Monday, February 20, 2012

Stories in the Ark – Storytelling Festival in Ann Arbor, MI

One sentence: I shared a greenroom with Maynard Moose.
I am still a little starstruck.

Being invited to the Ark as a featured teller was a real honor, and I had been looking forward to traveling to Ann Arbor. I have to say right away that it was an extremely well organized event. It was also their twenty-fifth storytelling festival, so they probably had time to work on the details. They really treated us like royalty.
I flew in Friday afternoon and was invited for dinner to Judy Schmidt’s. We sat together in her beautiful home decorated with hand-made quilts; they even had another guest, Sándor, who was all too happy to talk with me in Hungarian. We spent long hours talking together about Hungary and Hungarian culture; we also talked about history, music, languages, and anything else that came to our mind. Then, when I was about ready to fall asleep, I was taken to Beverly’s, who was going to be my host for the weekend.
Saturday morning we went to Willy Claflin’s workshop at the local library; the workshop was about character voices, and we had great fun coming up with different emotions, personalities, and different voices for all of them. We also had huge bags of puppets to play around with, and we got to meet some of Willy’s own entourage, among them Maynard, whom I have been hearing about for more than four years, but somehow I never managed to catch him on stage (I even have some of his CDs). It was a great workshop! And we got cookies in the end.
Saturday evening was the big concert for the festival – four tellers, three hours straight, and the house was full! We all gathered in the green room of the Ark, with its walls covered from floor to ceiling with signatures, drawings and messages from the various artists who have performed here in the past decade. Whenever I was not doing something, I kept reading the walls.
As for the concert: Barbara, our emcee, did a wonderful job, both with introducing us and with looking after us backstage, making sure we were all set and we had everything we needed to be happy little storytellers. Lyn opened up the concert with an amazing part-historical, part-family story; I was listening from backstage, waiting for my turn, but even her voice alone was delightful to listen to, even with such a serious story.
I was up next, and I had a full hour for Hungarian stories. I decided I was going to do a show of Pályuk Anna tales – I can’t get enough of her stories, and I have been practicing them at the University School, so I thought it was time to introduce them to grown-up audiences. I told four stories: The boy who walked on the clouds, The Dream of the Fairy Queen (that one I have not told in English before, but I greatly enjoyed it now), The Dancing Princesses (Anna’s version is full of little details that I love), and Where have all the fairies gone? (which Anna used to tell in first person, and so did I). The hour was over before I noticed, and it was time for intermission.
(By the way, the greatest thing about the Ark? The audience has popcorn. I felt like a movie star!)

In the second half, Allison opened with song and story. I can see why she was so successful at the Moth; her personal stories were exquisitely crafted and hilarious at the same time. She also has a beautiful singing voice; before we left, she caught me in the hallway, and sang me a Hungarian song. What a surprise!
Willy Claflin, of course, was the hero of the evening. He had us laugh until we cried; he brought out Maynard, and a squeaky lobster, and a short tribute to Gamble Rodgers, and songs. Time flew and none of us noticed; bass started booming under out feet from the ground floor, but nobody cared. Everyone agreed it was a great evening.

Sunday afternoon we had a performance for family audiences, which in this case meant about 150 people, mostly kids (and even more popcorn). Allison, Willy and I had 20 minutes each, and we made good use of it too. Even though standing on a well-lit stage makes audience participation a lot more complicated, the kids were great. I told my Ragnar and Thora story (dragons are always a success), and they guessed all the right answers right away; I also told When elephants could fly, and they seemed to enjoy it a lot. They sang along with Allison, and participated in her Indian folktale, and of course, no one is loved more by the kids than Maynard (even though I also greatly enjoyed Gorf the frog’s version of Froggy-went-a’-courting, accompanied by a turquoise flyswatter).

We signed the walls; we exchanged cards; we talked and laughed before and after concerts in the green room. The great thing about storytellers is that they are such amazing, friendly people, even with someone like me who is just starting to experience the big stage. And the people of Ann Arbor really made us all feel right at home.

I returned from the Ark filled with experiences, ideas, and enthusiasm. This should keep me going for a very long time.


  1. Wow, that's so cool! Congratulations and I'm glad you had such a good time.


  2. Csenge,
    I posted the link to your blog on Storytell and on my Facebook page as well as sending it to the members of the Ann Arbor Storytellers' Guild. We loved having you in Ann Arbor and only wish the weekend had been a little longer!
    Judy Schmidt