Welcome to the first in a series of interviews on Bornstoryteller. Besides being an advocate for the arts and AIE (Arts-In-Education), I am a Professional Storyteller. Over the years I have had the pleasure of being an audience member of some amazing tellers across the country. Many I’ve gotten to get to know and a number I can also count as friends.
I would like to introduce you to Storyteller Jonathan Kruk. I met Jonathan years ago when I was just getting The Brothers Grinn off the ground. Jonathan was one of those who was always approachable and friendly, and the mastery of his craft was evident in all he did.
Well loved throughout the Hudson Valley of New York State (and beyond), “…Jonathan was selected “Best Storyteller in the Hudson Valley” by Hudson Valley Magazine. The New York Times, noting his far ranging work described him as “Westchester’s intrepid storyteller”. Kids love his CD’s The Rainbow Dragon and Barkface & Rootnose. Plus, his Berger Platters/ Historic Hudson Valley produced recording of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (with musical effects by Matt Noble), earned a National Association of Parenting Publication Honors Award.”
1. Jonathan, you are an award winning, well known Storyteller and Arts-in-Education Performer/Workshop leader in the Hudson Valley of New York State. For those meeting you for the first time, can you briefly tell us a bit more about yourself?
A born a day-dreamer, naturally reserved, I strayed from convention. Once upon a time, I took a break from a paper Gawain and the Green Knight, and cracked open a cheap bottle of beer. The cap showed a rebus of “East of the Sun West of the Moon. Looking up the fairy tale, I found a fascinating quest, rather like Gawain’s. Our flaws, the stories showed get us into trouble, but my also bring blessings. Wanting to share this quest with kids, I launched a career professional storyteller. Simply said, I am an enchanter, especially for children. Moving children to listen, and imagine is my life. It is really a blessing to get one hundred children to simultaneously joyously turn their hands into a Mouse, to go with naive bravery to face a thorny Lion. Now, rather than tell people I have 250 annual bookings at schools, libraries, historic sites and festivals, it’s more compelling to speak like the old Celtic bards and say. I know how the Hudson River began to flows both ways. I can tell what makes a princess kiss a frog, how a hairless bear May have hair, and why spider has crooked legs. I am a storyteller.
2. What inspires you in your storytelling?
There’s a hookey old handbook for librarians called “Children’s Faces Looking Up.” That gets me out of bed, into knee britches or a bell vest and off for a two hour drive to perform for kids. Also, when performing I’m the mad hatter with Alice saying what I mean and meaning what I say. Stories with surprises, like those of O’Henry, Poe, and Grimm always enthrall. And I love turning little local factoids into historic fiction reflective of the times.
3. What draws you to telling about Hudson Valley History?
When a little old local history lady in a warbling voice told me when I was twelve, of the Chief “Cahtooonah” traveling over the road near our home, I was hooked. Now, I love looking under the layers of time, people and events to discover the Hudson Valley shaped our nation. The Hudson launched three revolutions. The river played in holding together the new nation, launching of the industrial revolution with Robert Fulton’s steamboat, and opened the door for the modern environmental movement. It’s influenced thankfully by the city, and yet remains provincial. The river flows with many stories and the valley holds them.
4. You were named “Best Storyteller in the Hudson Valley”by the Hudson Valley Magazine as well as receiving numerous awards. What have they meant to your career and to you personally?
Hudson Valley Magazine stunned me. I thought it was a prank pulled by a classmate at the publication to get me to appear at the big party they hold for their”best of” honorees. Now, I find the honor moves me I to live up to a higher standard. Other awards for my recordings from Parent’s Choice and Parenting Publications, also really moved me. We worked crazy to make the CD’s engaging. As an Eagle Scout I’m proud of my certificates from scouting groups. My most quirky cool award is a bronze medal for citizenship from the Sons of the American Revolution. But the gold awards are the drawings children give me saying “I love your stories.”
5. You have a Masters in Educational Theater from NYU. How do you integrate that with your work?
Skits in stories, advanced audience participation and better lesson planning all stem from my studies at NYU. I spent a semester in England, and observed British teachers routinely using storytelling and creative dramatics in the classroom. Educational Theater is problem solving and the best way to prepare children for life.
6. You have a book coming out soon. Can you tell us about it?
Legends and Lore of Sleepy Hollow and the Hudson Valley sprang out of my performances of the Washington Irving’s classic about the Headless Horseman. The book reveals the origins of the galloping ghostly Hessian in local folklore, regional history, and some surprising places, like Germany, Scotland, and old Dutch courting customs. I also found the “smoking cannon” that blew off the Hessian’s head in 1776.
There are several ghosts mentioned in the “Legend” but Irving leaves their stories untold. Well, I tell why Major John Andre’s ghost haunts Sleepy Hollow. I trace back the White Lady who wails before storms to Native and even European fairy lore. I reveal more about the hero witch Mother Hulda. And I share lore of river imps, and a myriad of other headless spirits in the Hudson Valley. It was a blast to research and write.
7. Do you have plans for another book? If so, what can you share? If not, why not?
I plan to propose to my publisher “Legends and Lore of the Hudson Highlands” but I first I’ll turn some of my original stories, “Barkface and Rootnose” “The Dragon Who Stole Spring” and a Hudson River fairy tale, into children’s books.
8. With today’s economic climate, do you face any struggles that you didn’t have five or ten years ago?
I’ve been fortunate my long years of performing bring some deep connections to people and places always interested in hiring me. Trouble is while the number of bookings has remained about the same, my fees have dropped about twenty percent. Most places hiring me are not for profits hit hardest by the Great Recession. I find millionaires don’t create jobs for me. Contacting people, and just giving my tales all my heart and breath keeps me telling tales.
9. What are the Hudson River Ramblers?
Rich Bala and I performing songs and stories of the Hudson. We collect authentic songs and primary source based stories to turn into family friendly fun shows. We’ve performed for about twenty years for events like the 225th anniversary of the American Revolution, and the Quadricentennial. We’ve been featured at the New-York Historical Society, Norwalk Oyster Festival and of course River Day events up and down the Hudson. We offer a tour of the river in Once Upon the Hudson like our CD, and now have a program called Revolutionary Character using examples from the American struggle for independence to stop bullying.
10. What does success mean to you?
Sometimes success is just paying my bills so I can tell more tales. Other times, it’s having a full calendar of bookings, recordings, books, an iphone app, and even a storytelling TV show! In my heart success is the creating a spell with a story.
11. Can you describe a moment, or more than one, in your performing that has remained with you?
During the 1980’s, just out of grad school, I got hired to serve as storyteller in residence for Freeport Schools on Long Island. A Westchester boy commuting from Manhattan, however, I didn’t feel like I was resident anything but alien. One day walking to a school from the train, a school bus drove up. The kids were pointing and shouting; ‘look it’s our storyteller!’ I turned and waved, and they cheered. I teared up knowing I was their storyteller in residence.
Now, there are many moments usually right after a show when children come up to me and say. Jonathan, I love your stories. Some times they pay me with hugs!
12. What makes Jonathan happy?
My dog’s smile, singing happy birthday to six year olds’, intoning “the Headless Horseman of Sleeeepy Holloow” in the Old Dutch Church,” when my gigs pay me on time, dancing the “cool jerk,” and swimming in Lake Valhalla with my wife.
13. If you could tell the President of the US one thing, what would you like to say?
Single payer health care now!
14. Anything else you’d like to share?
More stories from East of the Sun to West of the Moon!
Thank you, Jonathan, for some wonderful answers. You can contact Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org.