an intensely flexible program to accommodate all ages of audience members. The first step was to immerse myself in the environmental sensibility of Acadia. Education would have to the primary purpose, with storytelling used as an engaging tool to involve families in an appreciation of this extraordinary environment.
I found my answer in folklore long associated with the animals of the region. The program was built upon the construct of a Real World/Story World contrast in the portrayal of animals, and it crosses between these worlds consciously. Instruction of the audience in the critical thinking necessary to appreciate both worlds is intrinsically woven into the fabric of the performance.
For example, I set my performance up as a talent competition between the animals to become Acadia Animal of the Day, telling the audience members that they will all vote on the winner at the end. Each animal is introduced as having a particular set of talents or skills: Lobster molts and then eats the cast off shell, Seal can take a nap underwater, Bear can sleep for three months, Humpback whales only eat in the summer. I then step into Story World (where animals don’t actually talk and carry pocket watches) and entertain with a folktale or song about the animal. I remind the audience members about the real “talents” once or twice, as they will be responsible for judging. There is typically a very spirited voting process (you can vote for as many animals as you want!). Our most frequent winner last season was Peregrine Falcon because he is the fastest animal on the planet.
Each animal was researched extensively. Important and quirky facts about the animals were collected. Stories were developed based upon tales from numerous cultures. Songs were gathered or written to accompany the animals’ presentations. What evolved was a program adaptable to any audience. The final list of 25 animals provides opportunities to talk about endangered species, ecosystems, the human tendency to anthropomorphize animals, and environmental concerns.
A bag of small stuffed animals accompanies me when I prepare for a performance. Depending upon the age and profile of the audience members, I can select any animals I choose to pull out and present as I go along. Younger groups get more simple songs, more participatory stories, older groups get more facts and less entertainment. Everybody leaves satisfied… especially me.
Look around you for opportunities to tell your tales in a Park or other outdoor venue that allows you to bring environmental awareness, education, and entertainment together. It is definitely worth your effort.
I only have one problem. I can’t find a stuffed mussel.
Go to https://www.nps.gov/acad/ to find out more about Acadia.
This blog is a part of a series presented by the LANES Connections Project. This task seeks to celebrate connections to other organizations, professions, and milieus to which we are joined through story. If you are joined through story with another organization, profession, setting, style or milieu, we would love for you to share your experiences with us in a blog.
Hope Lewis is honored to be an Acadia National Park Centennial Partner. She continues to present her custom program of stories throughout the Acadia area. She is the President of the Board of LANES (the Northeast Storytelling Organization) (www.LANES.org) and the coordinator of LOONS, a Storytelling Guild that meets in Trenton, Maine (https://www.facebook.com/LOONS-Storytelling-Guild-1661205690794302/)