Saturday, October 15, 2016

A better way out: "New trad" storytelling workshop by Danielle Bellone

A year ago I hosted Danielle Bellone as a guest blogger, and she wrote a marvelous post about "new trad" storytelling. She is a dear friend of mine, and a former classmate from the ETSU Storytelling MA program. This year, the BGSU LGBT Resource Center featured her as a performer during Coming Out Weeks, and she brought her "new trad" tales and workshops to our campus. It was an amazing experience, and a perfect addition to the program. I took the workshop twice, and you can all be jealous of me now.

Danielle presented her workshop, "After happily: Using 'new trad' stories for celebrating diversity", twice this week - once for the LGBT+ community, and one for the general public. We talked about what makes storytelling important (since the participants were non-storytellers), and then discussed problems of cultural appropriation with traditional tales, as well as topics that are usually missing from folklore. Beyond LGBT+ representation, people also suggested topics such as male-female friendships, diverse body types, differently abled heroes, miscarriage, the Internet, and even student loan debt. Danielle then introduced to us the idea of "new trad" stories - tales that are made up, using symbols and tropes from traditional tales, to fill in these gaps in the oral tradition (see her post, linked above, for details). Her presentation was concise, on point, and very inspiring, not to mention spiced with a lot of humor and genuine conversation. Once we were armed with our newfound knowledge of "new trad", she allowed us to break out into smaller groups, pick a topic, and start crafting a tale. I was amazed at the ideas people came up with; everyone was bustling with creative energy, and instinctively reaching back to folklore to pick motifs and symbols to use. We left both workshops with the bones of stories I truly want to develop into performance. People were inspired and bubbly as they walked out.
(I am especially fond of our idea of telling the sad tale of student loan debt through the story of a school of magic, where students pay for spells by turning into statues for extended periods of time, serving as cup holders and balcony columns for wealthy wizards... until something terrible happens, and they are all needed to protect the kingdom).

Apart from the two workshops, as an illustration of "new trad" work, Danielle also brought us a performance titled "A better way out: An evening of queer storytelling." Every time I hear her, I am amazed at her artistic range: She weaves song, slam poetry, adaptations of traditional myths and folktales, and "new trad" stories, into a wonderful set that is full of color, and wonder, and her endless love for the flavor of words. My great favorite of the set was the "new trad" myth of Soli and Panna, two women in love creating the Universe. She used it as an example in the workshop, so I got to hear it three times in two days, and each time I found new gems in the way she worded it, and each time I loved it more. Danielle is the kind of person who, when listing animals in Creation, uses words like "pangolin" and "limpet" and "sugar glider" instead of plain old "tigers and elephants." Her prose is poetry, and her poetry is lively storytelling.

"New trad" storytelling is an emerging genre, and it is vital for oral tradition to keep moving forward. Danielle Bellone is blazing a trail with her work. Pay attention. Follow along. Be inspired.


  1. I'm a little unclear on this concept although I think I've read stories that might fit under this new-trad classification. My storytelling typically will revert to some extent on my Christian upbringing and belief system with an attempt not to be overbearing, but somewhat suggestive of a message that is on my mind in writing the story.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    1. One element of "new trad" is that it is oral tradition, and goes straight into the public domain. Literary fairy tales written by a specific author would not generally count as "new trad"

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