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529 Main Street
Charlestown, MA 02119
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4102159397

Massmouth is a Boston-based non-profit organization that promotes the timeless art of storytelling. Since our founding in 2009, Massmouth has changed the way Greater Boston and the surrounding communities tell and listen to stories. Massmouth organizes storytelling events throughout Greater Boston and surrounding communities, including competitive slams, monthly special features, and custom events. The organization also provides coaching and storytelling workshops for businesses, non-profit organizations, and individuals. 

Blog

Meet Linda Grosser, 2019 Big Mouth Off second place winner

Cheryl Hamilton

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Everyone has been telling and listening to stories since childhood, but some people like Linda Grosser don't discover the extent of their storytelling talent until later in life. Since entering retirement, Linda has thrown herself into new activities, including storytelling. Massmouth volunteer and fellow storyteller Angie Chatman interviewed Linda about this change.


I understand that you recently retired. What’s it like?

After I retired, although I had a variety of interests, I didn't really have specific plans and was completely open to new horizons. But what exactly, I wasn’t sure. Initially it was summertime, my favorite season for adventures in the great outdoors - cycling, walking, beach-combing - so it was an easy time at the start. It took a while though to get used to unstructured time, not having an automatic daily social environment, and the freedom of how I choose to spend my time. One thing is for sure - every day is a new adventure.

How did you get into storytelling?

 It had only been a year since I left work at Boston University. My son had given me tickets to a weekend adult summer camp in upstate NY.  Timing was perfect for a personal growth adventure that the camp offered.  Then, for the camp talent show, completely out of the blue, I became inspired to share a true personal story about a life-changing trip.  Something I had never done before.  Serendipitously, just a few weeks later, I saw a signup at my local library for a storytelling workshop with storyteller and teacher Jo Radner.  Jo and her workshop was fantastic, and she was very supportive of me to just get out there. 

 Over the course of a few months,  I told at Club Passim, then the Massmouth semi-finals, then I placed second at the Big Mouth Off.  After that, I took the intro class with Massmouth’s Director Cheryl Hamilton. She has also been very encouraging.  This summer,  I really dove into the deep end and attended the National Storytelling Networks annual conference, where I met and heard all these famous tellers. Now it seems that new opportunities for growing involvement just keep coming.

How do you know when your story is ready for the public?

That’s one of the things I’m learning...how to craft my story. It takes hard work to tease out the essence of the story and remove the extraneous details.  I am learning that it’s an art form that takes time and practice. I’m also a photographer.  For me, working on a story is a little like ‘seeing’ a subject  from different angles -- until I am happy with the result.  I know it is ready when I feel it, that all the important elements are there.

Why is storytelling so important to you that you would invest so much time and energy when you could be...I don’t know, gardening?

In my career in business and academia,  I did a lot of public speaking. Personal storytelling is different. I am connecting with my audience in a vulnerable and open-hearted way.  We’ve all  struggled; we’ve all suffered; and we’ve all celebrated life too. It is sharing a common humanity and storytelling helps to reinforce that we need not be alone, wherever we are. I suspect that maybe a lot of people feel that too. 

I also feel rewarded when I am giving voice to some truth or wisdom that someone else might also feel, but maybe cannot express.     And, I have to say: storytelling is just plain fun.

What specific lessons have you learned as you have developed your craft?

One big lesson has been learning how to adjust to the environment of different venues as well as the different audience expectations and reactions.  This may sound naive but when I did the Stories to Scenes show at the Rozzie Theater, I was surprised by how different it felt from a slam or showcase. I am learning that a story telling is a living thing; it and the audience change with every telling.  How do I handle, when a funny line does not get the same laugh with the next audience?  It's tricky.

Your story at the Big Mouth Off was very personal and inspiring. Were you nervous to talk about overcoming fears and your divorce? 

Yes and No.  No, in that as I mentioned earlier, I have done a lot of public speaking in my career so I feel comfortable speaking in front of an audience.  But further, in sharing the stories that I have, I sort of feel like it has become a mission for me to connect with others through personal narrative.  It feels like a gift that I can give.  In all those ways, I have not been nervous to share my feelings about a difficult personal situation. When I do get nervous, it has been because I want to do it well, to convey the depth of the meaning of the story, which can be hard, in the best possible way that I can.  And of course, there is also always the excitement before a “performance”, even if it is a five-minute one.

