NEW YORK – Barbara Aliprantis is a professional storyteller. She talks about her life – especially her experience as s immigrant, and shares wisdom gained through education, which included listening and paying attention, but her ultimate message the story of her life, is that you can make your dreams come true.
By just going with the flow in Manhattan as an intelligent and articulate woman, she soared in the corporate world and became secretary to the president of a major corporation.
That was after business school, which she attended after realizing her first chosen profession of nursing was not for her, which she pursued when her family poured cold water on her hopes of becoming an actress.
Those were neither the first nor the last dramatic changes in her life.
Aliprantis was born in a small fishing village on the Island of Paros. “It was the village of Naousa and I remember everything about it, and I left when I was 2 1/2.”
“On every stoop there was a yiayia, and I thought they were all mine.”
Thus was revealed the first element of a good storyteller: a great memory,
Another cause drama in one’s life.
Her father lied about his age to become a sailor when he was 15 and began to travel back and forth between Greece and America. He returned to Paros around 1929 to marry his childhood sweetheart, and continued back and forth as they had children.
When it was time for them all to come to America, Aliprantis could tell her mother was not happy and everyone was crying when they left.
“When I tell this story to immigrants, people weep, because my story is their story.”
Her mother’s premonition came true when she slipped on the ice while pregnant. Aliprantis’ youngest sister was saved, but they lost their mother.
“We all went to live Uncle Pete,” her mother’s cousin.
She grew up in Flatbush in Brooklyn and was married at Three Hierarchs. Her maiden name was Arianoutsos and at 21 married John Aliprantis, also from Paros. They met – where else – at a Parian dance.
Grist for her stories, Aliprantis’ life was full of surprises happy and said. She and John lived in Flushing and hoped to conceive a child. When they could not, they went to Greece to adopt one, Peter, whose career took him Wall Street.
But then she did get pregnant, with Antonios, who is a doctor at Harvard University.
Motherhood opened the path to her future. As her children went through school she was active in the PTA – which entailed art and entertainment projects.
She got tired of that scene, but it prepared her for a job as a teaching assistant at a nursery school, and storytelling entered the mix when she did puppet shows as a Girl Scout volunteer.
She then learned that St. Joseph’s school for deaf was looking for a storyteller who could also create visual displays. “So in May 1980, my life changed again…I learned sign language and I loved it…I adapted stories and presented puppet shows for 10 years.
When she took some college classes, she confided to a professor, “I always wanted to be an actress.” She was told “why don’t you be” and with Bob Simons changed her life again: within three weeks she was cast in a musical – she hesitated, but her husband encouraged her.
“In the daytime I worked at St. Joseph’s, came home – never missed a soccer game – had a balanced meal on the table and at night I went to rehearsal.”
She joined the National Storytelling Association and began getting gigs at libraries and museums, and when she decided to quit her day job, she did it full time.
One of her favorite things is to lead staff development workshops, especially on how to overcome communications obstacles, which is related to the insights gained through the years about how children learn.
The main thing is that every child has his or her own learning style. “You have to look at the whole child,” she said. .
Aliprantis has been curating a storytelling event at the Cornelia Street Café since 1997, the longest-running evening storytelling gathering for adults in New York City, which she began with Dr. John Kallas, the author of Growing Up as a Greek American.
She loves telling immigrants her story, interacting with the audience, and watching universal themes emerge.
“I am convinced that I was inspired by my father, who never went to school,” but was wise. “When we were children, he would not yell at us,” but disciplined them by telling stories about children from around the world.
When they were most agitated, he taught to overcome by saying “de bariese – don’t weigh yourself down with bad thoughts my child.”
Aliprantis says there no single word for what she does, but told TNH, “Storytelling’s about every day conversation, a teaching tool, an ancient art, and a survival technique.”
Last year in Greece, “my little theia Argyroula asked me about my work, and I said I tell stories, to children and adults an about immigration and other things…and she struck her said after exclaiming ‘and they pay you for that?’”
Indeed they do.