Monday, December 31, 2012

Django - German heroes, soaring eagles, and some good storytelling

Taking a break from all the end-of-year madness and the fact that the heating is still broken in the house, I went to see Django Unchained last night. This is not a movie review - all I can tell you is I personally had great fun with it. Tarantino once again knows what he is doing, and he is pulling all the stops. Fair warning: in this one, violence is the answer, and it feels sinfully justified. You just want to dunk Leo's head in a toilet anyway.


I just wanted to make a short post about the role of storytelling in the movie. Because there is storytelling in the movie, and not just in the film studies "getting the plot across" sense of the word either. Cristoph Watz makes a wonderful job of telling a campfire-side version of the story of Brünhilde and Siegfried from the Niebelungenlied (*insert heart throb here*). That would be worth a blog post alone, but the movie goes way beyond that: they make a point of showing why that story is directly relevant to the plot of the film.
For one, and this is fairly obvious, the lady in need of rescuing was named by her slave-owners after Brünhilde (she also speaks full frontal German, on screen, good Tarantino style). As the good doctor-slash-bounty-hunter explais, Django's story echoes Siegfried and Brünhilde's - he has to "climb the mountain, fight the dragon and cross the hellfire" to rescue his love (luckily for them, the metaphor ends here, and the storyteller spares his audience the bloody-gory end result of the original legend... well, gory for the heroes, anyway, there is plenty of gore left in the movie for the bad guys).
The other point of relevance is that the good doctor, when asked why he is helping a slave to rescue his wife, brings up the story as a reason: as a German, he says, he feels obliged to aid a hero trying to save his Brünhilde. (*insert sqealing part-German storyteller in the audience here*) In this form, the old story (and the telling thereof) plays a very direct role in the movie plot. Also highlights why stories are important and relevant and all the stuff storytellers work hard to remind people of.
Nice work, Mr. Tarantino.

Another nugget that I caught: at one point in the movie, the doctor compares Django to a "soaring eagle" that is superior to chicken. This is nice as it is, as a metaphor, but storytellers will know there is a story behind it, connected to flight and freedom: The Eagle who thought he was a chicken. I personally have heard it in the masterful telling of Antonio Rocha, and also the delightful adaptation of Brenda White Wright at the JC Umoja festival (complete with singing!). Both of them tell it with a much happier ending. Not many people will catch that reference, but it made me smile all the same.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A very Catholic movie

So, talking about the Advent dinner: the fabulous Cathy Jo and I combined two very important and festive things into one evening:
1. Education about Catholic holidays, and
2. Education about Hungarian Christmas

Since I am in the process of being educated in American Chrismtas through full immersion - I watched the entire Muppet Christmas Carol, and White Christmas on the big screen! - I thought it was time to show people a glipmse at Hungarian Christmas TV programs. Most of our holiday movies come from the USA, so nothing really intriguing there, but I did manage to find a movie that plays every single Christmas on TV, and it has never been released in America. I think I have figured out why.

The movie is called State buoni se potete (Be good if you can) and it is about the life of St. Philip Neri in the Rome of the 1500's. It is a very Catholic movie. There are tempting devils being burned by holy water, and an entire entourage of contemporary saints e.g. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the stern yet cuddly founder of the Inquisition. Don Filippo is raising a horde of orphan children in an abandoned church, and is pretty much the most awesome saint you can watch movies about when you are 5 (minus the trauma of the burning devils). He even plays soccer.
Adding to the entertainment factor of the movie was the fact that the English subtitles were the courtesy of Google Translate from the Hungarian original (or at least that was my best guess since it contained random sentence fragments like "Crosstown Pálinka!"). It was like watching a train wreck meet a Chinese user's manual, and it was all kinds of hilarious.
The reason why this movie probably never made it to America (apart from the whole Catholic thing) is probably the fact that the devil is played by a "Moorish" woman, and that Don Filippo cheerfully smacks kids upside thet head when they misbehave. Granted, it was made in 1984, and nobody sues anybody in Italy/Hungary for stuff like that anyway.

Also, the movie comes with a very catchy title song that gets stuck in your ear for days. You are welcome.

Hungarian Christmas dish from Georgia

As in, Georgia the country. Okay, so there is really nothing Hungarian about this dish, except that I love it and I decided it was festive (not to mention easy) enough to be featured at our storytelling Advent dinner last night. Then again, my family's traditional Chrismas dish is Chinese soy beef that my father makes, so if you expect paprika and goulash from me, I am really sorry to diappoint you.

Anyhow, here is the recipe.

Georgian turkey breast (for 6 people, if some of those people are guys, otherwise you shall have leftovers)

3 lbs of turneky breast
Half a pound of butter
Curly parsley
1 box of cream (second to smallest box)
2 cans of corn
2 cans of baby mushrooms (whole)
1 can of baby carrots

First you chop the turkey into small pieces. (If you have a roommate at hand who used to work in a butcher shop, leave the chopping up to her.)
Then you melt the butter in a big pot (this is a one pot dish) and when it is melted, toss the meat into the pot. Stir carefully until the meat is starting to get golden brown in small patches and it is thoroughly cooked (the butter should be all gone but if you used too much like I did, you can take some out with a spoon). If it burned down too badly on the bottom of the pot, move the salvageable meat into a new pot. (Not like I had that problem, personally, but it could happen).
Once the meat is golden and smells awesome, pour the vegetables into the pot. Stir carefully (don't break the baby carrots!) and add half a teaspoon of nutmeg, a pinch of pepper and salt. Let it start boiling again. When it is hot, pour the cream into it and stir again, add the parsley. Once the cream warmed up to the rest of the dish, you can turn the stove off. Yay!