What has been the biggest surprise for you so far in storytelling? 

Storytelling has opened up an entirely new world for me. Who knew? Listening on the radio is an entirely different experience than live storytelling.  I have met so many incredibly friendly and supportive tellers and teachers; so many brilliant styles in which tellers share their love of stories.  Every time I hear another story, I am amazed by the diversity of talent out there.  Frankly, I was also completely surprised to find this new avocation for myself at age 65.

To learn more about Massmouth’s classes, events and Stories from the Stage program, visit www.massmouth.org.

Meet Rilda Kissel, 2019 Big Mouth Off Audience Choice winner 

Cheryl Hamilton

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Each time Rilda Kissel tells the story about her mother and the nursing home, someone in the audience inevitably cries and everyone has a greater appreciation for the challenges associated with Alzheimer’s. A relative newcomer to storytelling, Rilda earned the audience choice award at Massmouth’s 2019 Big Mouth Off by sharing her vulnerability and skillfully weaving humor and hard topics together. Massmouth volunteer and fellow storyteller Angie Chatman interviewed Rilda about her experience. This is their exchange:

Angie: I was in the audience for the All Dressed Up live-taping of Stories from the Stage at WGBH where you shared about putting on a blazer and touring a nursing home for your mom.  It’s a powerful story. I cried and a lot of people around me had tears in their eyes. It must be a very hard story to tell.  

Rilda: Actually, I had practiced telling that story so many times that it was like pressing play on a recording and the words just came out. It’s the first story I shared with Massmouth.

Angie: You started telling stories by sharing one on television? That’s so brave.

Rilda. No. I started telling stories at work. I work for the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. Five years ago, our dean proposed that we host a storytelling event as a tool for team-building and education. They called it Double Take. I shared a story about my Mom’s diagnosis. Then the University asked if they could post the story on the school’s Facebook page. This was in the fall and I was participating in the Walk for Alzheimer’s so I asked people to make a donation. The post raised over $5,000.

Angie: That’s great. So how did you get involved with Massmouth?

Rilda: The next time the call for submissions for Double Take went out, I volunteered to review the pitches and help coach some storytellers. I’m a writer and I know what makes a good story arc, what should be cut, etc. But telling a story is not the same as when it’s on paper; I knew I needed to improve my coaching skills. I found Massmouth on the internet and took a class.

Angie: So you didn't plan to compete in a slam or anything?

Rilda: Not really. I have a full-time job, a husband and two little kids, ages 4 and 7. My evenings are rarely free. But at the end of the Massmouth class everyone is encouraged to perform and although you don’t have to, I didn’t want to disappoint my classmates. [After the showcase] I competed at a slam at Trident Cafe and I won, and eventually advanced to the Big MouthOff championship. Later, Massmouth’s director called and said that my story fit the theme ‘All Dressed Up’ for Stories from the Stage. She asked if I would like to perform and I said yes. 

Angie: So, you only planned to do one class. Now, you’ve done nearly every kind of Massmouth program! What’s next?

Rilda: Yes, it’s not what I expected, but I really want to stay involved. Storytelling is so powerful. After I left the stage at the WGBH studio, a woman in the audience grabbed my hand with tears in her eyes and said, “My mother has Alzheimers too. Thank you so much for sharing that story.”

Angie: That’s wonderful.

Rilda: Yes, but I know I have more than one story to tell! Funny, lighthearted ones, not just serious stuff. It’s good for me to be on stage because it makes me a better coach, teacher, writer...and person. I love being part of this storytelling subculture. It’s so diverse. I don’t think I would have ever met all these wonderful people otherwise. Storytelling has changed my life. 

To learn more about Massmouth’s classes, events and Stories from the Stage program, visit www.massmouth.org.

Meet Big Mouth Off Winner Harold Cox

Cheryl Hamilton

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When Harold Cox contacted Massmouth for some storytelling coaching in the spring of 2018, the professor of public health at Boston University couldn't have imagined how quickly Massmouth would become a bigger part of his life. In less than a year, the newcomer to the storytelling scene advanced from a “Craft Your Story” class participant to the Big Mouth Off champion. He also went from audience member to the producer for Stories to Scenes, a monthly storytelling show in Roslindale. He even featured on Stories from the Stage. At Massmouth, building community is as important to us as promoting the art of storytelling. We are pleased Harold has found a new home with Massmouth and the broader storytelling community. To hear his journey as he tells it, read on.

