Monday, October 31, 2016

Scary Story Festival at a haunted opera house, and other Halloween fun

This year I really managed to cherry-pick the best Halloween gigs.

It all started on Friday, when I participated in the Friday Folklore Tour at the Wood County Historical Museum in Bowling Green. The tour had several stops, all centered on creepy and eerie things, such as a Day of the Dead educational display, a haunted trail, the former asylum, a magician... and yours truly, who set up shop in the cemetery behind the museum. And by "set up shop" I mean I camped out all alone in a dark cemetery in the company of a lantern, some blankets, and a box of Halloween chocolates (because someone trusted me to be a responsible adult and not fish all the Reese's out) (I did not fish all the Reese's out).
Over the course of three hours, we had 9 tour groups passing through. I told one story to each of them; because I would have bored myself by repeating one of them over and over again, I ended up randomly rotating 5 different stories, depending on what I felt like telling, and who was in the audience. I told a Hungarian folktale about a brave princess and a haunted castle (our version of Mr. Fox) mostly when kids were around; one girl still stood with her hands over her ears until I promised her that there would be no jump scares in the story (I hate jump scares). One little boy told me that princesses were booooooring - but took it back at the end of the story. My favorite part was when I asked a group what happens to fairy tale princesses when they grow up - and one little girl immediately answered "They become queen!" Girl power.
Next to the magic castle, I also told Princess in the Coffin, and all-time favorite of mine, as well as the Burning of Tara (it's almost Samhain, after all), and the legend of Erzsébet Báthory. I also handed out candy (or rather, held the box out and let people take a handful, because I'm Hungarian and I don't know how to trick-or-treat). All in all, it was great fun, the cemetery setting was perfect, and the groups were all very appreciative. Someone even asked me about how they can become a storyteller...

The Halloween roll continued on Saturday, when I took a trip to Howell, MI to their tenth (!) annual Scary Story Festival. The event takes place in Howell's very own haunted opera house, which is a perfect setting for scary stories. They have a children's scary story show at 7, and then an adult one at 9. I only caught the end of the kids' show, but it looked like it was great fun.
The adult performance took place in the actual opera house (which was built in the 1880s, shut down in the 1920s, and functioned as the attic of the building for several decades). It was an amazing setting, all gloomy and mysterious, decorated with spiderwebs and candles. The floors creaked, the shadows stretched, and there was coffee, hot cider, and pastries available to make everything perfect.
And, of course, there was the lineup.
The show was opened by Robin Nott, who sung us the ballad of Resurrection Mary (a version of the Vanishing Hitchhiker), and then told a story about the ghost of a mother who returned from the grave to feed her child. Both were sufficiently eerie, and touching at the same time. Next, Leif Larsen told us his version of Grimm's Bearskin, set after the American Civil War (I really loved this twist on the tale). Yvonne Healy brought us a terrifying Irish tale of dark magic and revenge, and Jeff Doyle told a Kentucky ghost tale that sent shivers down our spine.
After a short break, Barbara Schutzgruber graced us with singing Childe's ballad of the dead lover (fittingly, the oldest known version of the Vanishing Hitchhiker), and then telling her amazing, rhyming and eloquent version of an English lullaby about a vain lady who turned into the first mole. I am always amazed by Barbara's elegant performances... it was a tough act to follow. I told next; I chose the Princess in the Coffin, since it is a fairly creepy story but also has some humor in it, and it is tons of fun to tell, especially in an eerie setting. The concert concluded with Steve Daut's twist on Rapunzel, with some very graphic and gory images about what could go wrong when one gets tangled in so much hair...

The festival was a superb experience, and a perfect place for some Halloween storytelling. I am happy that I got to be a part of it this year. We did not encounter Meredith, the opera house's resident ghost, but I am sure she was listening...

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