Serve it with rice. If you made way too much rice, plan on making stir fry tomorrow.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

MythOff USA - This is how it went down

Organizing a MythOff in a little under two weeks' time was definitely challenging, but a lot of fun. The usual thing happened: by the time we survived the Halloween season, Tellabration was almost upon us, and we decided it was the perfect time to schedule the second playful battle of mythologies in the entire United States.
Cathy Jo Janssen, my fabulous roommate and partner in crime, quickly became the heart and soul of the operation. We enlisted six storytellers from the ETSU program, many of whom had already participated in our forst MythOff, or at least listened ot us endlessly talking about it.
The first step was to decide who is telling what. For this reason we organized a house party where all the tellers were invited (in the meantime, our numbers grew to eight). We prepared three drawing hats for the party: first, every teller drew a mythology; the second drawing decided the pairs of who is going up against who; and from the final hat the pairs selected their common theme. With all of that done, it was time to prepare our stories.
While the storytellers were busy researching, crafting and rehearsing, Cathy and I took care of promotion. We invited people through the MythOff Facebook site, and Cathy designed posters that feature Loki, and put them up all around town. This latter campaign ran into some promblems since some good-hearted Tennessee citizens expressed concerns that the posters featured the Devil, bless their heart, but there was always a Marvel nerd nearby when we needed them to correct the mistake.
The biggest win of the MythOff project was the venue, and once again, we have Cathy to thank for that. She managed to coax the staff of Capone's, a very nice old bar downtown, to give us the Vault for free. The Vault is the back room of the bar with a unique 19th century feel to it, dim lights, mirrors, a bar, and a small stage in the corner. As perfect as a storytelling venue is ever going to get. The staff of Capone's was good sport, and they did not only provide a lovely bartender for the evening, but also sent us bouncers, and set up the whole sound system.

The evening of Tellabration (November 17) we all gathered in the Vault, ready to rock the world of myth. We had about twenty people in the audience, but is was a very enthusiastic crowd. Cathy Jo was dressed in peach colored sheets and golden heels, representing the world of Greek and Roman mythology, since nobody drew that one from the hat - she was the hostess of the event, the Tenth Muse of Storytelling.
And, without further ado, here is the set list of the second MythOff USA:

Round 1: Love
In the Egyptian corner: Gini Richards, with the story of Isis and Osiris
In the East African corner: Carolina Quiroga, with the tale of Solomon and the Queen of Saba
Both ladies were excellent in their telling, blending humor with emotion, and the music of words with vivid images. The winner was a very close call in the end.
After the stories were told, Cathy revealed to the audience the prize they had to assign: the Wings of Love, in the form of a tiny pegasus that she had covered in glitter (together with half our kitchen). This fabulous prize went to Carolina, who combined her telling of the love of equals with a Bob Marley song.

Round 2: Magical objects
In the Inca corner: Patrick Gerard, telling the myth of Manco Capac and the golden staff, the latter being represented by an actual golden staff he used a prop
In the Mesopotamian corner: Joshua Sellers, telling the myth of Anzu and the Tablets of Destiny

This round was all the more exciting because outside the Vault, on the main stage of Capone's, a rock band was doing sound check. Good thing it was two guys competing: Patrick simply boomed his way through his story, which just made the telling all the more epic, and Joshua, being a theater person, had no poblem projecting his voice and his energy all over the audience. The prize, the Glowing Magic Wand of the Most Convenient Use of a Magical Item, went to Joshua. I was really impressed by his telling; it was powerful, well crafted, and contained a very exciting fight scene.

Round 3: Warrior Women
In the Norse corner: Paul Herrin, with the story of Helvör and her magic sword
In the Persian corner: Travis Wolven, with the legend of Gordafarid from the epic Shahnameh
One could not have chosen a better combination for this round. It was two guys, telling myths of warrior women, and two mythologies that are really strong in that department.
Both performances were a treat in terms of excellent story choice. Paul told his with a lot of subtle humor, painting the personality of Helvör as badass as a berserker's daughter can ever be. Travis' telling of Gordafarid's fight was as exciting as an action movie, and highlighted the strength of the female hero in every possible way. Appropriately enough, the prize for this category was the Feminist Appreciation Prize, represented by a doll covered in glitter, and the audience decided the Persian tale deserved it the most.

Round 4: Tricksters
In the Japanese corner: Meg Zinky, with a story about a Kitsune lady
In the Thai corner: yours truly (Csenge Zalka), with a piece from the Thai epic Ramakien, about Hanuman's journey to Longka
I had endless fun preparing for this challenge. When I drew Indonesia and Tricksters, my first thought, naturally, was Mouse Deer... but Mouse Deer, epic as he is, is not really mythology. So I kept seaching, and came across the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Ramayana, with more monkeys in it. I spent the past week reading the English translation of the epic, and trying to cut a part of it down to ten minutes. I rehearsed in the shower - and I found out that apparently I take really long showers, because I ended up going overtime...
Meg, on the other hand, was spot on and perfect in her telling. She is an actress, and she owns the stage, and her storytelling was humorous, smart, and very eloquent. She also won everyone's heart with a service announcement to beware of kappas that suck your soul out through your anus.
The Price of Persuasion, for the most persuasive trickster, represented by a blue-and-white glittery flute, naturally went to the foxy lady.

We even had a door prize: when Cathy was putting up posters, the local comic book store was so enthusiastic about the event that they gave her a Loki comic, which, in the end of the night, went to our timekeeper, Brandon, because he was the only one whi put his name in the hat.

All in all, the MythOff was a success, and an endless amount of fun! Great stories told, great lessons learned, great performances all around, and a very enthusiastic, supportive audience. We are definitely doing it again. Next time we plan on having 6 tellers instead of 8 (hard to stick to the numbers though when everyone is so eager to tell), and give them 15 minutes instead of 10. There is a lot of stuff in mythology that has to be said and done.

Footnote: if you are interested in the MythOff format, feel free to ask! The Guardians of the Idea support the spreading of MythOff all over the globe! Let us know if you have questions, or if you would like to organize your own MythOff, and we will help you along the way!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Something old, something new, something Irish, something Clare

I was listening to Clare's CD today on my way to work. I downloaded the whole album from CDBaby when it first came out, and now that I am walking all over the place in the cheerfully freezing fall sunshine, it is the perfect time to listen to it. Again.

I have confessed before that I have a gigantic soft spot for Irish stories - almost as much as I have one for Clare. She was here last fall for the National Storytelling Festival, and took Jonesborough by storm. People still talk about her stories and her friendly smile (and her "gorgeous Irish accent", because this is America, and everyone around here is Irish :) The CD was recorded live during the festival, as one can see right in the title.
I love this fact about it. It does not only bring you the tales, it brings you the festival experience. Right at the beginning there is Dovie's wonderful introduction, and then there are the reactions from the audience, and the whole thing just feel a lot more alive than a studio recording could ever be.
Clare's stage performance translates really well into recording. The sound effects are all there, the humor comes through loud and clear (maybe I should stop listening to it on the street, because I either grin and giggle like an idiot, or jump at random times). The fact about Clare is, and one of the things I like the most in her storytelling, is that she loves all her stories with a passion that comes through even on a sound recording. She hand picks them, and nurtures them, and enjoys them with the playfulness of a child while sharing them with the wisdom of a crone.

