Monday, November 9, 2015

Epic-Lovers Unite!

This was the title of the house concert Cathryn organized for the two of us for the day after Epic Day - because you can never have enough epics! I have been working with her under the J.J. Reneaux mentorship grant, and this gave me a great occasion to present the first performance that resulted from our work - a piece from the Persian Book of Kings.
Cathryn's house concerts are famous, and rightly so. We had 28 people show up, buy tickets, and bring plenty of food for the occasion. The storytelling took place in the Great Room of the house, a cozy setting with couches, folding chairs, carpets, and mood lighting. The room was filled to capacity.
I told first. My piece was titled The demon's daughter and the white-haired prince, and I told the story of Zal and Rudabeh, from Zal's birth to Rostam's birth, in about 40 minutes. It was the first time, since I came across this story back in high school, that I got to tell the whole, unabridged version, with no rush and no reduction. We had an all-adult audience, so I could just present the story as it was, with all the emotional weight and the brilliant imagery. Since this is my all-time favorite love story, the whole experience was a reward in itself.
People seemed to enjoy it immensely. They were very vocal during the show, and after the end they had a lot of interesting questions. I especially enjoyed the Q&A because I got to talk about some of the background research I have done that did not make the final cut, but was essential to my understanding of the story. For example, I got to tell people about all the mountaineer blogs I sifted through for first-person accounts on climbing Mount Damavand.
I got quite a few very precious compliments. Apparently, I made someone cry; also, a lady told me that she would be a fan of epics if more of them would be told like this. But by far my favorite moment was one of the guests asking where she can find and read the original story. That is always a very honest compliment.

After a short break and some snacks, I got to settle down on the carpet with some lemonade and a pile of nectarines, and listen to Cathryn tell her piece. She told a 40-minute story from the Oguz epic Dede Korkut (an epic named after a storyteller, how cool is that?). It was enchanting. Cathryn tells with a lot of humor and a lot of empathy. In addition, she added songs to the story, based on Turkic melodies, and a call-and-response game that we all enjoyed immensely. The whole experience was exciting, funny, interactive, and all-around engaging.

It is very rare to get an audience that is willing and eager to sit through long traditional stories - or a venue that supports that kind of storytelling. I feel incredibly lucky and honored that I got to do this show with Cathryn, and share one of my all-time favorite stories with such a friendly and supportive audience.

Epic-Lovers Unite!

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