Sunday, July 8, 2018

"New trad" storytelling as inclusion: Danielle Bellone visits Budapest

I have mentioned my dear Danielle Bellone on this blog before multiple times - she even guest blogged here once. I met her in the ETSU Storytelling program, where she wrote her thesis on "new trad" (new traditional) storytelling. She has been doing performances and teaching workshops on the topic ever since, and this year, we finally found a way to invite her to Hungary! Her trip was supported by the US Embassy in Budapest, and her events were an official part of the 2018 programming of Budapest Pride. Next to the Pride programs, the embassy also took her as guest speaker to other venues (such as a girls' leadership camp). It had been a long time dream of mine to bring Danielle, and her unique style of storytelling, to Hungary, and it was amazing to see it become reality.

Danielle presented her workshop at the 2018 FEST conference in Ljubljana (I blogged about this earlier), and then spent a week in Budapest, full of events and adventures. On the 4th of July she performed her one-hour storytelling show titled Pulse and Other Queer Heartbeats on a theater stage, as part of the Pride event series. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous performance. She told "new trad" tales like Soli and Panna (a creation myth featuring two goddesses) and Omar and Wendell (a tale about a hero who has to battle anxiety before he battles the dragon); re-told traditional stories such as a poetic Cinderella, a tragic Daphne and Aeola, and a beautiful, vivid Lindworm; she sang, she soared, she enchanted us all. I have heard these stories many times before, but I can't get enough of them. I love Danielle's eloquence, and the care she has for choosing the right words to paint the most colorful images in the listener's mind. Hungarian audiences were lucky to get to hear her.

On Saturday (incidentally, the morning of the Budapest Pride parade) Danielle presented a three-hour workshop for people who were interested in delving deeper into "new trad" storytelling. Just to recap: "New trad" stories are built from the elements of traditional stories (motifs, tropes, symbols, structures of folktales and myths), created for oral telling, passed along freely into the public domain, and they usually fill gaps in tradition that older folktales did not talk about. Apart from the obvious (LGBTQ+ identities and experiences), participants in the workshop had a whole lot of other ideas as well, about what gaps we should address; the list grew long, and contained topics such as "female friendship," "older heroes," "alternative family models," and "climate change." We also discussed the concepts of cultural appropriation, representation, and the fact that folktales have many layers, and why representation of diverse characters is important even though on deeper psychological levels tales operate as symbols of the self.
In the last hour of the workshop participants could begin working on their own "new trad" stories in pairs. I have taken Danielle's workshop before, and it never ceases to amaze me how many great tales can be born in such a short time, and how easily, naturally people settle into making up stories. The results, once again, were marvelous. There was a tale about an old woman and a middle princess ending a magical drought together by descending into the Underworld; two princesses kidnapped by a dragon who rescued themselves together; a squirrel who wanted to be human, but did not want to choose between being a man or a woman; and even a hedgehog mother, locked into a dark den with her nuclear family, who found a way into the sunshine, and the supportive friendship of other mothers. We even made a lovely story about Pride - I'm sure you'll hear more about that one eventually...

Both events had a moderate audience, but a whole lot of overwhelming enthusiasm from those who did show up. I was extremely happy to begin spreading the word about "new trad" storytelling, and starting conversations among Hungarian tellers about how tradition can live on and change, while still honoring the stories of old. The week flew by in a flurry of excitement, adventures, and stories. I hope everyone else also had a lovely Pride month!

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