by KEVIN CORDI on AUGUST 22, 2010
in APPLIED STORYTELLING : NEW USES OF STORY, NEW AUDIENCES AND MORE
http://uweekly.com/newsmag/12-31-1969 (This is the original site that this was posted. written by
Sean V. Lehosit)
Over a span of more than 20 years, Kevin Cordi has traveled the world as a professional storyteller; having spoken to audiences from more than 40 states and four countries, including England, Japan, Scotland and Singapore, he has committed his career toward enriching the creative minds of not only today’s youth, but adults as well. Beginning his journey as one of the youngest professional storytellers in the country, he had the distinction of being the first full-time high school storytelling teacher in the country – a job he held for 11 years. While Cordi has achieved a lot in his career – founding the Youth, Educators and Storytellers Special Interest Group in Storytelling, co-authoring “Raising Voices: Youth Storytelling Groups and Troupes,” and teaching a course this upcoming fall on Applied Storytelling at Ohio Dominican University where he currently works as an assistant professor – this storyteller’s story begins with a young boy and a love for tales.
“When people ask how I became involved in storytelling, I have varied responses. First, my parents were born in West Virginia, and I good-naturedly say all stories are born in West Virginia and everyone else borrows. It helped to be raised in a story-based family. Every day, the TV could not compete with my mother’s tales of fighting a black snake, my aunt who chopped off the fingers of her friend on a dare, or the accounts of the blind Fuller Brush salesman walking the roads of Clay County,” said Cordi. “Next, I became interested in organized storytelling when I attended a week-long workshop in storytelling. I was studying to teach English and part of my training was being a beat reporter at Kent State University. My editor wanted me to cover a storytelling [event] for 10 minutes, but I negotiated to stay the whole week. I was hooked. I saw how the human voice and body could transport me to Ireland, the mountains of Appalachia and so much more. However, I also watched over 40 adults – 50 years and older, I thought they were old; I was 19 – transformed as they found their voice in story. I wanted to be able to help others transform with their stories.”
Yearning to become more involved in the storytelling community, it took Cordi a year before he found an organization in Cleveland that helped him to learn the practice of effective storytelling. His journey continued at the University of Akron, where he obtained his master’s degree in storytelling. However, since Akron did not have any correlating programs, he combined a specialized degree of “Using Storytelling to Teach” from East Tennessee State University, which was the first graduate storytelling program in the country. Cordi’s academic trail would eventually lead him to Ohio State University.
“In the last two years, I completed my doctorate studying the importance of story and how it changes when you use a special form of drama, called process drama. However, the rich value has been life. I have learned that when I go somewhere, I don’t listen as a tourist, I listen as a storyteller,” added Cordi. “At OSU, there are hundreds and thousands of stories – ghosts that haunt the hallowed halls, especially the library. The verification of the tunnels under the campus, but also in the ordinary. How often have you listened to the embittered tales of romance on High Street, or the wonderful street musicians’ stories in the Short North? When we take a minute to sit back, we find a tapestry of tales.”
Working in partnership with the Multicultural Center at Ohio State University, Cordi helped tackle the topic of using stories not just to entertain, but to address important issues like diversity and equality. After launching more than 40 “Story Boxes” that pertained to stories involving the OSU community, it traveled around the world until it came back to the university. Having already worked for years in the discipline, Cordi found that the work within his Ph.D. program and his studying under Dr. Brian Edmiston, a storytelling specialist at OSU, that there are always more fascinating lessons to be learned from the discipline of storytelling.
“My Ph.D. changed who I am as a storyteller and person. I began to see further how story making and storytelling can be used in non-performance settings. Studying under Dr. Brian Edmiston enabled me to take storytelling to the next level and further examine how much play is critical to creating stories,” said Cordi. “In fact, in two weeks I will be in Indiana working with Ball State University Childcare Center to create a how-to DVD on using ensemble storytelling and play with preschool kids. I am indebted to OSU to helping me raise the levels of what I can do with story and storytelling for others.”
Ensemble storytelling is a unique form Cordi has developed, where he involves not just himself, but the entire audience into the performances. This is one of the ways Cordi has changed his style from 25 years ago – understanding that while once he saw himself as the only teller on stage, he now makes a conscious effort of seeing the audience not just as listeners, but as additional tellers.
“At a time when we rush to text [and] chat we need to slow down and listen and create. Children are awesome when it comes to pretending. I have worked with thousands of children and they readily soar with me as I share a story of how a raven dives on his prey or they howl with me as I share how a coyote learned to talk. Despite what others have led us to believe, adults can be and are ready to imagine as well,” commented Cordi. “I have worked with thousands of people, from college students to senior citizens, and we have engaged in everything from dancing polar bears to recreating the séances that Houdini’s wife organized to see if her husband would return from the dead … Adults and students need to explore beyond what they know, they need to use story to re-imagine, recreate and accentuate what they want to happen. Imagine what happens when, instead of simply going to class, one imagines the journey outlined in the textbook or instead of simply laboring through a 40-plus work or study week, you actually designated time to create stories. Narrative is our first way to communicate. We need to see ourselves more as storytellers instead of passive receivers of clock hours. This only happens if we consciously see ourselves in this way. I invite people to this process. The reward can be and often is outstanding.”
According to Cordi, one of the major benefits of his work isn’t just the entertainment value of the storytelling itself, but the feedback from the audience after a performance and the bridges storytelling forges within communities and audiences. Central Ohio is a rich and diverse community, thriving with interesting people and cultures – if Cordi’s career is testimony to one thing, it would reflect the importance of not just being an idle passenger in the ride called life.
“Columbus is rich with stories; we are all storytellers if we choose to be. This week instead of watching life, tell it. It is worth sharing,” said Cordi. “One of the best places for students to become involved in storytelling is at The Wild Goose Creative. Once a month with the partnership of the Southern Ohio of Central Storytellers, they host an open mic speak easy in story. There are also open mics. I have recently completed a ghost story CD called ‘Dare to be scared: won’t you take the challenge?’ and am arranging a CD release party at Wild Goose and around the Columbus area.”
For more information on Kevin Cordi, storytelling, or to purchase his CDs or DVDs visit www.kevincordi.com.
Originally Published: August 4, 2010
Great to see this article on Dr. Cordi. He’s been a long-time advocate of the uses of story and a banner-bearer for the use of story by and with young people. His work on play is such a compliment to the storytelling movement. Congrats, Kevin, on your great work! -Sean www.daddyteller.com