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.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A to Z Reflections - My Storyteller's Alphabet

I had a very simple reason for joining the A to Z challenge: I thought it would be fun!
(Also, I tend to slack off on my English blog since I have a Hungarian one to write that keeps my fiends and family informed of what's happening to me. Well, technically, I have half a dozen different blogs, I just don't update all of them on a regular basis. Even with severe graphomania, one has to eat and sleep...)

I wish there were more challenges like A to Z. I liked the idea and how simple it was; I liked the motivation; I liked that I could hop around on other blogs and read them. A lot more people have visited my blog than ever before, and some of them even stayed to comment and follow! It was fun to wake up to new comments and messages every day. It may be called a "challenge", but I wish it could have lasted longer.

That's really all I have for reflections. But because I am still kind of in the A to Z mood, here is my completely subjective and temporary storyteller's alphabet. I might use this for next year. Or might find new stories by then.

Arthur is my King,
Babe is my Blue Ox,
Camilla is my Heroine,
Dinadan is my Jester,
Eithne is my Sister,
Finn MacCool is my Hero,
Gorlagon is my Werewolf,
Hiiaka is my Dancer,
Ilona is my Fairy Queen,
Joan is my Saint,
Kai is my Knight,
Loki is my Trickster,
Maleh is my Traveling Companion,
Nausikaa is my Princess,
Oisín is my Bard,
Pietro Baillardo is my Wizard,
Qantu is my Flower,
Ratatösk is my Squirrel,
Scathach is my Warrior Woman,
Tarva is my Storyteller,
Uilenspiegel is my Troublemaker,
Vertumnus is my Roman God,
Wagadu is my City,
Xuanzang is my Monk,
Yhi is my Sun,
Zal is my Prince.

See you all next year!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Z is for Zerzura

Phew! I almost dropped the challenge on the last day! I have been busy.
But, fortunately enough, part of what kept me busy starts with a Z. So, it all works out in the end.

Zerzura is a legendary lost oasis somewhere in the Sahara. It is one of the most famous lost cities in world literature, particularly because it is featured in one of the most amazing tales of the Arabian Nights.

But, let's tart from the top.

A year ago I was working as a screenwriter for an online game called Nadirim. My job was to take stories from the Arabian Nights and other related oral traditions, and turn them into parts of the game. Well, one of the stories that I have always found fascinating was the City of Brass - basically, it is the story of an expedition sent out by the Caliph of Damascus to hunt for djinn sealed into bottles by King Solomon. It is Indiana Jones meets Arabian Nights meets... well. Djinn. The expedition is lead by a soldier, a diplomat, and a sheik who is kind of an archaeologist, and they do end up finding the City of Brass, following an ancient book called the Book of Hidden Pearls. This text, by the way, actually exists, and have been used by countless treasure hunters in the past centuries for it contains descriptions of lost cities and hidden treasures all over North Africa. It mentions the oasis of Zerzura, or, the Oasis of Birds, that have been associated with the city in the Arabian Nights.

The story, however, does not stop here. The Hunt for Zerzura was a series of expeditions at the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries - German, British, French, everyone wanted to find it first. Among them, a Hungarian gentleman called Almásy László - generally known from the movie as "the English patient". He brought an airplabe into a car race, and enede up finding wadi Abd-el-Malik, one of the three wadis that form the rain oasis in the heart of the Gilf Kebir in southern Lybia - a rain oasis that appears and disappears according to rainfall, is on a bird migration route, and is also known as Zerzura.

I took the three stories - the book, the Arabian Nights, and Almásy's journal - and turned them into a full-hour storytelling show, titled The Book of Hidden Pearls. I have been telling the three parts separately, but did not have an opportunity to do the whole show on stage... until this weekend, when I had the honor of being invited to the Connecticut Storytelling Festival as a performer!

I was excited and nervous at the same time. I have worked a lot with this story, and it is one of my favorites ever; but it has a lot of details that need to be done just right, and one has to keep the timing, and... just, generally, a first full performance always feels like a jump in the deep end. The performance space was pretty, and comfortably small; we had a full house of about 30 or 40 people. I shared a 90 minute session with Bob Reiser, an amazing storyteller who started the show with his tale of the civil rights movement, and was a very tough act to follow!

Finally, it was my turn to tell the tale of Zerzura. At this point the smiling faces and the atmosphere of the festival had dissolved my nervousness, and I was able to just sit down, look my listeners in the eye, and tell my story with the "you are all gonna love this because this story is awesome!" attitude. That is one of the many reasons why I only tell stories I absolutely love: they give you a sense of "I must share this with you!" and the enthusiasm takes care of the rest. The telling went really well, I certainly enjoyed every moment of it, and in the end, people stood up and applauded. And what made this experience even better, I kept getting questions from people all day later on about Zerzura, and the City of Brass, and Almásy, and all in all, how much of it was actually true? I enjoyed these conversations immensely, and was happy that I could share a glimpse into a different culture, a different time, and a different dream.

I really need to turn this into a book right now.

In the meantime, happy A to Z to everyone!!! It has been a lot of fun blogging with you, see you all next year!
Next stop: More posts about the CT festival. Yay!