Activated Stories
Bringing you comedic folktales from somewhere on the road. Act!vated Stories is presented by Act!vated Story Theatre a national touring theatre troupe for children and their families. Join us for a family friendly story and travel tales.

Act!vated Story Theatre brings your family folktales and travel tales. Enjoy the stories!

Why the Evergreen Tree is Ever Green Since there are evergreen trees everywhere this time of year, even here in sweltering Florida (if they're store-bought), we thought it appropriate to present "Why the Evergreen Tree is Ever Green", a fable that probably originated in Canada and illustrates the rewards of being kind to others in need -- an important thing to remember all year long, though it receives special attention at this time of year.

It's our holiday podcast from Orlando, Florida, where the weather hasn't been exactly North Pole-ish lately, so we decided to seek chillier climes on the inside. Namely, at "Ice" the special exhibit of magnificent ice sculptures on display at the Gaylord Palms Hotel Convention Center through Jan. 3. This exhibit is now in its fourth consecutive year (at holiday time, only, of course) and is carved from 400-lb. blocks of ice -- some frozen quickly to give it a milky hue, some frozen slowly to make it clear, and some colored with food dye and sculpted into delectable shapes to make Hansel and Gretel salivate. There are deer, there are polar bears, there's a train, there's Santa's sleigh, and of course the obligatory nativity scene. All of it kept at a refreshing 9 degrees Fahrenheit. But we were issued parkas to keep us not quite frozen solid. One of the most fun things about the exhibit is a big slide that kids of all ages can slide down -- and like everything else in the place, it's constructed entirely of ice.

The sculptures are created every year by artisans (a fancy word for wizards, it appears) brought over from China, where such ice festivals are a really big deal -- and have been since at least 400 years ago, when the tradition began with lanterns made of ice in Harbin.

And, in keeping with the holiday spirit of charitable giving, part of the proceeds from this event go to Give Kids the World Village, a resort for kids afflicted with life-threatening illness.

May you have a Cheery Christmas, a Happy Hannukah, a Quality Kwanzaa, a Cool Yule, a Fabulous First, and an all-around unforgettable 2008!

Happy Listening,
Dennis (Narrator, Oak Tree, Old Man winter), Kimberly (Bird, Fir Tree) and Zephyr (Birch Tree, Jack Frost)

Direct download: Evergreen.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:16pm EST

The Tragic Fate of Jack Sparrow It's Jack Sparrow getting into trouble big time. No, we don't mean Johnny Depp (although Zephyr gives a big nod to him in his performance of the character); the folks at Disney have a habit of borrowing from older sources, and it's quite likely that the name Jack Sparrow came from this African-American tale related by noted author Joel Chandler Harris. A simple fable about the dangers of gossiping and meddling in other peoples' affairs, this story is included among Harris' writings about the fictional character Uncle Remus, a sort of African-American version of Aesop. An accomplished folklorist who heard these charming animal yarns from slaves when he was a teenager working on a plantation, Harris has come under fire in more recent times for the racist overtones in his heavy usage of southern black dialect and also for the very name Uncle Remus -- "uncle" was a demeaning term sometimes applied to slaves by their owners. But hey, he lived in racist times; and in view of that, his tone was perhaps far less insulting than it might have been.

Harris was born in 1848 in Eatonton, GA., which we just happened to pass through on a Sunday morning in December, so we couldn't pass up the Uncle Remus Museum, with its statue of Brother Rabbit ("Br'er" Rabbit) in the yard. The museum, which features mementos from the life, times and work of Harris, is housed in a building comprised of two former slave cabins joined together. (You can see the seams on the sides.) It's on the property once occupied by the family of Joseph Sidney Turner, the "Little Boy" in the "Tales of Uncle Remus".

We also dropped in at the Laurel and Hardy Museum in the hometown of Norvell "Oliver" Hardy, Harlem, GA. This town is so proud of its celebrated native son that the water tower sports a picture of him and his skinny partner, Stanley Jefferson -- who gave himself the shorter name of Stan Laurel so it would fit on signs better. This pair of comedy titans made over 100 films together of varying lengths over a period of about 30 years, and were also the best of friends. And they had a major influence on virtually every comic performer to come afterward -- including, no doubt, us.

