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.