Workshops for Speakers & Other Performers

Storytelling is an art to be shared. Jackson has developed workshops for both beginning and professional performers, and draws on his years of experience to challenge and entertain.

Private coaching is also available.

When asked for an article about bombs, "In Praise of the Outside Eye" was submitted to the national Storytelling Magazine. Click here to get a copy of the article. Or click here to go directly to the article below.

Motivation | Hook 'em | Springboards | Storyscaping | Songs as Story | Flak Happens | Sign Language & Storytelling | E = mc+ (Event Equals Emcee, Plus) | Being Your Own Critic | High-Performance Coaching |

Motivation. Education. Inspiration. Challenge. Fun. Jackson has presented workshops and/or coached nearly every year since 1982 at New England's Sharing the Fire storytelling conference, and has also served as key-note speaker. With The Stand-Up Chameleon's warm, inimitable style, you can count on a workshop that will be just right. Here are some of the workshops that have inspired other performers across the country (complete outlines and evaluation summaries are available on request.)

Springboards for Stories Might you be sitting on some great stories that you'd like to put out there...?

The 15th annual session will be held February 5-8, 2021 at Kipling's historic Brattleboro VT home. It is open to 5-7 people who'd like to dive into something new with a communal spirit, and opportunities for group critique and personal coaching. Participants with any range of experience are welcome including people who don't consider themselves performers at all.

Known for his broad, theatrical work, Jackson also enjoys using the quirks and quiet in daily life for grist in his storytelling. Sometimes it is not until we recount an anecdote that we realize its potential for repertoire. Examples of simple events turned into performance pieces will be modeled. Group exercises with "listener as co-creator" will help prompt participants to mine their own personal nuggets worthy of polishing. Together, we'll explore the process of crafting material from real life experiences, whether they be dramatic or commonplace. Versions of this workshop can be either 3 hours long or 3 days long, and it has also been presented at conferences, colleges, and for private groups.

Since 1981, I have presented workshops annually at the Northeast Storytelling Conference, rotating 8 different ones. "Springboards" has become a favorite and has been expanded into a weekend offering. It is now held annually in the very inspiring setting of Rudyard Kipling's historic Brattleboro VT home, Naulakha ("jewel without price"). I fell in love with Kipling's wonderful home in 2000 when I started my semiannual portrayal of Rudyard-in-Residence. Just being at Naulakha is inspiring and coupled with collective synergy, participants have invariably come away enriched, fired up with many new personal story ideas to work on. And some folks have come with an existing project on which they've been able to make great progress.

"Your giving ways, from being a caretaking breakfast maker to being a sensitive guide through each day's work, from sharing in laughter around the dinner table to sharing some of your own performance pieces, created the space in which each of us could benefit in so many ways. And your critiquing was focused, helpful, supportive, without stepping in the way of each person's choice of where they wanted to go. I couldn't have asked for more." -- Mike Seliger, college dean

Three nights lodging (bedrooms with twin beds), meals, communal zeal and inspiration, all for $550. A $275 deposit secures a place with a friendly refund policy, likely in full when a replacement is found. (A separate retreat for veteran performers of all kinds is also offered afterward and is priced lower. More details are available by emailing Sneak previews of the property and where you too can play pool on the same table as Ruddy and his buddy Sir Arthur Conan Doyle can be seen on the photo gallery of

In addition to performing artists, participants in earlier sessions included: writers, social workers, tradesmen, psychologists, outdoor educators, college communications professors, a college dean, physician, navy officer, architect, forester, gardener/beekeeper, musicians, visual artists and craftspeople.