The selection of tales is also full of treats. Some short but great stories like Half a Blanket, or the Legend of Knockgrafton mix in with the big ones, including my ever favorite, the birth of Oisin (if it wasn't for Clare, I still could not pronounce half the names in my favorite Irish tales, by the way, so extra points for that). Lively personalities, unique voices and strong emotions fill every track, and one finds herself walking through a mythic landscape guided by the voice of a trickster.

If you are thoroughly craving some Clare Murphy Irish magic by now, here is the link to her album. Have fun!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Storytellers undercover: I swear I am a folklorist!

Soooo. New Orleans. The week before Halloween. Voodoo Fest. 80-something degrees. Live music.
And the annual meeting of the American Folklore Society (of which I am a member since... two weeks ago?)

It was Dr. Sobol's brilliant idea to apply with a panel on gaming, popular culture, and storytelling to the AFS conference about the Continuity and Creativity of Culture. Our small but powerful team of undercover superheeeerhm, I mean, storytellers, consisted of Kevin Cordi (representing improv role-playing and creative drama), Patrick Gerard (representing storytelling in video games), and yours truly (representing traditional tabletop). Our panel was scheduled for 8am on Saturday, which, given that the hotel was a corner away from a Friday night on Bourbon Street, was less than ideal, but that did not break our momentum at all.

New Orleans, by the way, is a lot of fun. I have been there four years ago, visiting my friend, Angela, and I have been planning on going back ever since. When I was not sitting in a folklore panel, we were wandering around in the French Quarter, visiting touristy places, eating good food, and listening to good music.

When I was sitting in panels... well, that was actually a lot of fun too. For example, Milbre Burch and her husband presented an amazing two-hour panel on their project of interviewing 90 storytellers all around the USA, and gathering more than 200 hours of footage. They showed us snippets of this great project, and the familiar faces - Ray Hicks, Kathryn Windham, Dovie Thomason, Gioia Timpanelli, Olga Loya, and many others - were greeted with sighs and smiles and nods from the audience. They definitely had a lot of important things to say about stories and storytelling.

Kay Stone's presentation on the Grimm tales and their legacy was also fascinating. I have not heard Kay tell before, but Kevin drew my attention to her part in the program, and I was glad he did. Kay is a folklorist and a storyteller, and a great combination at that too! She told interesting variations of Grimm tales to illustrate her point: Japanese Hansel and Gretel, Native American Cinderella, original Snow White etc. It was as enjoyable as it was thought provoking, and especially appropriate for 2012. Grimm tales are in this year!

Another highlight of the event was the panel with the creators of Treme from HBO. If you have not seen that show yet, go home and watch it! It's a lot of fun, and one of the best shows I have seen since the Wire, which is no coincidence. I personally enjoyed the talk with the creators, writers and producers a lot more than if the actors had been there: it was interesting to get a glimpse of how such a story, in the broad and true sense of the word, is created by a team. Also, they were all very friendly, and fun to talk to.

All in all, my first folklore conference felt like a success. I have been to archaeology conferences before, and had my fair share of storytelling gatherings. Folklorists are generally less talkative and sharing than storytellers, but as we have seen, there are exceptions on both sides, and plenty of crossover between the fields.

Also. New Orleans. Nuff said.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The first Story Slam in Hungary!

Well, technically, the second. The first one was in September.
Now that we have had two, and the second one bigger and more successful than the first, we can officially announce that the story slam movement of Hungary has begun!

I am so incredibly excited about this I can't even put it to words. I am over here in the US of A, and yet, I get to be a part of another great moment in Hungarian storytelling history. Go figure.

Here is how we do the slams, for those of you who are interested in comparing notes:

1. Every month we have a theme (the first one was "bawdy", the second "antique", and next month it is going to be "twilight", no pun intended)

2. Every month we have a featured guest (first it was master storyteller Berecz András, next Dr. Németh György, everyone's favorite Classics professor who can fill an auditorium at 8am on a Monday)

3. First, the featured guest has 30-45 minutes to tell some stories and break the ice, while everyone else drinks and enjoys the show

4. Then, we draw names from a hat, or, in case we lack enough names, we mercilessly bully the audience until someone gets up to tell

5. Audience votes for the best at the end, and we pass a hat around for donations that become the winner's prize

6. Stories has to be personal and relatively true (although at this point our people need some training because this is a difficult concept for Hungarian storytellers to grasp, through non-storytellers got it just fine)

As I have said, personally I did not attend the slams (even though I am rapidly developing spontaneous teleportation skills, I'll keep you posted on my progress). I had to ask people over chat and Skype and Facebook to tell me about their experiences, and I have gathered a lot f second-hand knowledge and positive feedback. Despite all my worries and doubts, slams seem to appeal to Hungarian audiences just like they appeal to everyone else. Yay!

The success of the slam genre fascinates me, by the way. I can't quite put my finger on it. Is it the competition? Is it the setting? Is it the real life, uncensored personal stories? (the latter needs a nudge, we still have people showing up and telling folktales, but they at least show up, and tell, and that is what counts!) Whatever it is, people seem to like it, and we had folks in the audience who would not have shown up for traditional telling.

We hope to keep going with the slams, and make them a chain of events that leads up to the Holnemvolt Festival. The plan is to have a mini-slam during the weekend of the festival in April where the winners of the monthly slams can perform for everyone's fun. Traditional telling and personal stories will come together to make a more diverse, and, hopefully, more popular festival.

In the meantime, I will be sitting here once a month, waiting for the photos, videos and feedback to come in. I will keep you posted!

