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Channeling My Inner Mr. Rogers

When COVID-19 hit the Greater Washington Region in March, it was an overwhelming moment for all of us. Story Tapestries’ programs and services, including performances, workshops, and artist-in-residencies, are interactive in-person experiences. However, that model was suddenly no longer an option as theatres, schools, libraries, and other public gathering places closed to protect the health and safety of every community member. Story Tapestries worked quickly to identify ways to continue fulfilling our mission, and we listened carefully to the needs of our stakeholders to make sure we were coming up with solutions that were meaningful and effective. We are so proud of our team of artists and educators because they took on this new challenge with a wonderful spirit of camaraderie and hope – bringing the magic that they make on the stage and in the classroom to the computer screen! Here is one artist’s story about what that has meant for her.

Written by Noa Baum, Storyteller and Master Teaching Artist at Story Tapestries

Noa Baum, Photo by Sam Kitner

We are in uncharted and scary times. Like so many all over the world, performers and workshop leaders like me saw our livelihood vanish overnight with festivals, conferences, and live school events cancelled everywhere. It has been an emotional rollercoaster and a challenge to gather my energy or feel centered.

Story Tapestries invited me to offer my work in a virtual format. At first, I couldn’t imagine it.

Not only was I feeling lifeless and not in the least bit creative, but also questioning how to tell stories without a live audience. Storytelling is a communicative event in space and time! It is a relationship. My style is highly interactive and physical, with audience participation as the driving force of the story. How do I create a relationship across screens? And with everyone muted, as they need to be in order for Zoom to function well, how do I hear their reactions? How do I know if they are even listening? If they like it?

Then I remembered Mr. Rogers. He was the first television show I had ever seen in my life. It was August 1968. I was ten years old, just arrived from Israel with my family for my father’s two-year sabbatical at Sandford University in California. I didn’t know a word of English but there he was, Mr. Rogers on the screen, in color, and it felt like he was talking to me! I still remember the sense of connection I felt as he spoke with that gentle voice, his eyes looking straight into mine, inviting me into his neighborhood.

Channeling my inner Mr. Rogers, I ventured into ZoomLand. I welcomed the children and invited them to answer back by showing with thumbs up when I ask a question, to twinkle with their hands to show appreciation. Then, like him, I looked into the camera so to my viewers it would look like I’m looking directly at them. I slowed down. I slowed down a lot. I minimized and gathered my gestures. I was sensing the presence of the children rather than actually seeing them in the little boxes on the screen. I put my trust in my craft and imagination, put my faith in the story and dove into it.

It brought me more joy than I can put in words. All the chaos and hurt of the world vanished. All the worries and fears disappeared. I found myself moved to tears seeing wide-eyed children, on a parent’s lap or sprawled on the couch or bed, smiling or jumping up and down in glee. It wasn’t the same as being in a live event, but we were connecting. I felt ALIVE and less alone.

To my great surprise I discovered there were gifts in this strange ZoomLand: people who couldn’t come to a live performance before showed up across borders and time zones, families from Singapore and India, together with my next-door neighbors and people from other places in the US.

And perhaps the biggest gift of all: 5-year-old Kavin from Singapore was so excited about the Hebrew words he learned in our session, his mom turned on the camera so that she would capture what he wanted to share.

I am so grateful to Story Tapestries for this precious opportunity to allow me to continue the work I love in a format people can access at a distance so that we are all protected. It is the next best thing to a live show sharing the same space.

Storytelling is a powerful reminder that we are all connected. Now more than ever, we and our students need our stories, the family stories, the ancient folktales from every culture on this fragile planet, that hold so much wisdom and shine the light into the beauty and resilience of our human spirit.

Learn more about Noa Baum as an artist and educator here. To hear more stories, join Story Tapestries for our 10-Year Anniversary Celebration – ONLINE! Click here to learn more and consider reserving your seat at our virtual table. We encourage our supporters through the Catalogue for Philanthropy to use this unique discount code: CFPFriend10. We look forward to celebrating with you!




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