By Jon Bishop
AYER — Odds Bodkin is near the stage at the Page Hilltop cultural arts center, playing a harp as he waits for the students to come in. Near him are a guitar and a microphone. He wears all black.
Though he’s got a name like a Charles Dickens character, this professional storyteller is more at home with the ancient classics: Aesop, Homer, folk tales from Japan.
Bodkin, who studied cognitive psychology and anthropology at Duke University, says he has a large repertoire of stories, which he regularly performs for both kids and adults.
“I’ve just sort of developed this independently over the last 33 years,” he says. “I enjoy the variety (of performing).”
He’s traveled throughout the country and the world, usually stopping at a place once or twice, but this is his sixth or so appearance at Page Hilltop.
“Most of these kids have heard me over the past few years,” he said.
Which is why, as he walks in, one fourth-grader exclaims: “Oh, yeah! I love this guy.”
It’s time for the fourth-graders to check Bodkin out, and they take their places.
Principal Fred Deppe asks if any of them remember the name of the guy who’s here to tell them stories. A stammer. An um. One kid gets it, though.
Soon after, Odds picks up his guitar and gets started.
He asks the kids if they’ve ever wanted to be anyone else, and many of them raise their hands.
He then takes them back to feudal to Japan, to the land of shoguns and samurai. This is the story of “The Stonecutter.”
It’s about a guy — whose profession is the title — who desires to do something different with his life. As the result of an enchantment, he turns into the shogun, and then into the sun, and then into a storm cloud, desiring more and more power along the way. He finally becomes a mountain, and he starts to feel something or someone chipping away at him. It’s another stonecutter, like he once was.
“It’s a disturbing story. Don’t you think?” Bodkin said.
He asks the kids if they saw the movie of the story in their heads, and they all raise their hands.
After that, he transitions over to the harp, which he uses to tell two of Aesop’s fables: “The Boys and the Frogs” and “The Sun and the Wind.”
The kids love it.
“He told pretty amazing stories,” says Sam Oestreicher, commenting too on the special effects: the character voices, the sounds.
“I agree with him,” says Seth Valliere. “It was fun.”
Shelbie Strigle says that Bodkin’s tales have “a lot of details” and are really interesting.
Deppe said that having him come is great for the kids, because it exposes them to storytelling and to different cultures — and it lets them imagine and be creative.
“It’s just wonderful,” he says.
The staff members agree.
“He’s just really great at bringing the stories to life for the kids,” said first-grade teacher Davina d’Ambrosio.