Monday, October 8, 2012

VIP - Very Inspired Person

I have known most of these people for years, and I still feel like a fan that has just crashed a VIP party.
On top of all the unforgettable stories, all the amazing moments, all the meetings and the conversations and the laughter, my favorite part of Jonesborough is still the after-festival party. When everyone has gone home and the tents are empty, the storytellers gather in a house on the hill for a last evening out of time before we have to return to reality.
Storytellers are wonderful people. And a lot of fun. Winding down after three days of non-stop performance work, that would be excuse enough to pull a Sleeping Beauty and not wake up for a week, they sit around the house sipping wine or beer, eating delicious food, and talking about... stuff. Contrary to popular belief, storytellers don't talk about stories all the time. Surprise! What we do talk about is everything else, and mostly, life in general. We talk about our journeys, our experiences, our families and friends and past moments and future plans. We talk about kings and cabbages and pets, and places we want to go. I mingle with a passion, walking from one group to another, picking up conversations that started this same time last year, and starting new ones that will last till the next spring. In the meantime, tellers gather on the porch, despite the chilly evening, and suddenly there is music everywhere, and whoever is not playing an instrument is stomping, clapping, snapping, or outright dancing on any clear flat surface. It feels like family.
Every time I have the privilege of spending an evening with a group of storytellers I rediscover why I would not do anything else in the world rather than tell stories for a living. You don't get this sense of community in any other art form. It lights up the map with small colorful dots, and every dot means a person that you know, a person who shared stories, and music, and wine with you, and when you see each other on the road, they will do it again. You learn more from these meetings than any amount of lecture or research.
Once again, it was quite the crazy blur of an evening, much like last year, much like anywhere else in the world where I have been. I was glad that I got to talk to people I have seen on the stage over the weekend, just to thank them for their stories and tell them they were amazing. Storytellers need to hear that as much as any other artist. Plus, secretly, I was very proud to be in their company.
Then, the next morning you wake up and you are back in the real world, with storytellers traveling the roads in all the directions of the wind. The Festival is over, for now. We'll see each other on the road.

Shining highlights

Despite the gloomy weather and the drip drip drip at the edge of the tents, the Festival marched on with unbreakable momentum. Thousands of people warmed the tents with sheer enthusiasm (and additional body heat). Here is a quick and completely subjective list of the highlights, round one.

Jay O'Callahan's Forged in the stars has been one of my favorites. NASA did right to commission him. He told his true stories with a passion, and chose just the right stories to tell. All through the performance I kept thinking about Helga, my ex-roomie and friend, who is studying Astronomy in Australia right now, and who used to do a "star stories" program with me back in Hungary. If I ever get a chance to work with her again, and get to create something 1% as awesome as Jay O'Callahan, I will be extremely pleased with myself.

Michael Harvey got on this list (on top of being a kickass storyteller) because of his story choice: I would endure cold rain and picking up tent garbage any time any day if I get to listen to a full-hour telling of Taliesin. Insert heart flutter here. Taliesin was one of the first stories I started telling as a completely green little storyteller, and I have a soft spot for it in my heart. Especially when someone has the time to do it justice. Michael has a great sense of humor, by the way. Just sayin'.

Hannah Harvey amazed me with the depth and breadth (see how I can spell 'breadth' at 11:30 at night!!!) of her telling. She put years of work into collectiong coal miner stories and crafting them into performance, and it shows; she took us on a journey on a road she knows well, and entertained us in her mischievous and at the same time deeply caring ways.

Alton Chung was another big favorite for me this year. His one-hour show, Life is the treasure, about Okinawa and its people during and after WWII, went to places where not many storytelling performances dare to go. It was dark, and shockingly real, and at the same time still uplifting, as it transcended the reality of war and told stories that stand the test of time. Alton puts on characters and faces like the demon is his ghost story, which is slightly unnerving to think about, but absolutely amazing to watch.

Gay Ducey's tribute to Kathryn Windham on Sunday morning floored me. I have only heard Kathryn once, five years ago, but I have heard so much about her, she has been constantly present in the background of my storytelling journey. Gay is an all-time favorite of mine. I loved the little story she told about Kathryn setting out on a quest one day to find a snake handler, because she had a sudden urge to have a conversation with one. I feel like that level of child-like curiosity and energy is something that should be a mandatory part of the curriculum.


Right now I am falling asleep on the keyboard. I'll be back with more shameless fangirl ranting bright and early tomorrow. Good night everyone!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A recipe for complete terror

1. A park with a creek, a gloomy old weeping willow, a pavilion lit with an eerie pink light, burning torches all around, bundled up bodies lying in heaps all around. Location, location, Jonesborough.

2. Kim Weitkamp. As a host, you evil minded people, not as an ingredient. We have always known Kim has a thing for the dark side, and on top of that, she is also a wonderful emcee who carries the storytellers on her palm as if they were incredibly rare, delicate treasures... that she likes to juggle.

3. Lyn Ford. Her girlish smile and sweet voice make any ghost story eerie by default. That she also weaves a masterful mystery is, naturally, a plus.

4. Beth Horner. She is as enthusiastic about the scary as she is about the funny. She takes both of them very seriously, and gets completely absorbed in them like a child playing with her favorite toy (notice the underage theme here? Can't help it, storytellers are young forever). She told the Austrian tale of the girl and the skull, which was also a bonus flavor for me, since I use that story to teach kids about bone structure. Gotta love putting the science in fiction.

5. Alton Chung. Nobody beats the Japanese in horror. Nobody. Alton froze the living daylights into everyone. I saw groups of five attempting to go to the porta potties together. I don't know if they ever made it.

6. Hannah Harvey. She is graceful, delicate, bubbly, and, as Kim put it, "one sick puppy". Both her Scottish ghost legend and her traditional Little Red version were as creepy as it gets - take the former with murder and a smiling ghost chanting a cheerful curse, and latter with slightly sexual werewolves, grandma's intestines hung around the room, and Red drinking some blood. Nuff said.

7. Syd Lieberman. He is an experienced player in the field of horror, even though he reminds me of a Papa Smurf that you just want to hug forever. He told Beowulf today, a fitting ending for an awesome concert, and we got to see Papa Smurf in the torchlight roaring at the night sky, wrenching Grendel's arm from its socket with his bare hands. It was slightly disturbing, and thoroughly awesome.

I (together with about a thousand other people) am sleeping with the lights on tonight.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Unchained, uncensored, unbelievable

Sooo, guess what?
No, Christmas didn't come early. Christmas is right where it should be.
What did come to campus today, however, was the UNCHAINED TOUR!

