Friday, October 16, 2009

"Tell everybody I'm on my way..."

" friends and new places to see..."
Guess what. I'm back in the USA!!!

That's right. I was invited to tell stories at the Kids Euro Festival in Washington DC!

It's a festival organized by the embassies of the EU countries for American children, promoting our cultures and values. And this year, I have the honor of repesenting Hungary. And storytelling as an art form.

Yes, I am excited! :)

Do you remember what I said about returning home after a year - that it felt like I've never left Hungary and things just went on? Well, returning to the US was exactly the same. I left the airport after a friendly two-hour customs check-in, and I felt like the past year-or-so since I returned to Hungary was nothing but a dream. America became reality again, and continued on from where I left it. Memories came rushing back, and so forth and so on.

I brought a bunch of new stories too. I hand-picked my favorite Hungarian folktales, then spent days thinking them over and over again, turning them upside down and inside out, and selecting the right music to help me build up the whole tale in my own special way. I tested some of them on my friends, others are brand new and shiny. I have traditional tales like The Land of Ice (with a very smart prince who climbs frozen mountains and rides a polar bear), The Wandering Prince (with duels and travels, and a friendly lion), The Fox Lady (which kind of turned into a Japanese-Hungarian cooperation story, but is still fun), The Bald Prince (and his trusty sidekicks, the Bear Boy and the little demon who was too good to be evil), The Lily of the Valley (with more princes, princesses, dwarves and fae folk), The Immortal Queen (and the quest to find her castle), and Princess Hide-and-Seek, and I'll get to her in a minute.

Today I had my first performance in a DC middle school. The kids (most of them 10-12 years old) were very well behaved, adorable and super creative. they were curious about Hungary in general, so we looked it up on the map, and I told them how many hours I flew, and they tried to pronounce my name, and all in all, it was already fun before it even begun. From all the new stories, I chose to tell Princess Hide-and-Seek (formerly known as The princess that saw everything), and she flew. It is always great to see a new story spread its wings, and this one is just perfect for a group of kids - they put in their ideas, and their imagination, and all in all, it turned out to be more successful than I expected. Not to mention we ran into modern mythology with all the "special superhuman abilities" stuff, but hey, this is America, and I dig comics anyway. :)

The list of my upcoming performances in DC can be found here.

Tonight I'm going to tell stories at Kennedy Center - the first official stage performance of the Festival. No pressure. Good thing amazing people like the staff of the Hungarian Embassy have my back :) Not to mention Princess Hide-and-Seek.

"...with the sun beating down, yes, I'm on my way,
and I can't keep the smile off my face..."

(Actually, it's raining in DC right now. Not that I care :)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Rome sweet home

This was my fourth time in Rome, and I have never ever dropped a coin into the Trevi Fountain. How about that.

This time, however, was entirely different: in addition to two weeks of enthusiastic digging and shoveling and other highly scientific work up in San Potito, I happened to have another event to visit:

organized the first International Storytelling Festival in Rome!!!

I met Angela and Giovanna in Lausanne, and even before that, on the Internet. When I heard they are bringing together my favorite Urbs and Storytelling, there was no question where I'll be this September.
It was amazing.
Going to new places and meeting new people is one of the things about storytelling that I like the most. But going to a place I've grown to love over the years (I'm a Roman Archaeology major, in case you didn't know) and do what I want to do the rest of my life (tell stories) was a gift. A special, unique kind of blessing.
When I arrived on Friday evening, the tellers were already gathered in a tiny, friendly theater on the side of Monte Testaccio. Meeting friends again - people I've met in Lausanne - was fun, to say the least. We talked, we laughed, we discussed Rome and Italy in detail. Angela and Paola - the two young ladies who organized the Festival - greeted me with smiles and hugs. The only thing left to do was sit down and enjoy the opening of the Festival.
And there was a lot to enjoy too. Stories, and songs, and poetry, and music, and stories without words and laughter and fun. I told the Sad Prince there as an opening, and it was a blast! It all depends on the audience, you know. With a lot of enthusiastic young storytellers and story-lovers around, it is easy to make a story fun :)
And that fun was nothing compared to the evening concert: mainly, because that one happened in Santa Maria del Popolo, one of the most beautiful churches in the City. I've been there twice before, but never at night. It was grand and silent and gloomy and friendly at the same time, with shadows in the corners and echoes of our voices, and statues and paintings blinking at us as we disturbed their sleep. There was also excitement and laughter as our storytellers (Angela, Paola, Giovanna and Davide) prepared for their big show - Sisters from the Book.
If you ever visit Rome, make sure you go and see that performance. I don't speak Italian (apart from the words and phrases I picked up during three years of digging), but I did learn Spanish and Latin, and I could catch most of the story - but I didn't really need to. The rhythm of the language, the looks on their faces, their movements, the whole thing was just amazing as it was; I lost track of time completely as we sat in the shadows and listened to the age-old stories in awe. Later I asked them what the stories were (the ones I didn't catch), and they were just as beautiful as I thought.
I wandered home around midnight, and felt like I have been asleep and dreaming for a day.

Saturday was the second (and, for me, unfortunately the last) day of the Festival, and with the bright autumn morning came a new and exciting setting: the Via Appia Antica. One of my favorite places in Rome. It's full of history, and legends, and it's a road, polished by the footsteps of millions of people, leading us from the present into the past. Sometimes further away than we'd like though, getting of the overcrowded bus was a bit tricky, so I had to walk back from the catacombs to the meeting point at Quo vadis. I didn't mind it one bit. It was early in the morning, it was quiet, I was almost all alone as I walked towards the City, enjoying the sun and the silence.
The first half of the day was Graham Langley's storytelling workshop. I enjoyed every second of it. There were a lot of young tellers there, lively, cheerful and very very friendly. We told stories and played around with them; talked, laughed, made friends, and discovered things about our craft that we didn't realize before. Thank you, Graham :)
As for the second half of the day - we walked the road of tales. Raccontamiunastoria took us on a journey down the Via Appia from Quo vadis (you out there who are not familiar with this beautiful legend, go and read Henryk Sienkiewicz's amazing book, Quo vadis) to the tomb of Annia Regilla. There were Roman tales and legends from the Middle Ages; between stops we walked and talked and sang and admired the beauty of the Appian Way.
At the end of the road, there were chairs waiting for us under a huge tree, and some more stories to listen to as the sun set behind the hills and stars started to come out. After that, the nice walk back to the meeting point, warm dinner in a cozy little restaurant, and then the evening performance at Parco Egeria. Somewhere along the way it started to rain, but it didn't bother us much; David Ambrose (Wales) and Mats Rehnman (Sweden) made sure we forgot about everything beyond the storytelling tent. It was very interesting to see how the translation worked out - Angela and the others made an excellent job of playing around with the story, inserting a few keyword here and there, and not really translating anything but making the tales easier to understand. It was perfectly balanced that way.
Two hours of amazing tales and lots of laughter later it was finally time to find our ways back home and into our beds.

I can't really add any comments to all this, apart from

Oh, and I have some photos on my Hungarian blog, check them out here.