Storyteller and Flushing Town Hall Teaching Artist, April Armstrong, will lead a trio with pianist Mario Sprouse and drummer Napoleon Revels-Bey as they bring stories and songs to life with jazzy music. The interactive show was inspired by Armstrong’s new CD by the same name. As a jazz fan, the influence of jazz into the storytelling came after Armstrong sought something a bit more authentic in her recordings rather than using digital sound effects.
“I wanted it to be fresh with the opportunity to go off another way and that’s exactly what I got,” Armstrong said. “There’s some really great music on this CD and it’s something that I love because we’re all doing a professional and somewhat improvisational kind of performance.”
The Flushing Town Hall show features a new twist on classic folktales and nursery rhymes, including “Old Mother Hubbard’s Blues,” “Ananci and the Sky Chief’s Daughter” and “The Story of Chicken Licken.” It also features an adaptation of James Howe’s “I Wish I Were a Butterfly,” where a sad cricket learns the meaning of true beauty. “The Cat Came Back: Stories and Songs with A Jazzy Twist” won a 2015 Parents’ Choice Award for its “ebullient roundup of tall tales near and far.”
Armstrong said she’s received some fantastic feedback from parents. One parent in particular received a copy of her CD when she performed at their school. When Armstrong returned for a second performance visit, the parent revealed that their children listened to the entire CD five or six times throughout a seven-hour trip.
“It was such a beautiful compliment, especially because I remember listening to recordings like that when I was little,” Armstrong said. “I had been influenced by stories with fabulous music from a long time ago, so it’s always been something within me.”
As a teaching artist, Armstrong has taught everything from history lessons to storytelling. For many of her storytelling classes, she relies on nurse rhymes to help children memorize lines and feel confident with performing in front of their peers. She’s been teaching for over 15 years and she’s come to realize that the goal of these classes are to help children becoming fearless in performing theater.
Similar to playing games, Armstrong said, the classes learn that they are all there to teach and play together with a sense of trust and structure.
“It’s about cultivating this atmosphere where they do feel safe enough to try something, which is the basic premise of theater and teaching theatre, especially to children,” Armstrong said. “That sounds like such a cliché, with actors and trust exercises, but there’s a reason for that. You’re trying to make something very intimate and you’re very vulnerable, and people have to be able to support each other in this completely fake situation.”
The performance of “The Cat Came Back: Stories and Songs with A Jazzy Twist” will be on Saturday, July 30th at 10:30 a.m. at Flushing Town Hall. Visit flushingtownhall.org for tickets and more information.