Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Storytelling Cities: Return to the Story Marathon

After two weeks of rehearsals we said goodbye to Sigüenza, and on a Thursday we drove over to Guadalajara. We arrived around five in the afternoon, and didn't waste much time lazing around: we left our stuff at the hotel, and immediately headed to the theater for one last rehearsal. The Teatro Moderno is the venue for the featured stage performances during the Marathon; for these, people have to purchase separate tickets, and due to the popularity of the shows, and the 30 year history of the festival, they are almost always sold out.

While in Sigüenza we had a nice 27-28 degree weather the whole time, Guadalajara greeted us with scorching summer heat. The theater was a bit cooler. After rehearsal we headed to the city hall to meet the (very kind and friendly) Mayor, for the signing of the official founding document of the European Network of Storytelling Sites and Towns. It was an exciting, delightful moment.

After the formalities were done, we gathered on the terrace of a restaurant, having a drink before dinner. From there, we could see the open-air exhibit of all the posters of the past 30 Marathons (see the pictures above). This is where I finally felt like I have arrived: after ten years, I was in Guadalajara once again. It made me giddy.

Friday morning we had another rehearsal. Pepito wanted us to rehearse in the afternoon as well, but we gave him the puppy dog eyes until he gave us the rest of the day. At five, we went to the palace courtyard to witness the opening ceremonies. The Marathon was opened by the Mayor himself, who delivered a short speech, and then told a Ukrainian fairy tale. Entirely by heart, like a real storyteller (with the Ukrainian name of the hero written on his palm, just in case, which I think was adorable). It was the perfect opening. He was followed by various school groups on stage, equally lovely.

After a while, with the Marathon up and running, we walked out of the palace to browse books at the marketplace (yes, I bought quite a few). From there, we headed out to have a drink of lemonade, and then moved on to the courtyard of a local school for the evening "Unheard Storytellers" show, where new performers are introduced every year. It was Susana's idea, and it was a good one. Not only because we heard amazing storytellers (among them my personal favorite was Sandra Rossi), but also because most of the Marathon's tellers were in the audience, checking out the newcomers. The mood was friendly and familiar.

(Spanish organizations have left FEST a few years ago, and I have missed them sorely ever since. I loved meeting Spanish tellers at conferences, and I finally got the chance to hang out with them again. Guadalajara, during the Marathon, is home to us all: storytellers are walking the streets, sitting in the cafes, lingering in the doorways, always steeped in excited conversation. I love it.)

Saturday morning we had one very last rehearsal at the theater. After that, I had time to run to the bookstore and buy more books, and then we decided to sit in on the theater shows before our own. They were all full house, and they were totally worth it. My favorite was Eugenia Manzanera's performance, who was witty, funny, and entirely enchanting.

While the last (musical) show was happening on stage, we all moved backstage to get ready. We were excited and a bit nervous - but our performance went really well. The audience was lovely. No one can wish for a better audience than a full house in Guadalajara: they applaud, they cheer, they laugh, they sing along with us, they answer every question. While we were on stage, I kept thinking we should have put more interaction into our show. This would have been the perfect audience to play with.

Our show started at nine in the evening, and we left the theater around eleven, in a very good mood: laughing, singing, accepting many warm congratulations. And this was not the end of the day yet: after a lovely dinner at the library, we headed over to the palace once again, for nighttime storytelling on the Marathon's main stage. For me, this was the hardest part of the festival: I usually go to bed around 10pm. This time, I was on stage, telling in Spanish, at 2am. Now I know I can tell in Spanish even when I am half asleep... But it was worth it. The Guadalajara audience, even after midnight, was cheerful, friendly, and surprisingly alert. I loved playing with them.

After passing out late at night, we only had one last day to go. In the morning we gathered in a conference room in the palace for a round table discussion. The audience was made up of some very sleepy storytellers, but we have a lovely conversation about our experiences, the project, and storytelling in general. This was what closed the festival for us. Those of us who were not heading straight to the airport went back to bed in the afternoon. In the evening, we gathered one last time for dinner, drinks, and conversation.

It was incredible to be in Guadalajara once again, after ten years. It's one of my favorite storytelling festivals in the world. I immersed myself in stories, in the company of fellow storytellers, and the beauty of the Spanish language. I was absolutely privileged to participate in the performance project, and work with a great group of tellers under Pepito's direction. I was proud of the show we got to bring to the stage in Guadalajara. I hope I won't wait another ten years before returning...

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