Story House Ithaca: Sharing Stories, Building Community 

Story House Ithaca is built on a simple idea: Communities are healthier and more interesting when people get to know each other better. We think sharing stories can help make that happen.

Story House Ithaca co-directors Lesley Greene and Jonathan Miller with Nia Nunn of the Southside Community Center (L) and Christa Nuñez of The Learning Farm (R)

And not just “once upon a time” types of stories. There are many different ways to communicate experience and ideas—in fiction and nonfiction, poetry and song, journalism and documentary, theater and dance, oral history and spoken word, photography and film, puppetry and mime, graphics and animation, social media, multimedia, and media yet to be invented. We’d love for Story House to be a home for any and all of those forms of storytelling. 

We sometimes talk about Story House as if it’s an actual house. It isn’t, at least not yet. Our main inspirations are physical spaces where people come to gather—notably a wonderful building in the Netherlands called Story House Belvédère. But we don’t have the funds for our own place now, and we think there are advantages to popping up in public or online or in other people’s spaces. Who needs a building when you have the world? 

So what does Story House actually do? Since our first foray into programming in late 2019, we’ve organized an exhibition and event series on migration, a series of readings on exile and the search for home, and a panel on press freedom around the world. We produced a community-sourced video imagining life after the pandemic and a video celebrating the women and girls of a local community organization. We’ve sponsored workshops on cartooning, comedy, and songwriting, and promoted storytelling performances and a comedy show. On several occasions, we’ve collected video for other organizations eager to tell their own stories. Recently, we launched a speaker series we call “Placemakers,” featuring people and groups using art and culture to build community. 

Our most ambitious project to date is “Breaking Our Silence: Storytelling for Mental Health.” This is a series of events beginning April 23 that includes a film screening and Q&A, movement workshops on dealing with anxiety and grief, an open mic story night, storytelling performances at local churches, a panel on writing about mental illness, an advocacy workshop, and a community celebration at Ithaca High School that includes choral music, theater, dance, storytelling, and more. 

READ MORE “Breaking Our Silence”

One advantage to having such a loose definition of “story” is that we have no problem coming up with programming ideas. Lurking on our Google Drive is a spreadsheet with an ever-growing list. Several are for ongoing series, like the open mic Story Night that launches May 3, or a monthly Bar Choir, where friends and strangers can come together to learn and perform a song in three-part harmony, or a Listening Room for group deep dives into great audio, or a regular meet-up for swapping stories through song.

We’re also keen on annual or seasonal events, like a Black film festival that we hope becomes an Ithaca tradition, or events around Mother’s Day, Veteran’s Day, Indigenous People’s Day, or Mental Health Awareness Month. And we’re always game for one-off events (one of our favorites is a wide-open show-and-tell called This Thing I Did).

And we’re not just about events! With or without our own facility, we’d love to become a maker space for storytellers in any medium, where folks can work on projects together, or teach and learn and develop new skills. 

Which leads to another big idea behind Story House. It’s not about us. The Ithaca area is full of amazing groups and talented people. We’re happy to create and present original programming, but we see our greatest value as a catalyst and connector. Everyone has stories to tell, and we’d like to help them tell them. That may mean organizing a workshop or course, or helping with fundraising or planning or publicizing an event. Or it may just mean providing a soapbox and microphone and stepping out of the way. 

Story House Ithaca is a project of the nonprofit Center for Transformative Action. In all our programs and activities, we are committed to creating inclusive spaces that welcome diversity. We strive to foster interactions between people of different cultures, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds, with the goal of working toward shared understanding and a more equitable, anti-racist society.

If you’d like to be involved, or if you have an idea for a program, don’t be a stranger!

By Jonathan Miller and Lesley Greene

Jonathan Miller and Lesley Greene are the co-directors of Story House Ithaca. Miller is a journalist and documentary producer, and a board member of Ithaca City of Asylum. Greene is a playwright and theater producer, and the co-founder and co-organizer of Porchfest.

For more information, go to Story House Ithaca’s website. Send program ideas through the website’s “Pitch Us” form, or email info@storyhouseithaca.org. Follow Story House Ithaca on Facebook and Instagram

Celebrate Mental Health!

