A WISE MAN ONCE SAID,“A child is the greatest resource our republic possesses.” In 1989, sharing this sentiment, my wife, Randy, and I started a company and named it Greathall Productions. Our goal was to offer children the greatest stories from classical literature and history in storytelling form. My concept was not to read these classics right off the page; instead, I would re-tell them in much the same fashion that a beloved parent or grandparent might do, maintaining the intent and style of the original works while making them accessible to young listeners. I had plenty of experience with that approach, since my own father and grandfather did just that for my older brother and me. I hoped to take it farther, however, by creating distinctive voices for each character, and by introducing each story with information about the author or era.
That first summer, I created five, hour-long recordings while Randy began organizing the business side of our company. Our daughter, Danna, then 9 years old, stuck gold stickers on the outside of the cassette tape boxes—there were no CDs yet—and less than three months after we had the idea, we had five finished recordings packaged, shrink wrapped, and ready to go. The stickers proclaimed “Literature Comes Alive!” but we soon replaced those with new stickers as each of our recordings won national awards. The subsequent recordings received awards, too; we stopped counting when we reached one hundred.
Of course, in 1989, there was no Internet, and as crazy as it seems, we did NO marketing research. We had never heard of a “professional storyteller” and had no way of knowing that eventually we would reach a world wide audience of millions of listeners. We knew only that the classics — from Aesop to Shakespeare, from Greek mythology or King Arthur through Dickens and Dumas, from true stories from ancient Egypt through Twentieth Century America — were too often ignored or presented in a way that radically changed the original stories. We knew from experience that a story well told ignites a love of learning in a listener. Intuitively, we knew that reading comprehension soars skyward when a child learns the structure of stories or develops the listening skills associated with hearing a story told or read aloud. My goal then, as now, was to instill in children the lifelong love of great literature by telling the stories on a child’s level without altering the author’s intent.
Those first recordings began to fly out our door from the very first day. From Greathall’s 1989 inception, we have produced 60+ recordings and received 100+ National Awards. I receive letters, e-mail and phone calls that tell us, “My daughter is a reader thanks to you” or “After listening to you, my sons came home from the library with five books on mythology.”
Randy and I love the letters that tell us, “We were in the sculpture section of the museum, and my husband and I had no idea what we were looking at. Then our six-year-old began to identify each statue. He told us he had learned all about these characters ‘from those Jim Weiss CD’s.” Children are using what they have learned! Families are sharing knowledge as they listen together.
AND NOW WE FAST-FORWARD 28 YEARS to 2020… I am proud to say
that in October, 2015 we licensed our recordings and business operation to Susan Wise Bauer of Well-Trained Mind Press (aka Peace Hill Press). Susan and her superb staff have made huge contributions to the educational and literary world(s) and it’s an honor to join forces with this prestigious company.
Our original company, Greathall Productions, never had a motor behind its success…just Randy and me paddling along, following our instincts and listening to the many loving comments and requests of fans. Susan brings an ardent momentum to the Jim Weiss line that will take it into new, deeper waters and allow for more recordings, teaching/performing sessions, podcasts and webinars, and a greater presence in more venues than ever. Greathall Productions has transitioned into “Jim Weiss at Peace Hill,” or as Randy puts it, “ Jim is not ‘retired’; rather, re-focused.”
I love what I do. I love meeting, and hearing from, our listeners. I truly love the live performances, the keynote addresses, the sessions on how to tell a story or how to teach history and other subjects through story, the advice on how to use stories to reach people with special needs, the vital role of stories in organizations and corporations… I could go on and on, but I won’t. I will let the recordings speak for themselves.
I cordially invite you to enjoy this new website at www.jimweiss.com. Here, along with my frequent and interactive presence on www.facebook/Greathall, you’ll have access to all the thoughts and actions that lead to new recordings, information about my travels, and all sorts of useful and entertaining information to enhance the Jim Weiss experience. We hope you will share this part of our journey. I think the best is yet to come.