Happy listening,
Dennis (Narrator and Fox), Kimberly (Rabbit) and Zephyr (Jack Sparrow, natch)
Direct download: Jack-Sparrow.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:01am EST

The Crowded Hut

"The Crowded Hut" is a Yiddish tale about a man who lived with his family in such a dwelling, and liked to complain because it was too cramped. He sought the advice of a wise old woman (or a Rabbi in some versions) who offered some rather unorthodox advice. This story seemed, for reasons that become apparent on listening to it, to be appropriate for Thanksgiving, which is the day on which this episode is being posted.

Several years before the first Thanksgiving was celebrated by settlers in Massachusetts, another group of rugged immigrants established the first English colony in the new world by the James River in Virginia, a settlement near present-day Williamsburg that came to be known as Jamestown. Since 1957, Jamestown Settlement has provided visitors a colorful glimpse into the beginnings of our nation. The site features not only an extensive indoor museum, but also replicas of Fort James, the Powhatan Indian Village, and the three ships on which the colonists arrived. Hands-on activities include opportunities to "steer" one of the ships, and to help dig out a dugout canoe, which the Native Americans fashioned from logs with the aid of fire.

If you come here before April 2008, you can view a major, one-time, yearlong showcase called "The World of 1607". To commemorate the colony's 400th birthday, the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation sent word to other nations that they were seeking artifacts from that time frame for a special exhibit. They expected SOME response, but they were absolutely SWAMPED with items from all over -- too many to exhibit at once, so they were divided into four parcels, to be displayed in rotation. It's amazing to think that while John Smith was struggling to get a new country started, Shakespeare was in his prime.

The Settlement portrays the experiences and contributions of three cultures: the English, the Native American, and the African. Slaves on a ship bound for Central America were seized by British privateers (a fancy word for pirates with a permit) and redirected to Virginia, where their forced labor helped the new civilization survive and thrive. Their chapter in the story is often given scant notice in the history books, so it's especially welcome to see so much coverage of it here.

We do hear a great deal about the Native Americans, of course, but what we hear is often wrong. The chief of the Powhatan Indians was not named Powhatan (accent on the first syllable, if you please); that's just what the settlers called him, after the tribe itself. And that romance between John Smith and Pocahontas? Forgeddaboutit! (What? You mean Disney got some things wrong??) Actually, when John Smith arrived, Pocahontas was only 8 years old. We also asked our guide (and they have many knowledgeable guides here, many in period costume) about the legend of Pocahontas saving him from execution at the last minute. Wasn't that really a staged initiation stunt or some such? Well perhaps, he said. But note that John Smith (yes, that was his real name) traveled to several countries, and kept lengthy journals; and it seems that just about everywhere he went, he reported that some princess had saved his life. Hmmm... Looks like he may have been a fellow spinner of folktales himself.

Happy Listening!
Dennis (old man), Kimberly (old woman) and Zephyr (narrator) assisted by various beasts

Direct download: The_Crowded_Hut.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 1:13pm EST


We've just concluded our month of being a family of four rather than three; for the month of October and even for a piece of November, we "adopted" Zephyr's friend Libby from the San Francisco Bay Area. This week, rather than bring you a story as usual, we catch you up on what we've been up to during the busy three weeks (Yes, three. Yikes!) since our last podcast. And Libby gives her impressions of what it's like to be a fulltime traveler. Well no, she doesn't really do impressions of us, but she does tell of her experiences with us.

It was a fairly busy time for our business, so we went to a number of schools; but one of the more memorable schools was a red one-room schoolhouse that only tourists enter these days. Its most famous visitor ever was not a person but an animal -- specifically a lamb. And the lamb's owner was a little girl named Mary. No, we're not kidding -- that little poem, one of the most famous in the world, was inspired by a true incident, and not even names were changed to protect the silly. This schoolhouse, built in 1792, was once attended by young Mary Sawyer, who secretly brought her pet lamb to school and hid it under her desk. Just how you'd keep that a secret is beyond us, but it definitely depends a great deal on the silence of the lamb. And this one didn't cooperate for long -- when Mary went to the head of the class to recite something, the lamb stopped being sheepish and made so much noise that Mary was no longer able to pull the wool over the teacher's eyes. The rest of the class was delighted, including John Roulstone, who was visiting from another community. Later, he scribbled down the first few lines of the soon-to-be-famous verses and handed them to Mary. In 1877, the little snatch of doggerel (sheeperel?) would provide the first words ever recorded on a phonograph -- recited by none other than Thomas Edison himself.

