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!