Ever since we first got word that they were going to stop in Johnson City, the event has mostly been known as "NEIL GAIMAN IS COMING TO CAMPUS!" with some "I LOVE THE MOTH!" thrown in in-between fangirl sqeals. There was great excitement all over ETSU, especially in the immediate area of the nerd table, and storytellers for once were not the only people hyped about an afternoon of personal storytelling. Some would call it the magic of the Moth, but the way I see it, 'magic' is not quite the right word for this. I'd rather go with 'rock and roll'.

As the hosts to this amazingly colorful event, my roommate and me got to be of help backstage: we were in charge of guiding the group of raconteurs to the university cafeteria for lunch before the show. Here is one thing I absolutely love about storytellers: they are nice people! We talked about stuff, we laughed, we strolled around the Culp center to avoid the excited crowds. In the cafeteria we got to watch Neil Gaiman wander around getting food, and people walking past him not having a clue who he was (mostly because all the people on campus who did were already downstairs, standing in a long line). It was strangely entertaining to watch.

There was something about the whole experience that just made us all giddy on the inside. Storytelling is not usually the art form where you get the hyped up, busy, crowd-drawing tour experience, so it was a lot of fun to be a tiny part of the buzz.
I have met Peter Aguero before, he is largely responsible for the Brooklyn Moth experience being a memorable highlight of my winter break, and is an all around loveable guy, who gives amazing bear hugs.
And, of course, Neil Gaiman. The first book of his I ever read was American Gods, waiting in line for the interview that got me the scholarship to come to the USA. Since then, I have read pretty much everything he wrote, sharing the joy of reading with my roommates, friends, and family. This is the first time I have ever met a favorite author of mine in person. And I totally did it without sqealing! I am so proud of myself. He is a very kind and pleasant guy who had a nice word for everyone, and stood the rush of fans with a genuine smile on his face.

The show itself was the best of the best. The Unchained Band did some amazing music (and musical timekeeping). Dawn Fraser told us about her experience of "pretending to be white pretending to be black" with wit and honesty, and I totally spent half of her story trying to guess if the dog with the dreadlocks was a puli. I have never heard her before, but she charmed me too with the rest of the audience.
Peter, as always, was a wonderful host. Friendly, funny, sharp, never hesitant to embarrass people in the audience, but never hurting anyone. His story of how he met his wife was so heart warming it restored all my faith in happy endings. The fact that it was a true story made it even better. Who needs chick flicks when you can have raconteurs?
Neil Gaiman was the third (and last) teller in the set. He was wide open from the moment he walked on stage. He talked about his marriage, his dating life, and most of all the big white dog he rescued that had been chained for the first three years of its life. Anyone who rescues a big dirty dog and stuffs it in a mini has to be a great person. His story really drove the "unchained" part of the Unchained Tour home. It was about learning to live free, accepting the freedom to be happy, and things working out in the end. I like it when things work out in the end. Especially for dogs. And writers.

The show was followed by a workshop. While Neil was flooded by fans outside the hall the greatly diminished numbers of listeners gathered around the stage to hear, and ask, about personal storytelling. It was about the process of crafting stories, but it never got really technical; it was more about the basic ideas behind telling your own stories. They talked about the importance of emotional truth; Peter explained that your responsibility first and foremost is always to the story, and not trying to get a certain reaction from the audience. I think that was a very important thought and it should be on bumper stickers and storytelling degrees. Yes.
As part of the workshop, Cathy was chosen by luck (or telepathy) to tell a personal story of her own on stage and then discuss it with the raconteurs. My roomie is a star! She was charming, delightful, funny, and all-around a gorgeus storyteller. She is going to be famous one day and I am going to exploit her being my roommate like nobody's business.

The workshop only ended when the raconteurs were practically kicked and dragged off stage in order to make it to their other show tonight. We exchanged hasty hugs and thanks and goodbyes, and wished them all the best for the road. Only when we left did we realize we didn't even remember to get our books signed by Neil.

But we got something a lot better! We got the full Unchained experience. And bear hugs.
And now I'm going to go back, read this post, and weed out every second 'awesome' and 'amazing' I find in it. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Breaking New Blog

I have gone and done it again.

This new blog is about spotting old stories, motifs and story types in modern disguises (movies, books, music etc.) I am having fun spotting storytelling opportunities in things that are popular with the people I tell to :)

If you are curious, check it out!

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.

Tuesday, August 7, 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
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
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
Wandering is not about never having a home
it is about having a home everywhere
even in Camelot
“See you on the road”

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Being Kristin Pedemonti

The first time I met Kristin (two whole weeks ago), she was standing in the Marriott lobby at the National Storytelling Conference with a FREE HUGS sign and a big smile on her face. Because storytellers need hugs too.

Later on, she drove back to Johnson City from Cincinnati with us, and I had some time to talk to her. Talk being the operative word: when you are in one space with Kristin, you. Will. Talk. A lot.
She is not only entertaining and intriguing to listen to, but she also has the uncanny ability to strike up conversations with anyone and everyone she meets, and draw out of people whatever interestig things they have to say. It's fascinating to watch, and fun to be a part of.

Kristin does a lot of things as a storyteller. She travels all over the world (my kind of person!), she teaches literacy through storytelling, she performs and shares and educates. She works with bullying issues through storytelling, and what I especially like about her approach is that she does not only focus on the victims - she also works with the bullies, trying to understand why they do what they do. Because "hurt people hurt people".

Kristin also has a literacy project going in Belize where she collects indigenous stories and helps teachers use them in the classrooms. She has a gorgeous collection of Belize folktales, and a mission that should be known to every educator and storyteller on the planet.

She also brings joy wherever she goes, and even though that sounds as a cliché, it is absolutely true. She carries bubbles all the time and teaches us the power of blowing bubbles and laughing about it. She has a bigwheel in her car and you can borrow it any time if you feel like riding a bigwheel down a slope.

Kristin only knew me for a week when she showed up for my thesis defense, and sat through the whole thing with a radiant smile, making me feel confident and comfortable at the same time. And she brought bubbles.

And, most of all, Kristin talks. (Have I mentioned that before?) And to show you how amazing she is at it, here is her TED talk:


I want to ask you all to take the time, watch her video, and then go on the TED website here and like/comment on it.

Let's put an amazing storyteller in TED2013!!!

Also, let's blow some bubbles.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mythoff in the USA!