The schoolhouse, which is open for tours during the summer (we just missed the season, but we were able to to peer into the window at its period furnishings) originally stood in the nearby town of Sterling. No, it didn't crawl or slide to Sudbury; it was moved in 1923 by none other than Henry Ford to its present location, a very fitting neighborhood for popular lines of poetry. Such as "I shot an arrow into the air./ It fell to earth I know not where." Or "Beneath a spreading chestnut tree/ The village smithy stands." Or "into each life some rain must fall". Or "ships that pass in the night". Or "I heard the bells on Christmas Day". Or "This is the forest primeval." Or "Listen my children, and you shall hear/ Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere." All of these are from poems written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), who had a strong association with another building just a few yards from Mary's lamb's schoolhouse.

It's the Wayside Inn, which Longfellow immortalized in his collection of narrative poems entitled "Tales of a Wayside Inn" (1863), including the celebrated verse version of Paul Revere's less than stellar ride, which Longfellow Hollywoodized into an epic achievement. The inn has been in operation since 1716, making it reputedly the oldest operating inn in the country. Many of the rooms have been preserved as they might have appeared nearly 3 centuries ago. Well mostly, restored is probably a better word than preserved, since the property was heavily damaged by a fire in 1955, revealing for the first time in ages a stairway that had been sealed off, and is now open to public viewing.

From Sudbury, we headed to Salem for Halloween, hoping to land jobs at a haunted attraction as we did two years ago, and we scored. Zephyr was in hog heaven doing a Capt. Jack Sparrow impersonation. As always, we camped at Winter Island, the former Coast Guard Station that has been converted into a public park and campground.

And before Libby abandoned us to head home to California, we took a train excursion to the Big Apple to catch a Broadway show. And then our "daughter" left the nest, and we're back to "normal", if that word ever applies.

Happy Listening,
Dennis, Kimberly, Zephyr & Libby

Direct download: Libby.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:01am EST

This week we present the Japanese fable "The Grateful Sparrow" (otherwise known as "The Tongue-Cut Sparrow" in a harsher version), a cautionary tale about greed and gratitude.

We come to you from Pennsylvania, with our special guest star Libby, Zephyr's friend from the San Francisco Bay Area. A glutton for punishment, she's spending the entire month of October touring with us, to get a taste of the glamorous life.

Amish Farm and House

We report on our visit to the Amish Farm and homestead in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a preserved two-story dwelling open for public tours. In the heart of a busy shopping and tourist district, the Amish attraction sits right smack next to a Target store. But step inside, and you quickly forget that you're in the Twenty-First Century. A knowledgeable guide explains the facts of the Amish lifestyle and answers your questions -- and there were some interesting questions from our inquisitive tour group. The 15-acre farm, which was opened for public tours in 1955, features a stone farmhouse built in 1803 and a one-room schoolhouse opened for tours last year.

Field of Screams

But the reason we were in Lancaster to begin with was so Zephyr and Libby could "work" (i.e. volunteer) at Field of Screams, which many consider the premiere haunted attraction in the country. (If you build it, they will scream.) Every October, this place comes alive with the sounds of ghouls and goblins and patrons getting their wits scared out of them. The complex features two haunted houses, a haunted hayride, and a special "Little Screamers" section for the younger ones. And it is, we can attest, an extremely popular place.