More than a dozen Tompkins County nonprofits participated in the Mental Health and Wellness Fair on May 7 at the Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons. Thanks to the kind and compassionate souls who are working so hard to support mental health in our community! Gratitude to Josephine Gibson and the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County for hosting this opportunity to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month 2022.

Mental Health Association in Tompkins County

Racker

Racker’s message board

Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service

Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca

Planned Parenthood of Greater New York

Tompkins Families

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ithaca & Tompkins County

Village at Ithaca

Lakeview Health Services

The Sophie Fund

Southern Tier AIDS Program

Delia Divided at the Hangar

Civic Ensemble’s ReEntry Theatre Program on May 6 premiers Delia Divided, a new play exploring the impacts of mental health, incarceration, and racism written by award-winning playwright Judy Tate in collaboration with ReEntry members.

The play follows Delia, a young woman navigating adulthood while living with the realities of her co-occurring mental health disorders and criminal justice system involvement. As she strives for new friendship, Delia must contend with this chorus of mental health disorders, always present and always impacting her choices.

Delia Divided is a complex human story at the intersection of mental health, criminal justice, and racism, and ultimately invites the audience to question and challenge preconceived notions of how we support each other.

Staged from May 6-15 during Mental Health Awareness Month, the play aims to amplify the voices of individuals who experience mental health challenges in the community.

The ReEntry Theatre Program, along with Tate, recipient of Emmy and Writers Guild of America awards, developed Delia Divided over a two-year period through a process of theatrical improvisation, writing, and interviews with mental health practitioners.

“This play explores what it means to live with mental health, what it means to live in a society that doesn’t make space for you to exist in your fullness, and also a story about what it means to be Black in America,” said Gabriella da Silva Carr, the production’s director and Civic Ensemble associate artistic director.

Adds ReEntry Theatre Program member Amy Heffron, who helped develop the play and takes on the role of PTSD onstage: “This play brings light to some of the major issues that many people have going on. Sometimes people are facing mental health, racism, and criminal justice system involvement, and that’s a lot to deal with. And if people could take a step back and try to understand a little more, there might be less hate.”

Civic Ensemble launched the ReEntry Theatre Program in 2015 as a creative community for people who have experienced incarceration or court involvement to learn storytelling skills, create theatre, and build community together, regardless of arts experience, criminal record, or income.

The group previously presented Steppin’ Into My Shoes in 2021; Streets Like This in 2020 and 2018; Dreams and Nightmares: Do What You Always Did, Get What You Always Got in 2016; and A Setback Ain’t Nothing but a Setup for a Comeback in 2015.

The cast and crew for Delia Divided consists of new and returning members of the ReEntry Theatre Program as well as actors from the community who have not experienced incarceration.

Cast: Leroy Barrett, Uraina Bellamy, Heather Duke, Lisa Ellin, Niya Foster, Jo-Louis Hallback, Amy Heffron, Michael James, Daraisi Marte, Emonie Raphael, Carley Robinson, Edwin Santiago, Kel Woodside, and Sylvie Yntema.

Director: Gabriella da Silva Carr.

Stage Management: Deletris Bryant, Miranda Bianchi, and Christina Johns. Design team: Jennifer Fok (lighting), Jason Simms (scenic), Elizabeth Kitney (props and costumes), Megan Omohundro (choreography), and Nate Richardson (sound). 

Sponsors: Tompkins County Tourism Program, Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County, Community Foundation of Tompkins County, The Sophie Fund, Rep Studio, Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources of Tompkins County, Wegmans, Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity, and Alternative Federal Credit Union.

Location: The Hangar Theatre, 801 Taughannock Boulevard, Ithaca.

Tickets: $20 or pay-what-you-can, available online at https://civicensemble.ticketleap.com/deliadivided/ or by calling (607) 241-0195.

By Civic Ensemble

Know Your Mental Health Resources

May is Mental Health Awareness Month! Take the time to know what mental health support resources are available if you live in Tompkins County. Resources are helpful to those experiencing mental health disorders, as well as to their families and friends. If you are at all concerned about your mental health, or about a loved one or someone you know, stay educated about mental health and how to get help. You may even save a life.

DOWNLOAD My Mental Health Resources (Tompkins County)

“Breaking Our Silence”

The Sophie Fund is sponsoring “Breaking Our Silence: Storytelling for Mental Health,” a series of film, theater, dance, literature, music, and other activities in Ithaca beginning April 23 “to increase empathy, build understanding, and help lift the shroud of shame and secrecy around mental illness.”

