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.