Halloween Tales from Storyteller Michael Katz
Although he agrees with most of the literate children of the world that there are few things more fun than reading stories, Michael Katz believes there’s something unique and wonderful about the telling of tales out loud. “It is a sharing,” he said. “That’s what I love about it.” It would certainly be unfortunate for the children of Santa Barbara if Katz ever stopped sharing his stories. His energy and passion ignite a response in kind from his audiences, both young and old. This Halloween season, Katz will present eerie tales for children and the young-at-heart in a series of public library performances.
It makes sense that Katz would understand what children enjoy in a story. He studied child psychology before taking up a career in storytelling. Keeping a group of kids spellbound involves much of the same skills as therapy; he said he still has to “listen to them as much as they listen to me.” During the telling of a scary story, he must watch the body language of his audience members, make eye contact, listen to their responses-and choose the right moment to say boo.
“A safe way to confront the dark is through stories,” Katz said recently. “We learn about our power around these things, and know we have the confidence to confront the scary things in the world.” This idea that the sharing of stories can lead to personal growth is what led Katz to teach the skill in schools. Having worked with mostly third- and fourth-graders, he’s now expanding his storytelling classes to other age groups, and finds that performing brings out the best in kids. His aim is to “push them, so they grow and yet remain proud of themselves.” Overcoming stage fright is only part of the process; active involvement in the audience’s responses gives the kids an opportunity to understand themselves, and their peers, in deeper ways.
Katz himself was introduced to storytelling through presenting oral reports to his eighth-grade history class. “I would create characters, telling the history through them,” Katz said. “I got to share the excitement in a very interactive way.” Working on these presentations with his mother, he also learned how much fun it can be to collaborate on the making of a story.
It’s not only children, Katz believes, who have an interest in storytelling. All people create stories out of the actions and events of their lives. By identifying and examining the storyline of one’s life so far, Katz believes, a person can change. These days, Katz is working with prison inmates, a project that seems on the surface very different from telling stories to children. According to him, it’s actually a similar process, since he believes the power of storytelling as a way of experiencing and enhancing personal identity knows no boundaries of age or situation.
Of course, Katz’s Halloween stories for kids may not have such profoundly life-altering effects-he’s primarily out to entertain, engage, and amuse the children of Santa Barbara with stories about ghosts, goblins, and the Willy Nilly Man. Without using the usual spooky props, Katz plans to “create as much magic with as little as possible,” using only his sense of humor and his self-described “gift of the gab.” His storytelling is indeed a gift, and one he delights in sharing. It’s what he loves, and his audiences, young and old, love him for it.
Michael Katz will appear at public libraries from Solvang to Carpinteria between Monday, October 29, and Wednesday, October 31. For a complete schedule, call 564-5652 or visit sbplibrary.org. For more on Michael Katz, visit storytellermichael.com.