The series is organized by Story House Ithaca, a new project of the Center for Transformative Action that aims “to bring people together to share, study, create, and enjoy stories in all their forms.”

“Mental health is central to so many of our lives, but we rarely talk about it in public,” said Story House Ithaca Co-Director Jonathan Miller. “Sharing our stories, in whatever form, is good for us and for the people we care about.”

Co-Director Lesley Greene agreed: “We’ve got so many amazing community partners offering such a wide range of activities. I hope everyone will find something to connect with.”

Check out Story House Ithaca’s “Breaking our Silence” website for more information about the schedule and registration. “Breaking Our Silence” is also sponsored by the Community Arts Partnership, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness Finger Lakes

Saturday April 23, 3:30–5 pm, Community School of Music and Arts

“Acknowledging and Releasing our Stories of Anxiety”

A workshop led by Kathy Lucas and Megan Omohundro focuses on introspection as it relates to static energy of the body, mind and spirit. It brings awareness to stored tension and the manifestations of anxiety in the body by exploring breath work, gestures, physical shapes, movement pathways and verbal expression.

Saturday April 30, 3:30–5 pm, Community School of Music and Arts

“Feeling, Honoring, and Releasing our Stories of Grief”

A dance and movement workshop led by Kathy Lucas and Megan Omohundro focuses on introspection as it relates to static energy of the body, mind, and spirit. It brings awareness to stored tension and the manifestations of grief in the body by exploring breath work, gestures, physical shapes, movement pathways, and verbal expression.

Monday May 2, 6:30–8:30 pm, via Zoom

“NAMI Smarts for Advocacy”

A hands-on advocacy training program from the National Alliance on Mental Illness that helps people living with mental disorders, friends, and family transform their passion and lived experience into skillful grassroots advocacy. The program will guide participants through a step-by-step, skill-building method designed for those who are new to advocacy as well as individuals with years of experience. 

Tuesday May 3, 5:30–7 pm, Argos Inn Solarium

“Story Night”

An informal gathering with games and an open mic with storytellers and story lovers hosted by Regi Carpenter, author, performer, and pioneer in Narrative Medicine.

May 6-15, Hangar Theater

“Delia Divided”

A Civic Ensemble production written by Judy K. Tate in collaboration with the ReEntry Theatre Program and directed by Gabriella da Silva Carr tells the story of a young black woman who grew up in the foster care system and now as a young adult grapples with the intersecting forces of mental health, racism, and incarceration.

Sunday May 8, 10 am, First Unitarian Society of Ithaca

“Regi Carpenter: Breaking the Singular Story”

A sermon on the complexity of mental illness and the people who are affected by it, by Regi Carpenter, author, performer, and pioneer in Narrative Medicine.

Sunday May 8, 7-8 pm, via Zoom

“Taboo, Interrupted: Writing Mental Illness”

Ithaca College writing faculty members Eleanor Henderson, Joan Marcus, Jaime Warburton, and Katie Marks participate in a Spring Writes Literary Festival panel discussion on approaches to writing about mental illness that are accurate, non-exploitative, and compelling.

Tuesday May 10, 5:30–7 pm, Durland Alternatives Library, Anabel Taylor Hall, Cornell University

“Prisoner Express”

A show-and-tell presentation by Gary Fine on Prisoner Express, a program he founded to help break the isolation and despair of incarcerated people through writing, reading, and art.   

Sunday May 15, 4-6:30 pm, Cinemopolis

“BEDLAM”

Screening of an award-winning documentary about the mental health system followed by a Q&A session with filmmaker Peter Miller.

Saturday May 21, 7:30 pm, Kulp Auditorium, Ithaca High School

“Breaking Our Silence: A Performance and Celebration”

An evening of performances and readings by storyteller Regi Carpenter, dancers Kathy Lucas and Megan Omohundro, mental health activist Beth McGee, Civic Ensemble, and the Ithaca High School Choir led by Kristin Zaryski.

Sunday May 22, 10 a.m., First Baptist Church in Ithaca

“Regi Carpenter: Breaking the Singular Story”

A sermon on the complexity of mental illness and the people who are affected by it, by Regi Carpenter, author, performer, and pioneer in Narrative Medicine.