This Tree is Dying

As a storyteller I've enjoyed many wonderful interactions audiences but the one that still stands out in my mind many years later concerns a certain 4 year old boy in a kindergarten audience in Sydney.

I was telling one of my favourite stories for 3-5 year olds - Caps for Sale. This is, I believe, a traditional story from Chinaand probably other countries with monkeys such as India. It's been published and recently republished and is quite popular in Australian preschools and kindergartens at least. It's a story about a pedlar who sells hats. He sits down for a rest under a big shady tree and falls asleep. Some cheeky monkeys come down and steal his hats and scamper back up to the top of their trees.

I usually tell it with the assistance of my audience. I invite three children onto the 'stage' to be the trees that the pedlar sleeps under, one to be the pedlar and about six to be the monkeys. The rest of the audience keeps a watch out for things and add sound effects such as bird calls etc.

One of the boys picked to be a tree got into the act with a wonderful bit of improvisation. As I was telling the story and giving the pedlar his lines to say I heard a small voice calling out 'This tree is dying!'. I looked around and sure enough this boy was bent over at the waist with his branches dragging on the floor and a sad expression on his face.

Well obviously enough the story had to change and quickly. I said,'Oh no! That tree is dying. What are we going to do?' Some one in the audience called out 'Water him!' We all mimed picking up a watering can and watered him. The boy who was the dying tree was wonderful. As the water revived the tree, he straightened up and said 'Da, da, da, daah.' I said, 'That was great,' and went on with the story.

The pedlar demanded his caps back, the monkeys copied him, he worked out the solution and threw his hat down on the ground and so did the monkeys, and he picked all the hats up. Well, I was just winding the story up and heading for the finale when I heard once again a small voice calling even more piteously, 'This tree is dying!'

I thought - Oh no give me a break kid I'm almost finished - but, true to age old storytelling traditions of interacting with my audience, I turned around and there flat on his back on the floor with his branches spread out was the same boy. I said to the audience, 'Oh no! That tree is dying. What are we going to do?' Some one in the audience called out 'Call an ambulance!' I said, 'How do we do that?' They replied 'Dial 000.' I said 'Great. Pick up your telephone. Dial 000,' and I mimed dialing on the phone - 'Rrrrrrr, rrrrrr, rrrrrr.' They all said 'Beep, beep, beep.'

The ambulance arrived - 'Eeeee Awwww, Eeeee Awwww, Eeeee Ewwww.' We all mimed picking up a watering can and watered the dying tree. Once again, as the water revived the tree, he stood up, flung out his arms and said 'Da, da, da, daah!' and triumphed off the 'stage'.

That young boy had worked out how to have some fun within the story. He interacted with the story and the telling without destroying it.

Daryll Bellingham © 1996

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Storytelling in Australia

Daryll Bellingham, Storyteller
P.O. Box 5300, West End, Q4101, 
Brisbane, Australia
Tel. 61 (0)7 3846 3135
Mob. 0417 478408
All contents copyright (C) 2001, Daryll Bellingham. All rights reserved.
Last update: 26th August, 2003.
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