Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Noa Baum, Storyteller, Tells Her Story

When I say I'm a storyteller I often hear:

"Oh, how nice… you read to children?"

"No… not exactly…" and I proceed to explain that I actually TELL, using oral language, not holding a book.

"Oh" comes the slightly surprised response, "so, how did you become a storyteller?”

Well, let me tell you…

I grew up in Jerusalem, Israel. In 1983 I was well on my path to becoming the actress I’d dreamed of being since my early childhood.

It started with a bit of a bang since at the end of my senior year at Tel Aviv University I was recruited to the prestigious Repertory Khan Theatre of Jerusalem. I was now working alongside the big stars that I’d admired since high school.

But one day, the door to my oh-so-promising future slammed shut in my face. My plans to become the next Meryl Streep were shattered - I was not cast in the new play! So… here is part of the story of how I became a storyteller from my recently published memoir: A Land Twice Promised - An Israeli Woman's Quest for Peace.

Since I was not in the new play, I had to supplement my income, so I got a job doing a weekly “Story Hour” at an after-school program in the community center of one of the poor underserved neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv.

I was hired in the typical Israeli fashion: “Come by on Tuesday and show us what you do,” said the director Asher Levi, after hearing I was looking for work. Asher was a known character in Tel Aviv. A hefty, boisterous man with razor-sharp humor and twinkling eyes, a philosophy PhD student who ran the community center and also wrote the city’s most popular sports column. We met at Hashoftim Pub, where I sat with my friends every Thursday night.

So I came by on Tuesday and performed before the children and their teachers. I did the only thing I knew how to do: I acted out a folktale that I had memorized, creating a mini-drama with my movements and voices, twirling between the various characters I played—much in the same way I had acted for my cousin in my childhood. I also engaged the kids at the end in acting out the story themselves, dressed up in gaudy bits of fabric and old scarves I brought in.

The following Thursday at the pub, Asher Levi signaled me to come over to his table.

“You were very good with the kids,” he said, wiping the hummus on his plate with pita bread. “You’re hired. You’ll get the official call tomorrow.”

“Oh, wow, that’s great! Thank you!” I exclaimed. “But wait ....  how do you know I was good? You weren’t even there to see me.”

“I trust my staff. I asked them to choose: Shlomo Abas, we had him the week before, or you, and they voted you unanimously.”

My jaw dropped. Shlomo Abas?! He was the only one known officially as a “storyteller” in Israel at the time. He was a published author of dozens of children’s books and many translations and adaptations of world folktales.

“But he’s famous!” I said.

Asher shrugged. “I don’t give a flying fart about famous. He sat and read from his books, but our kids don’t have that kind of attention span. You move around and get their attention.”

So I was hired as the “Story Hour presenter.” I did not call myself a “storyteller”; I was just a humiliated actress, happy to have a scrap of work, but still sad, pathetic, and a complete failure. There I was on a bright spring day in 1984, on my second day at the job, when… "

You can WATCH me TELL the rest of the story here.

I have lived in America since 1990. It was here that I discovered that storytelling is not just for children! It took me many years but today I do call myself a Storyteller.

At its core, storytelling is the art of using language, vocalization, and/or physical movement and gesture to reveal the elements and images of a story to a specific, live audience. A central, unique aspect of storytelling is its reliance on the audience to develop specific visual imagery and detail to complete and co-create the story. We listen, but actually, we see story. We see places and people in the movie of our mind. A good story stays with us in our hearts through the pictures we created with our imagination, in our mind.

Storytelling is the intersection of my work as a performance artist, educator, and diversity specialist. For me, story is both performance art and a tool for change. I use storytelling to entertain, build bridges of understanding, and offer pathways to dialogue for peace.

I love connecting with people through stories. I tell stories to audiences of all ages in venues ranging from the World Bank, government agencies and prestigious universities to congregations of all faiths, schools and detention centers. I enjoy telling personal stories as well as traditional stories from my Jewish heritage and many cultures around the world.

As highlighted above, I recently became an author – it’s a whole new world and an exciting new chapter in my life. My memoir follows my journey from the black and white narratives of my childhood in Jerusalem to becoming a storyteller, becoming friends with a Palestinian woman in the US, learning to listen to the story of "the other" and using storytelling as a tool for peace.

If you're in the Washington DC area on July 17th, please come to my first author event at Politics and Prose in Takoma Park.

This is Week 27 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Noa’s story today. If you would like to connect with her or learn more about the power of storytelling, please feel free to contact her for details and links to a variety of networks and festivals. You can also link with Noa at the following social media sites: