Interview With Stuart Nager, Born Storyteller

Stuart Nager is a creative individual with many areas of passion that he explores and travels in:

Professional Storyteller; NYS Certified Drama Specialist/Educator; Writer of Fiction and Playwright; Professional Development Coordinator & Facilitator; Workshop Leader; Arts-In-Education Advocate; Puppeteer;  Director; Performer; Teaching Artist; Curriculum Writer; and sometimes more, as the needs arise. He has never performed at a bris, and does not want to.

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1.       We met via facebook because we both played the same game—and now neither of us can remember what game it was! How do you use facebook?

I was playing a number of games, and started collecting “friends” to add to the numbers needed for the games. I’m pretty sure we played Dragon Age or another Dragon game. Then, I started to reconnect with a number of people from my past. The games lost their interest, but FB got more interesting for me. Now, I use it to promote my blogs (yes, two blogs:  www.bornstoryteller.wordpress.com and www.stuartnager.wordpress.com ) , my website (www.bornstoryteller.com) and my new fan page on Facebook. It’s now more about using the Social Network as a marketing tool.

2.       Can you please explain what’s happening to you in your facebook profile picture?

LOL…That’s Bob. He is an Ogre who loves to hug. The only problem is that Bob, like Bullwinkle, doesn’t always know his own strength. OK..Bob is a processional puppet that was built by the art teacher and myself at a school I worked at. We built Bob for the school Halloween Parade and he was a big hit. For over two years he “lived” in my drama room. What was fun was most of the kids  would enter the room and say “Hi Bob” after they said hello to me. Stories were written about him, at least one song sung in his honor, and he was the unofficial class Mascot. He led three Halloween Parades while I was there, and hopefully still does (he was adopted by the art teacher when I left the school).

3.       What other social media do you use?

I use LinkedIn to great success: I have three collaborative projects in the works thanks to the site and I’ve gotten previous work from it. I can’t believe I’m saying this one, but I also am on Twitter (@Stustoryteller). I use it for posting my (almost) daily blogs. I’m also on:

#Amwriting: http://amwriting.org/archives/3492/comment-page-1#comment-83;

Professional Storyteller:  http://professionalstoryteller.ning.com/profiles/profile/show?id=StuartNager; and

Goodreads:  http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/4177883-stuart-nager.

4.       Two blogs! I have a hard time keeping up with just one. What is the focus of each?

I have always enjoyed writing, but never felt I was disciplined enough to be a writer. I took on TWO blog challenges in April 2011: The Ultimate Blog Challenge and the A to Z Blog Challenge. This was a cathartic experience, proving that I could write every single day. I may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but that is ok. You can’t be everything for all people.

Tale Spinning (www.stuartnager.wordpress.com/) is my writing blog. Originally, I was just bored, and asked some friends on FB to give me a prompt: first sentence of a story that’s never been written before and a theme. I did that for about a week, and then..no more prompts. I discovered the A to Z challenge towards the end of March. I started writing every day. The first three days were just the letters as prompt. Then…I started an ongoing story that is now in the Novella stage (Work in Progress). I continued writing this until the end of the challenge, and then started writing other  things. Experimenting with different  styles of writing and genres has been a blast, and I’m getting more ideas daily. Some from pictures, some from word of the day prompts, and even someone else’s blog profile info (Red Head Riding). This is where I discovered that not only am I enjoying the hell out of this,  I’m also get a lot of encouragement to publish. What was once a faraway dream (being a published author) might be attainable.

Born Storyteller (www.bornstoryteller.wordpress.com/) is my Arts In Education blog. I am very involved in Theater Arts as a Storyteller, Drama Specialist, Teaching Artist, Arts Advocate, Workshop Coach, Professional Development Coordinator and Facilitator and Guest Lecturer. Here, I write about the work I am involved with, questions that I have about education, things that inspire me, and more along those lines. Every now and then I just have some fun with it, but it’s gotten more serious as I’ve been going along. I also have found the book that I need to write in this field from the blog (Curriculum on Hold). That is my summer/fall project.

Sidenote from AmyBeth: There was supposed to be a great cartoon here about arts in education, but I contacted the owners, Hearst, and they wanted $20 as an administrative fee for me to use it on my blog, so I decided not to use it after all.

5.       What was the beginning , climax, and dénouement for The Brothers Grinn?  (1995-2006)

Back in October 1994 I was co-leading a weekly Improvisation Workshop in Rye, NY. I was asked to put together some entertainment for a town celebration. Pulling some of the members of the group together, I plotted out the outline of pieces we would do, who would do them, and… when we got to the Commons, we had a field of children! That was not what we were expecting. I did a fast fix, tossed a few games out, and made sure we kept it clean and PG.

The show was a hit. The kids were a great audience. From that, the idea percolated around in my head for a month. NO ONE was doing family based improv. I  brought in some people, rehearsed like mad, and six months later The Brothers Grinn had its first show in June of 1995.

Less than year later, I made a decision that altered Grinn: instead of doing modified improv games, I changed the artistic vision to  narrative based improvisation. The games were boring to me, and I wanted more. It was the right choice overall. We wound up performing over 1,100 shows in our twelve years.

The climax: it started being work, not fun. I was being recognized as an outstanding teacher (not my words… I was told this quite a number of times) and being asked: why don’t you teach full time? I went back to school, got my MA in Educational Theater, got my New York State Theater Teacher Certification, and..there you go. Teaching was a full time gig; Grinn was a full time gig. One had to go. I closed Grinn in December 2006.

The dénouementa great experience, a great professional and personal achievement, and a huge learning time of my life. I miss it, but I do continue the idea of what I loved about it now as a solo Professional Storyteller.

6.       For what audiences do you perform everywhere I look?

“…everywhere I look…” is my ethnodramatic one man play that I wrote based on the stories that I know of my father’s life before and after being a prisoner in Auschwitz. Not light fare. Performing this is more for High School and College students, not Holocaust museums and the like. Definitely not for a NYC jaded theater audience. The students need to hear real testimonies (which my play is 100% made up of), and the more they hear of the atrocities still being perpetrated today and in the past, hopefully they will not just sit and listen, and then forget, but actually be stirred to DO SOMETHING. That is my hope. This is my way of doing something. Too many of us are complacent with what horrors go on in the world.

After Auswicz

7.       Are these themes something we are learning from history, or still learning today?

That’s a hard one to answer. I have heard from a number of people “oh no, not another piece on the Holocaust!” It then gets dismissed. My feeling is you may hear about that, or the Armenian Genocide of 1914, or what’s going on in Darfur today: so…what are you doing about it? Hearing about it is a far cry from LISTENING and DOING. If what’s been brought up already was enough, then why are so many thousands upon thousands of deaths  happening from genocides? Why are so many Hate Crimes occurring? We watch, we hear, but the process stops there. Or it seems to. Joseph Stalin, of all people, said: “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” We need to get rid of the statistic mentality that we have to make any change.

8.       You teach workshops on how to be a storyteller to teens. Does this take place in the public schools, or other groups?

Both. As a Teaching Artist (TA) I do program/residency work in schools. I also do this at Thespian HS Theater Festivals, Libraries and Museums. Recently I have been involved with a few Youth Organizations that are working with student storytellers for presentations and on Digital Storytelling. It’s really fun and rewarding. They so want to hone their skills. Working with them is always fulfilling and energizing for me. Love doing this.

9.       What play are you directing now?

Right now, a play called “Teen Reality” with a mix of Middle and High School students. This was written by the students and a school guidance counselor. We go up in two and a half weeks. The rehearsals are intense. My goal is for them to do their best, not to make stars (although I have wanted to throw the word Diva out to some of them). The thing is: on June 7th, they will be the ones on stage. It’s not about me but what I can do to help them work to do their best.  A lot of the cast sees that. Not all do.

My next directing gig is during the summer. I’ll either be directing a Drama Camp’s musical (I’d love to do “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”) or creating a Teen Drama program. If that’s the case, this will be a Devised and Collaborative work. I’m waiting to find out which position, of the two, I’ll be taking. In the long run, I’d much rather do the Devised Theater work. It’s been my passion for the last six years.

10.   You have an intimidating level of education with two Masters of Arts degrees and a range of teaching experience. Was this part of a grand design? Or did the path find you?

I’m not sure how intimidating it is. I answered part of that above: I was told, often, what a great teacher I was from the workshops and residencies I led. I had wanted to get my Masters for a number of years, but..in what? I had my BA in Human Resources (1978…yes, old old old), but that was nothing I wanted to continue.

In 2002, I found out about the degree in Educational Theater and was accepted into a program. I graduated in May 2005, also achieving my NYS certification as a Theater Teacher the same year. Right after graduating I took a one month intensive in Puppetry. During that time, I came across an ad for a degree in Oral Traditions. Reading about it, I KNEW I had to do it. So..I went from getting one Masters to beginning a second one, as well as starting a new career path as a full time Drama teacher. So… I have an MA in Educational Theater and an MA in Oral Traditions.

This all just came along, one after the other. I still, kinda-sorta, want a PhD. I like learning new things. Just at my age, and money wise, not sure if I’ll achieve that. Not counting it out, but it’s not a main goal at this moment. I would love to be called Dr. Stu for real. Maybe one day. The only time it’s too late will be when I’m dead.

11.   Why is it important to have art in public schools?

This is already long. Do you have seven hours? I answer some of this in my Born Storyteller blogging. It’s important to look at it from two angles: the Arts as its own discipline and the Arts integrated within core curricula. Short answer (as best as I can): we all learn differently, and using the arts in teaching allows more students to grasp material that they can’t by the rote testing system so blatantly in place now. We are teaching the kids to learn how to take tests, not LEARN.

The arts provides a number of ways to express a lot of things for students, not just performance product. Critical thinking,  problem solving, creative development, self confidence, and communication skills are only the tip of life lessons students get out of Arts-in-Education. It also makes other curriculum that much more accessible. I’ve seen it in practice and have heard that from the students.

12.   What do school administrators need to do in order to meet government requirements and still have the arts in public school?

It all comes down to (1) budgets and (2) school admin really being educated to what the full benefits Arts-in-Education (AIE) can offer the students and the school community. They are so focused on the end product instead of the ongoing learning process. The arts can be assessed for legitimacy, and have been, but many in and out of education do not see that, or refuse to see it for whatever reasoning. You have to start with the politicians who cut the education budgets first (yes, I’m talking to you, Bloomberg) and who have NO idea what really goes on in schools. They may think they do, but business people and educators and arts people have very different vocabularies. A meeting of the minds, understanding ALL sides and creating a working vocabulary is what’s needed so head butting could be reduced.

13.   Much of your resume is that of an educator and performer. How much writing do you do?

My writing was sporadic over the years. I have written industry articles, wrote my play, and have created and written stories that I tell in performance. I started both blogs only in January 2011, more as an add on to my new website. It wasn’t until this past April-yes, a month and a half ago-that I started to take writing seriously. I’m a real newbie, in reality, but I have gotten such great responses. It was just time for me to do it.

Since then, I try to write both blogs daily. I write about 1,500 to 2,000 words a day, but I’ve also been asked to write guest blogs, and I also have a few projects in the Arts field that I write. So..minimum of two hours a day. Never really paid attention to the time…just writing as inspired.

14.   What is your ideal performance environment?

Ideal… stadium seating for the audience, amphitheater style, with such superb acoustics that I don’t need any sound equipment. State of the art lighting, wings for entrances and exits, and a built in projection system for that extra something. Oh..and a working AC system. I sweat a lot under the lights, and a good AC..ahhhhhhh.

As to the audience, one that allows me to involve them in what I do. I don’t really want spectators. I like them involved, and open to surprises. Tossing money on the stage is good too. So are phone numbers from single females (of the right age!). I’m lonely. J

15.   What is your ideal writing environment? Have you ever been able to create it?

I’m really happiest in my bedroom, at my desk.  I’ve tried to write outside, or in other parts of the apartment, but all of my books (tactile research aides) are here. I’m a voracious reader, of fiction primarily, but I have a bookcase to my left that is full of my arts and education books. To my right, there are my storytelling resources. It’s cluttered but comfy. Today was the best for me: I love really rainy days, and today it was torrential. Just quiets everything down, and I just feel more relaxed here. Just missing some thunderstorms for it to be perfect.

16.   What is your favorite digital or electronic writing tool?

My lap top, a Dell Inspiron 1520 with Vista as my OS. I have a subwoofer hooked up with great speakers, so when I feel like writing with music..BAM! When I travel, the laptop comes with me. Portable is fun. Not sure if I’ll ever go to a Pad, but..I also thought I’d never  have a smart phone or use Twitter. My son would laugh at this: he knows I have bad mojo with electronic things.

17.   What is your favorite non-digital writing tool?

Good old Bic and legal pad. When I’m out, I always have that in my backpack. If an idea comes up, or questions I need to find out answers to, down it goes on my legal pad. I don’t write so much on it as outline and make a chaotic mess with notes, spirals, asterisks, circles and more. You’ll find a few faces in doodling. When I get home, that turns into the actual work. I don’t know why I don’t just write on the pad. For some reason, legal pads for me are mainly for notes.

18.   How do you know when you’re doing too much? Is there such a thing?

I do that a LOT. I work best when I’m busy. Too much free time and I get realllllly bored, then I just veg out on TV, or I’ll read a lot (I’ve done five+ books in a week at times). I  like to have my life piece meal, not just doing one thing. To some, they think I am too scattered and too all over the place. I’ve heard that often, especially from someone in the business world. I can drive them crazy. It’s how I function, what works for me. Tough noogies to them.

I think that’s why, right now, I’m so productive: writing two blogs, performing storytelling shows, running three threads on LinkedIn, Twitting, Facebook blogging friends (reading and commenting), directing a play, writing NYC contracts, on a planning committee for a performing arts charter school, and beginning collaborations with a few others, plus writing some stories outside of the blogs for contest submissions. Oh, and I still watch TV, listen to music daily, read, and this and that around the apt. I do hate to do laundry…THAT piles up until I have to.

19.   Who shot first… Han or Greedo?

Han shot first, and damn them for back peddling. I have SO had it with revisionist and PC everything. The past is what it was: let’s learn from it and move on. Changing it to fit the sniveling sensitivities…blech. We won’t learn crap that way.

20.   When the day comes that you are on stage, receiving some prestigious award, who are you most likely to forget to thank?

Wellllll….. that is really not a goal I have. I’m ok with people liking and appreciating what I do, whether it’s performing or writing. I HAVE thought about it while watching the Oscars or whatever award show I might sit for (not a lot..they bore me).

Here is the speech I see myself giving:

“I want to thank you all for this award. It’s really lovely, and it touches me that you feel I am deserving of it. Because I have a bad memory, and for times’ sake, a big whopping thank you to everyone connected to me and to this project. You know who you are: I love you and appreciate you. Hugs. Good night, and don’t forget to tip your server.”

Shortlink for this post: http://wp.me/p1qnT4-8G

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About AmyBeth Inverness

A writer by birth, a redhead by choice.
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13 Responses to Interview With Stuart Nager, Born Storyteller

  1. Man..I completely forgot: the two logos (The Brothers Grinn; “everywhere I look..”) were created by the very talented Chuck Davis of LA. If you need some graphic work, he freelances. Chuck can be contacted at: clndavis@bellsouth.net

    Tell him I sent you. He’s a good person.

  2. kriti says:

    A very well done interview. I do best when I am busy too! An empy mind is a devil’s workshop – and I become the devil too soon : ). Loved being here – there was so much to learn from this.

  3. Great interview! I had the pleasure of “meeting” Stuart through a blogging challenge we participated in and I was immediately drawn to his creativity and energy. It’s great to hear about his projects and accomplishments, as well as his thoughts on his profession.

  4. Larry Lewis says:

    What a fascinating interview. Have had contact with Stuart through facebook, but this interview really gives me an insight into the man and his work. Thank you for shining the light on such an interesting guy.

  5. Kriti, Adriene, and Larry…

    I’m so glad you stopped by!
    Thanks for the great comments.

  6. BIG THANK YOU, AmyBeth. 🙂

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