"I laughed for four days, ate great food, and wrote stories in Kipling's bath tub. It was one of the best workshops I've ever experienced." — Lynn

"Thanks again for the wonderful workshop. It was a weekend full of magical inspiration. What an amazing group of people! (It really is rare to find such a kind group... No one dominating, and everyone doing their best to help each other.) With your free-flowing,'organic' style, everyone felt engaged, honored, and challenged. Naulahka of course was lovely, and the catering was perfect. And I loved your breakfasts!" — Motoko

"I was so surprised at how much work I got done..." — Libby

"...entirely the proper use of my precious time... The food was wonderful, the setting magical and the company intimate and relaxed." — Mark

"I can not fully express how fortunate I am to have participated in your workshop this past week. It truly was a Springboard storytelling boot camp. I learned to bring forth gallons of story ideas to a dry river bed. Ideas and friendships began flowing the very moment we shared introductions. The coaching by my peers and the direction and coaching by your self shaped and polished my skills beyond my expectation. It is said we arrive were we are going on the shoulders of giants. However sometimes we need a springboard to gain the altitude." — Vernon

"Wow! What a wonderful Friday through Monday! Lots of learning. Excellent nourishment for body, soul, and mind. Many, many laughs!" — Deena

"The safety you and my fellow participants provided allowed me to find resources I didn't know I had. My story turned out to be a coming together of many already familiar elements, never before seen in a cohesive way. It will be a lifelong joy to have this piece crafted and shared." — Penny

"Being among your group, and under your guidance was amazing. I was transported." — Michal

"Jackson is a sensitive and skillful artist who supports and nurtures your creative process so that you and several like-minded participates produce and share some of their most inventive and inspired work." — Clare

" class cuisine at a world class mansion with world class coaching. Truly a treat. I have such happy memories of that weekend. And, we had music, dance, hiking, pool table, premo weather and a great roommate ... honestly, does it get any better?" — Richard

"To have been nurtured, tolerated, challenged, coaxed, appreciated... all so good. But to have had my essence gently mirrored, humorously goaded, enabled in the best sense, that was sustenance, and a deep draught for the parched. I came, my book in hand, hoping to share a work-in-progress, but went far beyond that, encouraged by an abundance of good will (and great breakfasts!), to find my voice and a dawning of confidence. Working unobtrusively and modestly, but with sureness and skill, Jackson creates a pervading safety, an enthusiastic bonding among the participants, a sense of delightful companionship, that opens the flood gates. In the end, there is no place to hide. But who would wish to?" — Gail

"Jackson helped me find the rhythms that sustained my piece through voice and movement... He's that rare coach— a generous artist who nurtures the unique art of others." — Jo

"It was even better than the reviews, and I will do it again when my kids are done with college! A weekend with creativity and Jackson in a gorgeous cozy setting, what could be better?!" - Amy

Please remember that "Springboards for Stories" is also exportable. For workshops in WI, FL, MA, NC, NH, VT and UT, it has been adjusted for a range of different time frames and numbers of participants. Recharge/Retreats for groups of six or less have been scheduled periodically to support each other's works-in-progress.

Private coaching is also available at any mutually convenient time.

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Hook 'em or Lose 'em First impressions count. Your opening can either intrigue or alienate an audience. There are lots of options for starting a program. Workshop participants will share tried and true methods, and we'll explore new and different ways to engage an audience. Jackson has performed for the whole gamut - blind, deaf, toddling, senile, incarcerated, and drunk. Each group presents its own challenges. Consistently establishing successful rapport with audiences is what makes his job exciting. Take a look at how those first few seconds can help make that happen. Received an average of 4.92 (of 5) for Quality of Presentation from 51 evaluations at the 2003 National Storytelling Conference in Chicago

"Great fun and fully engaging; Wonderful ideas to put into immediate use; didn't get side-tracked - excellent teacher!; Very funny, informative and right on target; Wow! He is so powerful and unique - an inspiration!; Best part of conference."