Harold, how did you get into storytelling?
I’m a teacher, so I’m in front of people all the time. And I’ve always told stories. In order to advocate for the public, I need to engage people and make them care. The most effective way to do that is to show the humanity of the poor, the homeless, addicts - to tell their stories.

But I wanted to learn more about the storytelling craft so I signed up for Massmouth’s Intro class. I had so much fun, and I realized I had more stories to tell. Each time I was in front of an audience, they responded positively, so I just kept going. Storytelling is now my newest passion.

Do you get nervous?
Yes. I get nervous. Doing this is a little out of my comfort zone, but I go to the slams anyway. They provide a target and a deadline. Because of the time limit and focus on a theme, [the slam] forces me to edit my story so that it’s tighter and richer.

How do you craft your story?
A lot of people write their stories first. I start by talking it through and recording it. For me, the hardest thing is accepting the fact that I probably will have to leave what I think is the very best part of the story on the cutting room floor because although it may be funny to me, it doesn’t serve the story. What I learned in class is how to hook the listener from the beginning and then nail the ending.

What would you recommend to people who are interested in getting involved in storytelling?
First, know that everybody has a story. You’ve probably been telling your story to friends and family at every holiday dinner, so why not deliver your story to people who haven’t heard it before? But the most important thing is to go to storytelling events. I like listening as much as I like telling.

I learn so much about storytelling from listening to how others craft their stories. Also, once you start going you tend to see the same people. The storytelling community is full of lovely people and it’s really fun being around them.

What message do you generally share with your stories?
My life has been comical. I shared a story about having a rat in my house on Stories from the Stage. Now, at the time, having a rat in my house wasn’t funny at all, but in retrospect there were some outlandish moments. That’s like a lot of things in life. In the moment some things are not at all funny, but once you look back on them you can find the humor, and joy, in the experience.

Why has storytelling become important to you?
There’s something special that happens when you tell a story to a group of people. You can feel we’re all connected. It’s powerful. When the stories are really good everyone leaves with some unexpected message, no, more like a gift. At least, that’s what I get when I listen to other people’s stories - a gift.

To start your storytelling experience, sign up for a Massmouth class.

Massmouth graduates first advanced storytelling class

Cheryl Hamilton

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On July 16th, graduates of Massmouth’s first advanced storytelling class took the stage at Club Passim in Harvard Square, Cambridge to share personal stories inspired by childhood.

Board member and host Dan Dahari reminded the audience of the recently-closed Toys “R” Us stores, and his favorite memories of selecting just the right action figure as a child.

Like Dan, the graduates had similar nostalgic, and some tragic, memories from childhood that they presented in seven minutes. Ajay Gallewale and Erin Kane bookended the night with their childhood sports stories about praying to the baseball gods and throwing a game-winning touchdown, respectively. For Ajay, it was his first time performing in front of an audience, while Erin had participated in Massmouth's introductory class a month earlier.

The tellers were as diverse as their stories. Eritrea-born Awet Teame described how her years growing up in a war-torn country prepared her for future challenges, while Toki Shih-Yi from Taiwan recalled memorable entrances to the U.S. at Logan airport.

Other tellers honored lost loved ones. Tom Ostberg highlighted how some friends stay with us forever, while Mercia Tapping told a stirring piece on how news about her mother late in life changed her perspective on their relationships forever.

Yolanda McLean brought the audience to tears as she shared how an instantaneous act of bravery when she was little led her to becoming the woman she is today.

The courageousness of the storytellers to open up on stage (some for the first time) to talk about defining moments in their life was inspiring.

The audience even experienced a Massmouth first. When Harold could not tell his story because of unexpected dental work earlier in the day, Massmouth played a pre-recorded audio about how dressing up as Santa for a work party taught him to be his best self.

Like the tellers, many audience members discovered Massmouth and the venue for the first time, and Dahari encouraged them to return, possibly to become storytellers themselves.

Massmouth will be hosting a Storytelling for Television workshop on Saturday, July 28 and August 25, as well as an Introduction to Storytelling class every Monday from August 6 – August 20. For those who want to become the next advanced storytellers, Massmouth’s second Advanced Storytelling workshop series will begin on Tuesday, September 4 and run the following two Mondays.