The Pied Piper has nothing on Jonathan Kruk, who enchants kids with his lively stories and commanding presence (He’s 6’1”!). He’s proud that he has been able to make his living and even send a child to college by doing what he loves best.
Hometown: El Paso, TX
Currently lives: Cold Spring
College degree: Masters in Education, NYU
Favorite childhood stories: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and Hansel & Gretel. I still love gingerbread!
Early inspiration: When I was in college, I found a beautifully illustrated story in a secondhand shop, called “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” illustrated by Kay Nielsen, a Danish artist. I thought, “Why haven’t I ever heard of this story?” I realized that there are a lot of fairytales that Disney and other sources never bothered to touch on.
Favorite Hudson Valley-based story: “The Imp of Dunder-Berg,” a largely Washington Irving creation with some native and Dutch touches. The Imps are ghosts on the river, but act like mischief-making elves. People tell me they experience them today!
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Favorite audience: Children from ages 5 to 8.
First gig: More than 30 years ago I performed in a little vest pocket park in Manhattan called Abington Square Park, which is across from the White Horse Tavern. I was in grad school, and parents hired me for $25 to do a half hour of storytelling. I had to compete with drunks, chess players, ice cream trucks, sirens and other distractions, so, to keep the kids’ attention, I began to do an animated and interactive form of storytelling that I’ve done ever since.
The big epiphany: I got paid a fifty-dollar bill after performing at my first children’s party. The father, a corporate attorney, handed me the money and grumbled, “There! It must be nice getting paid to do something fun!” He was right.
Reaction? My father, a retired Colonel, thought I “drank too much hippie juice.” He did come around when I began to get booked in schools. My mother, a frustrated actress known as Candle Wyck and a real teacher, booked me for my first school show. Back in my twenties, when I was single, telling career women in New York City that I was a storyteller often closed their book on me.
Favorite memory: One time I was doing a birthday party — I used to do over 100 a year! — and a kid asked the birthday girl if I was her father. She said, “No, he’s not my father. He’s my fairytaler.”
American idols: Jay O’Callahan, a very quiet and understated storyteller, and Brother Blue, a spontaneous street performer who used to perform in Cambridge [Massachusetts] wearing bells with blue butterflies painted on his arms.
Hobbies: I have a great collection of Hudson Valley bricks from Dennings Point and Croton Point and I have them interspersed in my rock garden. I also like to bike, hike, and swim. My wife and I live near a lake. Sometimes, I’ll do yoga by the lake.
Looking ahead: I’m trying to finish a book on lore of the Hudson. I also want to do a live storytelling iPhone app.
For more information: www.jonathankruk.com