Storyscaping Landscaping/Interior Decorating Your Story How clearly do your see your own stories' physical settings? How well are you able to create the imaginary "stage set" to help your listeners visualize the supporting landscape and actions? Jackson offers concrete exercises to assist tellers in transferring, by gesture, their internal landscapes to the stage. "Jackson is a master teacher...very clearly presented & fully explored; great techniques and tools for imaging and embodying story; great spontaneity and respect and appreciation of others' efforts; his body language is superb; wonderful examples and use of volunteers; thorough, potent instruction on overlooked basics - awesome; so much taught, so much wisdom and experience shared; This was one of the best workshops I¹ve seen at STF!!!!!" - Sharing the Fire evaluations

Songs as Story (or Look Ma, No instrument: performing without accompaniment) Songs can be a great source of stories and be presented as such. Sometimes an instrument, and even rhythm, can just get in the way. One can get more out of some songs not being tied to anything. Jackson demonstrates and invites participants to bring songs and explore possibilities. - received top rating of "five" from 63 of the 67 evaluation categories collected from Sharing the Fire participants (and 4 "fours")

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Flak Happens UCOs, PAIs, etc. (Unidentified Crawling Objects, Under-Chaperoned Overexuberants, PA Interruptions...) Technical disasters, stray children, flickering lights, fire drills, you name it. It all happens. Some of these performance curve balls can be prevented, others ignored, and still others simply need to be dealt with. Jackson offers workshop tips and exercises to better prepare you for handling all these Great Unexpectations. Jackson has been pitched many curves in his performing career. He's been hit by some, struck out at others, he's walked, he's fouled, and he's deftly slammed some back -- but he's always learning. Learn along with him. "There were only top ratings for your session and people were asking for it to be repeated, It was an enormous hit. I guess flak does indeed happen." - Suzanne Finn, Maine Arts Sponsors Association

Sign Language & Storytelling Jackson's introduction to the beauty of sign language in performance. Many performers like to incorporate signing in their presentations, and this can be very effective. Jackson is well respected by the deaf for his several sign-interpreted shows. In this workshop, he'll discuss how to use signing responsibly, and you'll explore this bilingual (verbal and visual) approach to storytelling in a sign-along workshop. "I was truly amazed with the fluidity of his communication - spoken, signed and portrayed through his movement." - Carol Stevens, National Registry of Interpreters with the Deaf

E = mc+ (Event Equals Emcee, Plus) Being the Host or Hostess with the Most or Mostest Sometimes you'll find yourself cast as the "glue" that holds a show together. Other times, you simply have to introduce the next performer. Each is an important role that should be approached responsibly. Jackson will share guidelines, tips, and exercises that will enable you to be as supportive and effective as you can be in the roll of emcee. Being a host or hostess is always a challenging role. The better one gets at it, the better for all. "You should write an emcee handbook." - suggestion made by many of the workshop participants

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Being Your Own Critic In this field, we often serve as our own director. Are you too hard on yourself sometimes? Not hard enough? Jackson will share tips and disciplines that will enable you to hone your craft, strengthen your repertoire, and broaden your performing horizons. Yet you'll proceed gently, so you'll enjoy the challenges and the growing process. By constructively processing inner and outer feedback, Jackson has developed methods for becoming a keener self-critic, and a continually improving performer.

"I know Jackson's work intimately, better than anyone else in fact, and sometimes I just have to say - it stinks!... it's phenomenal! But hey, what do I know?" - Jackson Gillman, the Stand-Up Chameleon's best and worst critic

High-Performance Coaching Having trouble getting that story humming? Bring it into Jackson¹s Bard & Body Shop! Specializing in: hammering out dents, story mechanics, parts replacement, lubrication, fine tune-ups. He¹ll help you get that story up and running like a charm! Available for pit service at Jackson¹s B&B in Onset MA or mutually convenient location. Satisfied tellers include Judith Black, Michael Parent, Bill Harley, Vernon Cox, Lani Peterson, & Jo Radner who says: "Jackson helped me find the rhythms that sustained my story line through voice and movement, and to understand, and believe in, the power of my stories. He¹s that rare coach a generous artist who nurtures the unique art of others." – Jo Radner

For comments about speaker and performer programs, take a look at What People Are Saying About Jackson Gillman.

