Editor's note: Hey all! I'm pleased to introduce our latest blog series: Featured Storyteller. Check in with us every 1st and 3rd Monday for interviews with awesome new tellers and fan favorites alike!
We're always open to recommendations, so please feel free to send us an e-mail or post a comment below with suggestions of who to profile!
Interview with Judith Black -- Storyteller and Winner of the 2010 Big Mouth Off
by Cheryl Hamilton
The Four-Minute Gift
Most people associate stopwatches with sports events, but they can also be important in the arts, especially if you are a competitor in a massmouth story slam, where literally every word counts against the clock.
This year at the 2012 “Big Mouth Off” at the Coolidge Corner Theater, audience members anxiously watched time disappear on a giant screen behind contestants’ heads like a scoreboard at a basketball game. Fortunately, no one fouled and nearly everyone delivered a slam-dunk.
Judith Black, the 2010 winner, reflected recently on how the potential for a time penalty impacted her presentations when she first discovered massmouth.
“I was used to telling ninety-minute stories that take people along long, winding journeys,” the seasoned storyteller shares from her home in Marblehead, Massachusetts, “but suddenly with the five-minute limit, I had to learn how to do something new – be succinct.”
In other words, when Judith signed up for her first story slam in 2010 after previously being a judge, she joined the ranks of her massmouth friends, who have all wrestled with their watches to squeeze a rich, compelling story into a tight, entertaining piece.
“When you have five minutes,” Judith explains, “you really have to figure out quickly what is essential to your story and what isn’t. It’s really hard work. You have to search through your own ego and learn to let go of some parts.”
Nonetheless, Judith’s first race against time proved a success when she placed second at her first massmouth slam. The theme of the night was “In Like a Lion and Out Like a Lamb.” She debuted a story that had been in her back pocket about a poignant conversation with another woman -- also affected by the war -- at an airport in Maine. (LISTEN HERE).
She admits that after she placed, she cursed when she found out she would have to shorten her piece again. At the finals, tellers only have four minutes to inspire the judges. With 20% less time, a four-minute sprint can make five minutes seem like a marathon.
“All I could think was 'Oh my god. How am I going to make it shorter?' I had to work my tail off,” Judith recalls with a laugh -- a good reminder to novice storytellers that even the professionals panic.
For weeks, she polished and practiced in front of her friends as the evening of the Big Mouth Off approached. Every word and gesture and moment of silence was measured in seconds.
Despite performing for audiences worldwide, Judith says she arrived at the finals as nervous as anyone.
“I really didn’t think I would win,” she recalls. “There were so many incredible stories. Plus, mine was especially serious. I just thought, 'Well, all I can do is my best.' It’s all anyone can.”
Looking back, Judith is now grateful for the time limit as she continues to compete in slams across the country, in addition to delivering longer narratives at conferences and storytelling events worldwide.
“massmouth introduced me to the a new platform for storytelling, which I consider a gift. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is great stuff.’ The energy and diversity people bring is just wonderful.”
Her only advice for other tellers is to “remember to breathe.”
That is, if you have time.
To learn more about Judith, visit her website: http://www.storiesalive.com
For more videos, visit ours: http://massmouth.ning.com/video
Cheryl Hamilton recently moved to Arlington from Maine and is a guest blogger for massmouth.com. When she is not performing her one woman show, Cheryl works for the Cambridge-based international non-profit RefugePoint, which provides lasting solutions for the most vulnerable refugees in Africa.