Mythoff was created in 2011 by a small yet amazing group of European storytellers. It is a creative storytelling competition that features myths and mythologies. Sounds fun, right? We thought so, so we asked the all-powerful Creators of Mythoff for the life-giving spark to light our own little fire, and our wish was granted. And thus, on this very day, in Johnson City, TN, the first Mythoff in the USA was held.

A small but enthusiastic audience and even more enthusiastic storytellers gathered in Misty's Blues and Jazz Bar in downtown Johnson City to share an evening filled with myths and magic. We had six tellers battling it out in three round/duels/categories with three distinct themes. Incidentally, all three of them also came down to a guy vs girl fight, which made them all the more fun.
So here is our list of Mythoff warriors:

Round 1: Love Without Tragedy
Greek mythology: Joshua Sellers, presenting the touching and heart-warming tale of Philemon and Baucis.
Roman mythology: Csenge Zalka (yours truly), presenting the original Roman myth of Pomona and Vertumnus.
These two actually went better together than against each other, since they had a lot in common. Both of us have been carrying these stories for a very long time; for me, Pomona and Vertumnus have been followingme around sine high school, I was happy I got to tell the tale again.

Round 2: Battle of Wits (originally work-titled "When in doubt, flash someone")
Egyptian mythology: Joel Richards, telling the story of Ra, Sekhmet, and the creation of beer. We took a beer break after this one and frequented the bar.
Maori mythology: Danielle Bellone, telling the tale of the Women and the Whale. She did not flash anyone. We had children in the audience.
Joel's amazing voice and commanding god-like telling style countered by Danielle's feminine moves; we went from women murdering people to... well, women tricking people. Very different parts of the world, very different stories; a whole lot of mythology to go around.

Round 3: Inherited Evil (originally work-titled "Bad Genes")
Irish mythology: Dr. Joseph Sobol, entertaining us with the story of Lugh and his fight against Balor of the Evil Eye.
Norse mythology: Cathy Jo Janssen, wiping us off our feet with an amazing telling of the Binding of Fenrir.
Both stories very excellently told. I could see the Scion gamers in the back going bright-eyes and bushy-tailed over Lugh (and who wouldn't, really), and we laughed till we cried from Cathy's sassy telling of Loki and his offspring. That's a very actual topic anyway, thanks to the Avengers. We can't hate Loki can we.

We had immense fun with all of this. We drank beer, mingled between stories, laughed a whole lot; the stories, even though they were well-told myths, did have a slam quality about them with a whole series of very nerdy mythology jokes, and we liked them that way. In the end, we collected donations, but we gave all the money to Misty's for hosting our little gathering. The audience voted on their favorite tellers, even though it was not easy to decide; in the end, Love Without Tragedy went to the Romans, Inherited Evil was swiped up by the Norse, and the Battle of Wits came to a tie, which will be battled out by Ms. Bellone and Mr. Richards sometime in the next Mythoff.
Because we will have a next one, oh we will.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An Ocean of Stories - Guadalajara 2012

"Things that make stories entertaining are cultural,
but things that make stories powerful are universal."
(Paraphrasing David Ambrose who said this in a lot more and much nicer words, as storytellers usually do)

First of all, I have to state up front that the Mysteries of Europe seminar in Guadalajara last week was one of the best organized storytelling events I have ever been to. When you are trying to herd dozens of storytellers from 30 different countries, with travel, and lodging, and food, and lectures, and performances, and translation, and interpretation, and wishes and worries and concerns and invoices and Certificates of Financial Residency in 20 different languages, you have your Work cut out for you, with a capital W. And the team of the Maratón de los Cuentos did such an excellent job it all worked like a well oiled machine, and they did it with smiles and kind words for everyone. As a festival organizer myself (on a much smaller scale) I understood what an incredible job they had done to make us all feel at home in Guadalajara.
And we did.

The seminar that ran parallel with the Maratón was titled Mysteries of Europe. What they meant by that was a mystery for everyone, which resulted in a wide variety of stories brought from the different storytelling traditions all around the continent. Even before the seminar started you could see groups of excited storytellers comapring notes in every corner, discussing their views on the meaning of 'mystery'. It was great fun.
In the end, everyone got a turn to tell their story on the stage of the seminar. All the stories were traditional, but they ranged from mythology to urban legend, from folktale to family memories. It felt so comfortable, so European, so natural, that I just sat back in my chair and allowed the stories to carry me away. Most of them were either told in English or in Spanish (with simultaneous interpretation to Spanish or English in neat little headphones we could borrow), but some were done in the original language, and there were subtitles to be read on a screen.
The organizers dealt excellently with the issue of languages and translation. Storytellers are generally good at that too - we communicated in all the languages we knew, sometimes all of them at once, and by the end of the week, even in the ones we did not know. Hearing the original lagnuages of stories was great fun, especially with Maltese or Lithuanian or the dialect from Liechtenstein, that you don't hear as often as Spanish or French (very pretty languages by the way). Also, the stories were all fascinating, lively, and completely uncensored; we heard about Romanian vampires (and they were not romantic at all), Norwegian trolls (and women who have their way with them), Greek fairies, Portuguese fauns, Maltese ghosts, Bulgarian warrior women, Taliesin, Aphrodite, the Flying Dutchman, and many, many, many more.

Between performances and sessions, we put the 'work' in 'networking'. We mingled. Storytellers are champion minglers. At any given time of the day you would see us in smaller or bigger groups, wandering the streets, having coffee (or beer), going to get lunch/dinner, sitting in the shade, wandering the fairy market in the palace gardens, admiring the illustrations on the walls, and talking, talking, talking. We compared stories, and languages; we talked about our festivals and our experiences with festivals; we discussed the past, present and future of storytelling in our countries, in Europe, and all over the world. You could see all the combinations you can think of with 30 storytellers; we circulated and spent some time talking to everyone else. We made new friends and acquaintances, we exchanged knowledge, sources, and tales - and we all argeed we should be doing this more often.

The Maratón was just as amazing as last year (and probably all the years before, but I can only compare it to last year since I was there). Hundreds, probably thousands of people, all through the 46 hours of the marathon, college students, children, families, it seemed like everyone in Guadalajara came to listen to stories (and tell!). The illustrators are still the best you can find; I completely fell in love with Spanish book art, they have so many beautiful and adorable picture books I didn't even know which ones to buy. Talking about books, they also have a publishing company for storytellers, and I bought some of their books too, among them a collection of Berber folktales told by women, for my further research into that tradition. So many treasures...