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When asked for an article about “bombs” I submitted the following to the national Storytelling Magazine:

In Praise of the Outside Eye by Jackson Gillman, January 2010

Lord knows there’s lots of public bombs that I could write about, and have. But this time I’d like to address two private ones that prevented public ones.

Flash back nearly thirty years when I was learning sign language and I loved it. I was looking for the perfect piece to put into repertoire that combined this new “second language” with my telling. I found it in an out-of-print picture book, The Mermaid of Storms by Mary Calhoun. I dutifully translated the book into sign language, so I could perform it with this beautiful visual accompaniment.

Having the sense to enlist a professional sign language interpreter to make sure that I got it right, I hired Barbara Levitov. I couldn’t wait to show her how masterfully I had interpreted the story. It was about a fifteen minute piece. I started off – “Once upon a time, a mermaid lived deep in the sea. She and her sister mermaids. In the vines of the sea, the mermaids would swing and sing, bubbling up the water with laughter, and riffling it smooth again with their tails…”

'Whoah." I hadn’t gone 15 seconds into the story and Barbara stopped me. I felt like I was on the Gong Show and hadn’t even been given a chance to get to the good parts. "You’ve got it all wrong." Wait. I checked these signs out, I thought they were accurate.

Barbara explained. "You don’t want to translate the story, you interpret it. What’s the first picture in the book? Okay, draw it. No, with your hands. Forget the signs. Show me the picture with your hands…"

Bong. A light goes on. So, that’s what this is about. Visual by visual, she helped me paint the story. The sign language shouldn’t just accompany the text, it wants to all be a seamless whole. Which incidentally, necessitated restructuring some of the spoken words to flow better with the signs, but that’s a different part of the story.

I basically had to start all over and it was a challenging process, but it was an exciting one for me. Had I continued the way I started, everyone would have perceived my telling as clunky, not just Barbara. How thankful I was to be set on the right path before I had bumbled along any further in totally the wrong direction.

What I also discovered in the process of physically illustrating each scene in the story, is that less and less words needed to be spoken or signed, yet much more was said!

Along the same lines about ten years later, I had been working on a longer epic that lent itself ideally to sign interpretation. It was nearly 25 minutes long, and I had gone a long ways down that story road using all the tools that I had learned in the trade. Again, I couldn’t wait to show it off to my director at the time, Benny Reehl. I wasn’t gonged this time. Benny watched intently through the whole story. When it was over, he sat silent for a while. Wow, I really blew him away this time, I thought. He was speechless.

Finally, the master spoke. “It’s long, Jackson. It’s reeeally long.” Aaargh -- crushed again!

He allowed that the story had parts that were very engaging but that in the end, the story’s energy just wasn’t sustained. Earlier, I called Benny my director, but perhaps coach would be a better term. We went through it piecemeal, but I was really left to rework it on my own which is the way I wanted it.

Again, each scene needed to be streamlined, but keeping the whole in mind. Additional work-in-progess sessions with Benny helped keep the story flowing and on track. Eventually I got it to a place to again show him the story in its entirety. He then deemed it masterful. I asked him to time it. How long is it now? It was longer than 25 minutes. “Wait, you told me it was too long, I’ve worked with you all this time and now it’s even longer!” His reply? “Jackson, length has nothing to do with time.” It was like a Buddhist koan, but I clearly understood it. It all had to do with rhythm, dynamic changes, through-line, sustaining power … sustenance.

In both examples I've given, my work would have floundered without an outside eye. And as a result, just think how many other people have benefited from not having to sit through stories that were clunky and looong...

So it is has been with much of my work. Yes, we can get better at trying to be "outside eyes" for our own work, but only up to a point. Then the proof is in other people's pudding, and how much more satisfying it is to allow others to taste test our work, and help us fine-tune all the ingredients to make the final dish truly worth savoring.


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