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Living Well: A passion for storytelling

Retired librarian produces staged readings of Jewish folk and fairy tales

Enid Davis has long had a love for bringing old folk tales to life.

In nearly four decades as a children's librarian, she produced fairy tale plays with students at The Harker School and told stories at public libraries.

Now retired, Davis has transferred her zest for witches, puppets and magic spells to an adult — mostly senior — population, producing staged readings of Jewish folk and fairy tales.

She's putting out a call to the public — "you don't have to be Jewish," she said — to audition in May for "A Bite of Joy," folktales about love and marriage, to be read on stage June 10 at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center.

"Just like kids, adults love these folk tales too," Davis said in a recent interview in her Los Altos home library, sitting across from a huge bookcase filled with folk tales.

"Some of the stories are somber, some are funny — they really like the funny ones. Everybody loves seeing people in witches' hats. These stories are universal, for all ages."

The June production at the JCC will include a range of stories about love and marriage "all gone bad, or doing very well," Davis said. It will end with a mock wedding — and real wedding cake — to be shared by all.

The nice thing about staged readings is that people don't have to memorize their lines — they can "act while reading the script," she said. If there aren't enough actors, "you can have the same people do more stories." If there are too many, "they can do fewer stories."

Mostly, Davis is just excited about the material, which she has gleaned and adapted from the collection on her own bookshelf or the collections of others.

"These are not the Bible stories we grew up knowing," she said. "These are folk and fairy tales from around the world in every country where Jews have lived. It's a body of literature most Jewish people have no idea exists."

Davis said she was shy as a child, but loved hearing stories told by others. She came out in public as a storyteller early in her library career: In 1970, she recited, from memory, Isaac Bashevis Singer's "The First Schlemiel" at a Christmas party at the Los Altos Library, where she'd just been hired.

"It was like throwing me into the shark pond," she recalls.

"Finally they have a Jewish librarian, so I could be the Hanukkah act. I was new at that point and I didn't know that much about folk tales. But it was a big hit — everybody thought my New York accent sounded just like an Eastern European accent, which of course is totally different — and I was hooked.

"I was telling stories in all the jobs I had — that's what I was known for."

Storytelling can be a way to bring out shy people, Davis has found.

In her annual fairy tale productions with Harker School students, Davis said, teachers were sometimes surprised by which children would audition for the major parts. "They'd say, 'She doesn't say a word in the classroom.'

"But when you have a character to stand behind, it's not you — you're in a role. Often, shy children enjoy very much telling stories while being part of a play. I found that over and over again."

Among the favorite stories of Harker students, she said, were Spanish tale "Water of Life," "Tsarevich Ivan and Grey Wolf" from Russia; "Lazy Jack" from England; an Irish version of "Molly Whuppie" and "The Tiger, the Brahman and the Jackal" from India.

About 10 years ago Davis worked with friends Caryn Huberman Yacowitz and Diane Claerbout to produce "Jeans! The Musical," the story of blue jeans creators Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis, at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills.

More recently, Davis revived "Jeans!" as a staged reading for the JCC's "Community Tuesday" seniors program, leading to a request for more staged readings.

In March, Davis recruited a cast of 17 — mostly seniors — for "A Slice of Wry," adapted tales of dancing demons, witches, fallen agents and Old Testament stories of Miriam's tambourine, King Solomon and Elijah.

Irene Weinberg was a cast member.

"I thought it would be fun to do some acting, and I was right," Weinberg said in an email about the experience.

"Enid tried to make her participants comfortable. For example, I find it hard to walk without my walker. So I was given the part of the announcer, sitting on the stage, merely having to rise to the mike."

Weinberg said she plans to re-audition for the upcoming "Bite of Joy" production.

Following the May 13 audition, the cast will meet for three rehearsals before the staged reading performance June 10, Davis said. "You don't have to be Jewish. Last time, we had a Chinese Red Riding Hood."

For more information, contact Davis at eahdavis@yahoo.com.

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