I will probably be writing more about this week soon and in more detail. For now, I just wanted to write a post to sum up the awesomeness so I can sit down nd catch up on more boring stuff. Check back later for more!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Snow White and her many colors

So, I just watched Snow White and the Huntsman, and instead of writing another movie review that might end up being either overly cynical or overly enthusiastic (Thor and Hawkeye were awesome! But where is the rest of the Avengers?)... khm, aaaanyhow, from a storyteller's perspective, I just couldn't help but muse about how popular Snow White has been recently. If Fables is indeed right about fairy tale characters being stronger the more loved they are, at this point you could run the lady over with an eighteen wheeler truck and she would pop back up with not a single strand of raven black hair out of place.

So, on that note, let's take a look at some of Miss White's more recent appearances, completely based on my personal preference as a professional neerrrrrdImean, storyteller.

Snow White and the Huntsman
It seems like suddenly everyone is very occupied with making Snow White an active heroine as opposed to a passive princess in need of saving. I can get behind that. I am all for telling kids (not just girls, mind you) that the princess can be a hero of her own merit. Charlize Theron was an amazing evil queen, and her character got some depth through a few seconds of very Jungian backstory. With that said and done, the movie was a rather entertaining patchwork of other movies, scene by scene pieced together from Willow, Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, and the Hunger Games. At several points the tale was taken painfully literally, while at others is strayed into high fantasy.
Pros: Thor and the badass archer prince. Cons: Kirsten Stewart was Snow Blank, as usual.
Storyteller's note: Next time, leave Disney OUT of the Grimm world. No one needs critters when you have blood magic.

Mirror Mirror
Same idea, different execution, although the only thing I have to go on is the trailer at this point. This one adds a deal of (questionable) humor to the tale, taking the whole thing into the realm of what storytellers call "fractured fairy tales". No one seems to bother wearing actual warm clothes in knee deep snow in this one either, but I guess if you name is Snow White, you are immune to cold (I am starting to theorize she is a secret Jotun and Loki's half-sister). Again, yay for active princesses.
Pros: Doesn't even pretend to be serious. Cons: Doesn't even pretend to be serious.
Storyteller's note: I want to see a version where the dwarves are not actual dwarves (and the comic relief). There are many versions where Snow White is taken in by bandits and other questionable characters. Try it sometime. I did. It works. Kids love it.

Once Upon a Time
Even though in my eyes it failed really hard as a TV show, one of the actually enjoyable moments of Once Upon a Time was Snow White's backstory. Apart from the fact that I really like Ginnifer Goodwin as an actress (and the Prince was cute too), they managed to make the backstory meaningful and sweet, and nothing more but a nice likable fairy tale. With, once again, an active heroine in the focus.
Pros: Snow White is actually a likable character! Cons: The rest of the show pretty much sucks.
Storyteller's note: Bonus points for mentioning that the characters had a life AFTER they got married. Also some moments of the modern world adaptation of the theme.

Sydney White
An ultimate guilty pleasure, I am woman enough to admit that I like this one. Actually, if you are going to fracture a fairy tale, fracture it right. The whole "Snow White and the Seven Dorks" thing is a lot of fun to watch especially if you have been through and American college, and the plus side is, the dorks are not changed into mindless pretty boys in the end like in so many makover movies. We like them that way.
Pros: A bit of mindless entertainment. Cute. Cons: Don't expect anything deep.
Storyteller's note: A good example of a fairy tale fractured right. It doesn't take the whole story very seriously, but plays around a lot with the original symbols. Also unintentionally brings up an interesting idea of what being a "snow white" can mean in modern everyday life. I like stuff like that.

Fables (Vertigo)
Whoever is not familiar with this one: stand up now, march to the nearest bookstore, and buy it. Go. I am watching you. I am not even kidding. Now!
Pros: Everything. Cons: THEY ARE NOT PUBLISHING IT FAST ENOUGH!!! (fortunately, still ongoing)
Storyteller's note: This is what Once Upon a Time should have been. Tradition meets the modern version of most of your favorite fairy tales and folktales, and then some obscure ones as well (I like to see those as Easter eggs for professional storytellers). Entertaining, creative, exciting, dark, amazing, modern. As a storyteller, I love to see re-imagined fairy tales done RIGHT. Most of it is knowing your sources, and treating them with some serious respect.

Snow, Glass, Apples (Neil Gaiman)
Neil Gaiman's short story is, of course, a classic, and a very interesting take on the original story. It also gives Kirsten Stewart playing Snow White a whole new meaning.
Pros: Neil Gaiman. Cons: Not as well known as it should be.
Storyteller's note: Apart from great writing, which can be expected from Neil Gaiman, it is also a genius idea that fits the original story very well. With the current popularity of "the topic" it cannot be advertised enough, in my opinion.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Road movie, with storytellers!

If you look at the map of the USA, Tennessee and Alabama seem to be really close together. Practically neighbors. This still confuses me, especially when it turns out it takes an all-night drive to get from one to the other.
But it was so worth it.

Some of us in the Storytelling program decided we would take a weekend off and go to the Front Porch Storytelling Festival in Florence, Alabama. We carpooled, four of us together; we left at 10pm Thursday night to be there Friday morning, bright and early and sleep deprived. We slept in the car in a nice friendly neighborhood in someone's driveway from 3am to 5am, and then we went to a diner to get pancakes and French toast for breakfast. We walked a bit by the river, and then drove to the UNA campus, where we marveled at the lions they keep in a cage (excuse me, habitat), and wondered why ETSU does not keep hypothermic priates in a cage too. The campus, by the way, is absolutely gorgeous, and makes me want to go to college all over again, even in my current thesis-craze.
First thing in the morning we joined a communication class where Andy Offutt Irwin was invited to talk to students about storytelling. He did so, with a lot of music, and humor, and games, and rolling up and down the podium on a chair, and all-around Andyness that everyone loves. The students were immensely entertained; however, for some inexplicable reason, they did not join us when we moved over to the open-air stage for the day's dose of storytelling. It was not the prices (5 bucks per day? come on!) or the lineup (best tellers of the country), and at that point, we jus tran out of guesses, and lay down in the grass to enjoy the show. And we did that for the next two days.