Happy Listening,

Dennis (narrator), Kimberly (wife), Zephyr (husband) and Libby (sparrow)

Direct download: Pod_63.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 7:37pm EST

Niagara Traditionally, Native Americans have enjoyed telling myths about how various natural phenomena originated. And "naturally", the members of the Seneca Tribe (part of the Iroquois Confederation) were greatly impressed by Niagara Falls, as millions of visitors have been in more recent times.
Niagara Falls
This week, we bring you our wacky version of the tale we call "Niagara", which is perhaps the best-known account of how this majestic landmark came to be. It's certainly more poetic than the scientific version of a huge glacier trucking through 10,000 years ago, and it also features an important theme about the hazards of greed and the importance of revering nature. Niagara apparently comes from a Seneca word, but nobody's certain which word or exactly what the name means -- our favorite version is "thundering water". Originally located about 7 miles north, near Lewiston, NY and Queensland, Ontario, Niagara Falls moved southward to its present location over the years due to erosion. (Yes, you read that right: these waterfalls are nomadic, just like us!) There are three waterfalls in all, although the smallest one, Bridal Veil, is the Cinderalla of the group, tucked behind an island where most people don't even see it. There's Horseshoe Falls, which is 173 feet high and 2600 feet wide, and American Falls, which is 70 feet tall and about 1100 feet wide. (American Falls was taller until 1954, when a massive rockslide deposited some enormous boulders at its base. Hmmm... it was sort of like the Native American story.) Fed by the 35-mile long Niagara River -- one of the few rivers on this continent to flow north -- Niagara Falls drops 100,000 cubic feet of water per second over the cliffs in peak season. We reminisce about our past visits to this splendid sight, including our first time during a very harsh winter, when the falls were surrounded by ice and snow.
Maid of the Mist
And we talk about our excursion this time on a Maid of the Mist boat, one of the vessels that have been taking tourists out to the bottom of Horseshoe Falls since 1846. In 1960, one of these boats rescued a 7-year-old boy who was swept over the falls, the first person ever to survive such a fall without protective gear. Other foolhardy folk have made the plunge over the years in barrels, and some have survived -- one 63-year-old woman did so in 1901. One man survived the feat, spent 6 months in the hospital recovering, and later died from injuries sustained when he slipped on an orange peel in the street. On this podcast, we also discuss Zephyr's latest jaunt to North Carolina to perform with his band; and how in his absence mom and dad took a bicycle ride to Canada.
Happy Listening!
Dennis (Water Spirit); Kimberly (Girl) and Zephyr (Old Man)

Podshow PDN {podshow-8b43d004c51befb0130f707c57757718}
Direct download: Niagara.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:01am EST

He roamed the country barefoot sleeping under the stars, in clothes he made from sacks, with a cooking pan on his head. Everywhere he went, he planted apple seeds, gave things away, took care of animals, and made friends. He was John Chapman (1774-1845), better known as Johnny Appleseed, a legend in his own time, and still a legend today. Despite living a life of philanthropy, simplicity and voluntary poverty, Chapman left behind an estate of apple nurseries worth millions -- and he would have been even richer if he hadn't been so careless in his bookkeeping. We recount some of the tales told about him, most of which were in fact true.
Another man who became a living legend was author Mark Twain, whose footsteps we have traced around the country over the years. Recently we were back in one of his old haunts, Hartford, Connecticut, where he had a colorful and fabulously elaborate mansion built in which he and his family lived for some 17 years while he wrote his masterpieces. You can tour the bedrooms, the dining rooms, the drawing room and the billiard room, which have been restored in painstakingly authentic detail.

Happy Listening!
Dennis (Johnny the seedy), Kimberly (Mom) and Zephyr (boy and snake)
Direct download: Johnny_Appleseed.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:01am EST

Lake Scargo in Dennis, MA (on Cape Cod) is the home of a colorful Native American legend about how the Lake came to be -- one of many such Native tales about the origins of natural phenomena and landmarks. Princess Scargo, daughter of chief Sagem of the Bobuset tribe, is presented with four little fish by a suitor, and the rest is the stuff of legend. Today, you can find descendants of these silvery fish (no, not silverfish) in Scargo Lake. And you can get a good look at the Lake, and the surrounding territoryterritorty, by climbing Scargo Tower in East Dennis. Not a terribly high structure, but it's located atop the highest point on the Cape, so the view is pretty impressive.

