Halloween is popularly associated with costumes and trick-or-treating, but no Halloween is complete without a little scare. Haunted houses are always a favorite scare-inducing attraction, and there are countless horror movies featuring a wide variety of ghosts, ghouls and monsters that can provide a spook. But the classic art of storytelling also lends itself well to the Halloween holiday, and Jackson County is home to one of the more talented storytellers in the region, Lee Piskorz.
Piskorz, who teaches gifted and talented students at Collins Intermediate School, has been an educator for 25 years. But she has developed a true passion for writing and storytelling along the way. Using stories in her classroom eventually led to numerous opportunities in other public venues, and Piskorz decided to pursue storytelling professionally. She now enjoys sharing her love of storytelling with audiences of all ages.
“Storytelling found its way into all sorts of different aspects of my teaching,” Piskorz said. “I used it as a way to keep students’ attention, and I was really just using it as a teaching method at first. I really enjoyed storytelling, but it wasn’t until the last few years that I thought I would try pursuing it professionally.”
Since deciding to pursue storytelling professionally, Piskorz has attended storytelling classes at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, where she worked with award-winning professional storytellers Elizabeth Ellis and Dianne Hackworth. Most recently, Piskorz has performed her stories for students and their parents during Collins Intermediate’s Family Reading Night on Oct. 23 and at DeSoto State Park’s Spookapalooza on Oct. 24. Her next scheduled performance is set for Saturday, Nov. 22, at the annual international storytelling event known as Tellabration, which will be held this year at Little River Canyon Center in Fort Payne.
Piskorz writes all the stories she performs, and she said many of her tales, though fictional, are inspired by events she experienced in the past. She said she is still trying to develop her own storytelling style but added that she is getting more comfortable in her long-form technique.
“I’m still trying to find my niche. In the beginning, I wanted to be like the professionals at the Campbell Folk School. But I realized what I was being led to do was a little different. So I stopped trying to force myself to do exactly what they do,” she said. “A lot of times, a story that a professional storyteller would tell is about 10 minutes long, and they might tell two to three different stories. My stories usually last at least 30 minutes and are a little more involved.”
Though she can write and tell stories for just about any occasion or theme, Piskorz, who attributes much of her storytelling talent to her late father, said Halloween always provides a great backdrop for what she does. Though she doesn’t incorporate any supernatural beings, such as ghosts or monsters, into her tales, she said she can still induce a scare in audience members.
“I’m not interested in telling stories about monsters being in the closet or under the bed, and nothing ever just magically appears,” she said. “My stories are always realistic type fiction about situations that could happen in real life.”
In regards to her Halloween stories, Piskorz said she caters them to be age-appropriate for her audience. She said the scare tactic is different depending on whether the audience contains younger or older kids.
“What I have found is that the best stories for younger kids are often ones in which the child in the story has done something he shouldn’t have done,” Piskorz said. “The character has personally made a decision to not listen to their parents and sneak off into the woods, or something of the like, which makes the kids in the audience think about themselves and how they would never do something like that. And since they would never do something like that, they can separate themselves from the story, so aren’t going to go home and have nightmares.”
But, Piskorz said, it’s much different for an older audience.
“The older kids and adults want their scary story to involve a situation in which the character has no control over something scary or bad happening to them,” she said, citing a recent example of a story she performed about a cat in which someone died every time it appeared.
Though Halloween is always a fun time to tell and hear stories, especially spooky ones, Piskorz said she has thoroughly enjoyed writing, memorizing and performing a variety of stories for audiences of all ages. And she added that she hopes to devote more time to this side career in the future.
“I’m getting lots of wonderful feedback, and I hope to get into it more during my retirement,” she said.
To contact Piskorz about storytelling opportunities, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.