Friday, August 17, 2012

Summer session I. - Learn from the best

As you have probably noticed, apart from the poem below, I did not do much posting in the past few weeks.  My excuse is "thesis", which is a really good excuse, everyone should try it at some point, it does wonders in any conversation. And now that it is over, I have time to catch up on some blogging, and tell you what exactly happens in the ETSU Storytelling program in a summer session. I am trying to compress five weeks here, so bear with me.

Let's start with the institutes. Every summer the program announces three institutes held by master storytellers, and I use the term with a clear conscience, because they really are the best of the best. This year we had a treat (and I had the luck of being able to participate in all three of the institutes).

First off, David Novak taught "The Syntax of Surprise", which sounds academic-y, but it really wasn't. If there is one thing I have to mention about David, it is that he is an absolute master of weaving storytelling programs. He takes threads of folklore, mythology, personal experience, scientific knowledge, colors, smells, images, songs, rhymes and other bits and pieces, and he creates a tapestry that blends them all together. As you go along listening to him, you start to realize connections between things you have never seen before. This was what he was teaching us in those three days; how to blend a string of individual stories into one performance. We also talked about how to keep the audience's attention through the element of surprise within a story; how to create expectations, how to add pauses or twists that keep the listeners' minds from wandering. In a world of short attention spans, it is a useful thing to know. David is a delightful teacher; humble, helpful, and with a deep well of knowledge. I've been a fan ever since I first saw him, telling a story while standing on his head, in Timpanogos 4 years ago.

The second institute was held by Dolores Hydock, who has been and remains one of my ever favorite storytellers. Her class was called "Picasso's turpentine", and we talked about how and what to borrow from other art form such as painting, theater, animation, and dancing, and use the skills in our storytelling work. Sounds fascinating, right? It was. We spent half a day talking about Norman Rockwell's story paintings; we spent a morning learning cajun waltz; we watched Pixar shorts and pretended that our stories were created from a million dollars a minute. The whole institute was hands-on and very enjoyable, and we left with a whole list of techniques and tricks we couldn't wait to try.

The last instutite of the season was held by Charlotte Blake Alston, and connected to the Johnson City Umoja Festival. We learned about storytelling in Africa (which is, once again, a continent, not a country, with amazingly diverse cultures and languages), the griot tradition, African-American storytelling and musican genres and traditions, and tricksters! Gotta love tricksters. I can't get enough of them. We talked (and played with) rhythm, and song, and style, and then we took all we had prepared to the storytelling stage downtown and presented six one-hour sets of folktales peppered with some personal stories and Dr. Sobol transforming into the Incredible Rapper Professor. It was tons of fun! And once again I find myself in a trickster craze. Oh well. Happens to the best of us.

This was the lineup for the summer session. Institutes are usually smaller groups of people who come in from different parts of the country, and often, like myself, even farther away. Between sessions we have lunch together, we hang out in the evenings, we talk, we share ideas, we practice our stories, and make new friends. Summers just smell, taste and feel different from the school semesters, and not in a bad way; they feel like the ultimate learning experience for storytellers when you spend days sitting at a mentor's feet doing like a sponge and seeping up information, knowledge, and creativity. And now that the summer is over, it is time to play with what we have learned.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Storytelling Pride Day

(I totally made that up, I just needed a title)

I am the girl who lives to tell the tale.
I was a voice in the darkness
in a room filled with people and gold
(I was not trying to be mysterious. The power went out at the museum.)
I was a Renaissance lady
I was a Roman matron
I was an archer from the past that never was,
I was a sailor on a lake
I was a guitar and a song on the shore
I was a ghost by the campfire
(the boys went to the bathroom in groups for days)
I am the stuff of legends
(for K through 4 anyway)
I am the real deal
I can pull a forest up by their roots
or at least I know the guy who could
I am a wanderer
I am a magpie
I am a butterfly, and sometimes a Moth,
I am a Storyteller
by any other name
Mesemondó
Cuentacuentos
Cuentera
Narradora
I am not a Performance Artist
I definitely do not read books for children
I come from the Land of Dragon Riders
with an unrecognizable accent
(Czechoslovakia is gone, people, and Sokovia is not a country)
I am a terrible actress
but I have lived the 1001 Nights
and talked to Scheherazade in the end
(that was one fun WoD campaign)
I can quote from Gilgamesh
and sometimes from Firefly
I know what makes a lightsaber green
and I know how Anansi got a wife
I have walked the streets of Rome
I have walked the streets of Toledo
I have walked the streets of Vienna
I have not walked the streets of Johnson City because there are no sidewalks
well that’s just the USA
I know that Black Dogs don’t bite
and I know a Trickster when I see one
believe me I see many
some call them problem children
I want to see them say that to Coyote’s face
(wait, is that his f… nevermind)
I have five hours of material in my repertoire
somewhere
buried under Journey to the West, probably
I can make a teenager cry
and an adult laugh
and a child tell stories of her own
I sit on the teacher’s desk
no grading on my watch
I leave messages in library books
I turn my papers in before the deadline
I dance my shoes to pieces every contra night
I have a license to ILL
(overloaded the library system, Houston we have a problem)
I know how to hold a sword properly
I believe in Ginger World Domination
(mark feedback “Attn.: Thor”)
I have a thing for gemstones, but only the ones with stories
and read everything Mark Twain ever wrote
because Mark Twain
I believe rap is the closest thing to Homer’s Iliad
and that the answer is 42
I knew what a Kappa was before Harry Potter
and wanted to be Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Story Girl
I really did
I thought I had to be an actress for that
dammit Lucy Maud
I told stories about beer to the tech people after the children left
I told stories
in castles
at the feet of Inca gods
in the line to the face painter
in a boat
on a boat
under a boat
I know that there are hundreds of professional mermaids in the USA
and people still laugh about storytelling
yes I get paid for it
but even if I didn’t
well I do
and we all know what happened to patrons who did not pay the bard
they grew donkey ears
(kids love that they really do)
it takes an astronomer to read the stars
and a folklorist to make Aarne and Thompson roll over in their grave
and a graphic artist to paint a dragon in two minutes
and a biologist to tell me sharks have no gills
and a Scandinavian Studies major to drool all over Viking werewolves
where would I be without them
not the werewolves
the friends
duh
Wandering is not about never having a home
it is about having a home everywhere
even in Camelot
“See you on the road”