But we got a look at an even more impressive tower, which affords an even more impressive view: Pilgrim Monument, the 252-ft. monolith in Provincetown, right on the tip of the Cape. The tower commemorates the arrival of the Pilgrims in November 1620, when they hammered out the groundbreaking Mayflower Compact. The cornerstone was laid in 1907 by Pres. Theodore Roosevelt for this controversially designed structure modeled after the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy, and construction was completed in 1910.

We biked to Provincetown from Nickerson State Park, a distance of about 35 miles, and stayed at a campground just outside town in our teeny tiny tents. Then we used our bikes to explore this colorful little seaside resort with lots of historic buildings, the largest percentage of Portuguese population in the country, and also the largest percentage gay population. Although the year-round census is only 3500, it explodes to 50,000 during the summer.

There are three resident theatres in this town that was once the home of playwrights Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neil, as well as novelist Norman Mailer.

Happy Listening!

Dennis (Chief), Kimberly (princess) and Zephyr ("Hulk")

Direct download: Scargo.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:00am EST

“The Little Red Hen? is an English fable based upon repetition, like many of the other stories we’ve done. In this case, the barnyard animals learn the importance of industriousness – that only those who share the labors also share the rewards.

We chose this story in part because Zephyr came back to us with streaks of red in his hair – from Not Back to School Camp in Oregon. He attended a weeklong session there at the end of last summer as well, and had a great time and met some great new friends that he’s been in touch with since then. Not Back to School Camp is an opportunity for homeschooled teenagers from across the country to get together and exchange experiences, talents, creative projects and annoying habits. There’s even a prom just like a regular school (Not. Well, there is really a prom, but we can't vouch for the rest.)

While he was away, mom and dad caught a ferry from Cape Cod to Martha’s Vineyard, an island about 20 miles offshore that’s long been a favorite vacation resort for politicians (including, of course, the Kennedys) and other celebrities. In the seventies, MV residents started a petition to have the island become our 51st state – but as of now, it’s still officially part of Massachusetts.

We spent two days biking around the island, and stayed at a campground with our tiny tent. (There was nothing tiny about the camping rates, nor anything else on the island.) In the town of Oak Bluffs, we saw the Flying Horses, the oldest continuously operating carousel in the U.S., having been built in 1876. And we thought WE’D been going around in circles for a long time!

Happy Listening!
Dennis (Narrator), Kimberly (Hen) and Zephyr (Goose, Duck, Lamb)

Direct download: Little_Red_Hen.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:01am EST

The Hippopotamus and the Tortoise

Like the familiar tales of “Rumpelstiltskin? and “Lohengrin?, the Nigerian animal yarn called “The Hippopotamus and the Tortoise? deals with a character (the hippo) whose name is a secret, and another character (the Tortoise) who successfully guesses it.  The consequences of the successful guess vary from story to story, but in this case, it results in the hippo and his descendants finding a new habitat to inhabit.

We recorded this story with guest stars Joey (age 13) and Jenny (age 11), who are our nephew and niece respectively; and Ellie (age undetermined) who’s our “adopted daughter?.

We were in Sacramento for our second cross-country flight in less than a month, this time for the Homeschool Association of California Conference.

And what a great conference it was! We presented a well-attended performance in addition to workshops on writing, sign language, physical comedy, mask making and reflections on our 15-year odyssey across America. Our programs were met with enthusiastic response, and we also had a good time attending other presentations. There were a fire twirling demonstration, a rocketry demonstration (you know how cool kids think it is to see things blow up), a skygazing session with large telescopes set up in the courtyard, a swing dance class, a dance for the teens, and a jam session for aspiring musicians, among other activities. We very much hope to return next year!

Our apologies to Libby, Hannah, Melia, and Molly, who did some great work on the FIRST version of this podcast, which we recorded with them before they all left the conference. And then, due to technical difficulties…

Happy Listening,

Dennis (the Hip Hippo) and Kimberly (the Narrator) with Ellie (Tortoise), Joey (Monkey) and Jenny (Hippolyta)

Direct download: Hippo_Tortoise.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:01am EST