The festival was a lot of fun. The weather was great, a little bit too hot, so the second day we went inside to the theater; but other than that, there was nothing else that needed to be done but to sit or lie in the grass and listen to stories. A lot of stories. The festival featured Andy, Dolores Hydock, Donald Davis, Syd Lieberman, and Bill Lepp (see? told ya!). The whole weeked was filled with their very amazing personal stories. We noticed by the end of the second day that every concert started with "when I was a kid...", which gave the whole event a nostalgic feeling (and a lot of references kids like us could not understand, but since most of the audience was old enough to be our grandparents, they always got the joke). Andy and Bill were hilariously funny, and I finally got to hear enough of Bill to see what people like about him so much. I preferred his personal stories to his tall tales, though, they were adorable.
Syd saved the festival from being labeled (by me) as "100% traditional story-free" when he told Beowulf at his ghost story concert Saturday evening. By this time there were a lot less people, but we stayed until the show was over, and talked with the tellers, and had a great time discussing the today and tomorrow of storytelling as an art form. All these storytellers are not only great on stage, but also wonderful people you just want to put in your pocket and take home with you.

Sunday morning we went to an arts fair in Florence, and bought trinkets and jewelry, and spent more than an hour happily poking around in tents filled with colorful, unique, shiny things. Then, we started the long way home, this time during the day, filled with green hills and mountains, and a lot of music, and the cow game, and everything fun that can happen on a road trip.

Next time you take a road trip, make sure you take a storyteller with you. Or four.

Lady Megan and the Groundhogs

Okay, so I have been out of the loop for a while, I'm just going to blame it all on the thesis (two more weeks to go!), and move on. Since there is a lot I need to write about, I will start with the most recent event, and work my way backwards. Yes. That should work.

So, this Saturday I once again bullied and bribed my friend Danielle into going to Jonesborough to see the Teller in Residence (well, to tell the truth, she did not need much bullying). This week's menu consisted of Megan Hicks, whom I have heard at last year's festival and I was completely enchanted; I have been looking forward to hearing her again ever since then. When we arrived, she was already on the stage, folding colorful paper (check out her homepage, she does origami, the really cool kind!) and visiting with her audience. I like tellers who do that. Instead of just magically appearing on the stage in a puff of smoke, they actually walk in, say hello, talk to us, and then go on into storytelling as people we already know. It makes me feel very comfortable and open to their stories.

And we got so lucky! This has been a trend, somehow I always manage to show up for storytelling when tellers do my favorite stories. Megan told the Dancing Princesses, which has been one of my favorites ever since I was a kid (I tell the Hungarian version of it). And the luck did not run out there, she did a whole fairy tale show, which made my world balance out entirely, I have been craving some fairy tales for months now (they have been hard to come by lately). She did Davy and the Devil, which I heard from her at the festival, and I have been sitting with my fingers crossed hoping I'd hear it again. Yesss! And to top all that, she also did one of her groundhog stories. I saw the CD she had at the festival, and I wondered how groundhogs figure into Grimm tales... and now I found out. Megan's traditional stories are delightful, but her fractured (groundhogged) Grimm tales are awesome! They are so adorable, I wanted to go and get myself a plushie groundhog right away to cuddle with. Instead, I got myself a CD. Even better.

Someone in the audience noted that Megan has a way of telling fairy tales without making the listeners feel like they are children. She owns her tales; she enjoys them, and knows them, inside and out, and that is what makes them suitable for adult audiences. Not to mention entertaining.

One more storyteller I will have to follow around like a puppy. The list is growing longer...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Finn Mac-very-Cool

I'll tell you up front: I'm not Irish. I am a lot of things but Irish. I am Hungarian, Moravian, Swabian and probably a couple of other things, but Irish is not one of them. And my hair is dark blonde not red. There, illusions shattered. Moving on.

Here comes the BUT.

BUT, I was telling Irish stories today anyway. Because high school just finished off Greek mythology, moved on to the Hero's Journey, and somebody had to tell them about the Fianna before that window of opportunity closes forever. We really should have a strike force of storytellers just for that.
The first class was mostly girls, the second was mostly guys, which made the gig all the more interesting. Of course one does not simply summarize the Fianna in one hour (oh gosh is anyone else picturing Sean Bean as Finn right now?... I am.). I had to cut right to the bare bones of the whole thing: Finn's birth and childhood, the (not)burning of Tara, the birth of Oisín, and Oisín's journey and return, up to St. Patrick. I was cutting details to keep the teenagers engaged, but I was also trying to present the general atmoshpere of Fianna stories, the heroes and characters, the best-of moments (Finn and Goll meeting, for example, has always been one of those for me). It took about 50-55 minutes each time to get through that much, and then I had 5 minutes left to tell them where they could read more Fianna stories, and why they should go read them right frakkin' now. They seemed genuinely interested. Any time a teenager displays an approving facial expression as a result of a story is a completey victory in the big book of high school education. Some of them were actually smiling.
It's usually the small clues like that that keep telling the storyteller that she's doing something right. Guys shushing each other. People who pretended to be asleep raising their heads and watching with intense curiosity at the most exciting parts of the story. Soft chuckling at humorous lines. Someone punching the air in victory when she walks in and sees the storyteller. People volunteering to come back for more stories.
I truly love telling in high school.

I know I have been fangirling over the Fianna every time I get, but I have to make a short side note here. We have been spending long hours in the storytelling program with discussing multicultural telling, cultural sensitivity, and all the issues with telling stories from cultures other than our own. It is always an interesting discussion, and a tricky one, and most of the time we just agree to disagree on most of these matters. Also, other countries and other cultures have other ideas about the same questions, which just makes everything all the more difficult.
The only thing I know is that I literally grew up with the Fianna. I can't evern remember when I read the stories for the first time, but they have been with me for the past twelve-fifteen years. I have read, re-read, re-re-read, told, and re-told them to friends, family and strangers; I have imagined them from beginning to end like a movie, I know all the characters inside and out. Telling them feels as natural as telling about my own childhood or the place where I grew up; and not only natural, but also kind of warm and fuzzy, especially when I get to share the stories with a bunch of laid-back high schoolers who are hearing them for the very first time. (And tomorrow I will have two more classes to do the same!) And let me tell you, these stories work. They work really well. They have everything this age group needs - adventure, epic fights, magic, romance, humor, and the occasional Irish saint. They like hearing them, I love telling them - it is a win for everybody.

How is that for a Hero's Journey.