Treehouse Shakers

Treehouse Shakers
Hatched, BAM Fisher, Hillman Studio

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Telling Tales of Loneliness: Julia Morris, Early Childhood Specialist

This week's blog post is by one of Treehouse Shakers' wonderful board members, and one of my dear friends, Julia Morris. I recently asked her a few interview questions for the blog. Her answers are incredibly insightful into the world of storytelling, childhood, and making work for young audiences.

About Julia:Julia M. Morris, Ph.D. is a storyteller and early childhood arts consultant. For the past ten years, she has served on the board of Treehouse Shakers. This past May, Julia received her doctorate in Mythological Studies with an emphasis in Depth Psychology from the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA. 
Julia Morris Growing up in Missouri
Treehouse Shakers' Under the Tangle, a tale of loneliness and abandonment. Photo Credit, Cherylynn Tsushima
Julia interacting with her audience


Briefly tell us about the work you do in the world with young people.
I tell participatory-based stories (folk tales, fairy tales, myths) to very young audiences.  Through an active engagement of body, voice, and imagination, we travel together into story's settings and discover components of narrative structure and plot.  I join the children as co- players in this storytelling experience. 

How did you begin the path you are on? Did your childhood influence you?

I began my work as a storyteller through the avenue of children's theatre. I worked as an actress for many years, and learned that the plays and narratives that most engaged young children required their active, full body and vocal participation. In my own childhood, I was constantly read to by both of my 'writerly' parents. Books were everywhere! By age 8, I was casting my brothers in original plays and I, of course, was the director and main character. Once I turned 11, I was directing my own version of story-theatre throughout my neighborhood.  Certainly, these early story-crafting experiences led the way for what I do today. 

Briefly tell our readers why you were attracted to the subject of childhood loneliness in your dissertation and what makes this subject so powerful for young people.
Regarding my dissertation, I think I have always been interested in the three domains of what I call 'creative isolation:' Solitude, Aloneness, and Loneliness.  It has always interested me that these three aspects of the psyche share traits and characteristics, but at the same time are very different. Adopting the archetypal psychology approach, I imagine them as three distinct sisters. Loneliness, as it shows itself in childhood and the stories of childhood, was of special interest.  It is a powerful theme in young lives because it is a universal domain that we all encounter - and children are no exception - at some point in our lives.  And I believe children can learn amazing coping and creative strategies whiles watching the heroes and heroines they admire grapple with this often-dark and dense state of being.
As a storyteller, and a lover of children’s literature, why is oral story so innately important for the young mind?

Oral story is crucial for all of us.  Humans, it has been proven, think and remember best in the 'once upon a time' story frame; and the oral tale, in particular, grabs all of us in unique ways.  It carries cultural truths, memories, poetic and rhythmic language, and engages the listener and teller 'ear to ear and eye to eye.'  Oral telling is our most ancient art form -- and it works! 
Treehouse Shakers' 13th Original Production, Under the Tangle: Photo Credit, Cherylynn Tsushima

For the past ten years you have served on the Treehouse Shakers board, what is about the work Treehouse Shakers creates that draws you to support our work?

I have been drawn to the work of Treehouse Shakers from the organization's earliest days.  I have never seen a company that so beautifully and seamlessly utilizes oral narrative in conjunction with the kinesthetic language of the body.  Young people in the audience not only get to stomp, jump, and chant along with the actor-dancers on stage, but they are invited to think imaginatively for themselves as each dance play is enacted before their eyes.  This form of theatre and storytelling is everything I believe in.
As a storyteller, you truly find magic and joy within the child listener. I have found it to be very different style of telling than other tellers, who tell stories primarily for adults. What would you say are the cornerstones in the way you tell stories for young people? When telling for children (vs. telling for adults), I cannot help but join these youngest adventurers in the magical-metaphoric world in which they live. They exist in a space where animals can talk and trees can dance; these things need never be 'explained, they just 'are!'  To be successful in telling for children, you must be willing to play jointly in this sphere with them without inhibitions, integrating rhyme, rhythm, and repetition inside a plot that is clear and concise.
Anything else you would like our readers to know about you, storytelling and or the subject of loneliness in childhood? I think we are too often, as adults, afraid of "sharing big themes" with young people.  These themes consist of fear, grief, loss, anger, abandonment, and yes, loneliness.  Children actually live closer than we do to the mysterious collective unconscious - a dream-like pool where all of these emotions simmer and bubble. They need to grapple with these ideas; and, truly, if we do not offer them in our teaching, parenting, and creative work, they will seek them out by themselves anyway. So why not be a part of integrating these powerful affective domains in the lives of children in the most creative and supportive ways possible? That's what I believe.