Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Long traditional stories

The conference seems so long ago now. I've been home for over a week, and have had six more performances (with five more to go this week and then I'm DONE for almost the rest of the summer!).

One of the high points was hearing Megan Wells do her showcase of "Helen's Troy." Last March, another storyteller told me, "You have to hearMegan tell that story!" She was right. Megan's telling is graceful, elegant, compelling. "Crystalline" comes to mind, though that sounds cold, and it wasn't. It's a long traditional piece, cut down for this venue to 90 minutes. Megan has been telling it in theaters, with lighting, costume and sound, since it's hard to find a storytelling venue for these long stories.

I'd known that she tells other long traditional stories, because a few years ago Drew Gibson put on Epic Fest in Vermont, and Megan was one of the tellers. I heard about it after the fact, alas. Even before hearing about it, I'd been talking with Liz Warren from Arizona about our own long traditional stories (she tells "The Grail," I tell "Tristan and Iseult"). In our discussions, we've focused on traditional stories, the ones that have been around for hundreds of years, not personal or literary stories.

One thing we have learned is that these stories are deeply satisfying for the teller and the listeners. We get a chance to live in the story for longer, to go into story trance and come out the other side. Wouldn't it be great if there were more venues for this kind of profoundly nourishing story?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Lyceum performance

Last week at the National Storytelling Conference in Oklahoma City, I performed in the Lyceum (a.k.a. the Fringe). This was the first year of the Fringe Festival. Last fall, over 60 storytellers put their names in a lottery to tell a long performance piece at the conference. I'd been at the top of the waiting list for a couple of months, but when I left home on Wednesday, I figured I wouldn't be telling.

On Friday morning, I got word that the fellow who was supposed to be on at 7:00 p.m. had not yet shown up and hadn't registered. I was the next on the waiting list, so for the rest of the day, I wondered if I'd get to tell. Just in case, I had brought flyers for "Blood, guts, spies and fat naked ladies: the Bulgarian stories." I passed these around with the warning that I might not be on, if the fellow showed up.

I had planned to go to workshops in the afternoon, but decided to rest, soak in the hot tub, and work on my story. At around 5, I learned that registration was closed and the storyteller on the schedule still hadn't arrived (he has a reputation for showing up late). Since the Lyceum performers were required to be registered for the whole conference, it was clear I'd be performing.

Was I ready? I hoped so. I knew that the beginning and ending parts of the story were solid. I'd been telling them for years in performance. I had told the middle parts conversationally for years as well.

I've heard other tellers talk about how scary it is to tell to other storytellers. I didn't feel that. The audience was full of friends as well as folks I'd never met. Barbara Schutzgruber and Mary Hamilton, two of the organizers for this event, made me feel completely at ease. Before I began, I showed the assembled crowd a couple of my warm-ups. The good energy in the room was palpable.

When storytelling works, it can be like a dance with the listeners, each of us taking our steps at the perfect time. This story felt like that, even in the less polished parts. Aaah.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Time for a breath

Not much of a breath, but a little one. It has been a great summer so far, and today I had my 51st performance since June 1. Crazy! I'm going to try very hard not to schedule myself so tightly again. Need I say that I'm a little tired? Wired, too, which is why I'm writing this instead of sitting on my porch swing enjoying the summer evening. Today I had three performances, in Marysville, Clifton and Wamego, KS. I was gone from home for almost 11 hours, and drove more than 300 miles.

Never mind, it was a very fun day. Each library performance is slightly different, though the stories may be the same. Lately my dragon puppet Belle has been very kissy, giving me a smooch on the cheek when I'm least expecting it. In Marysville, one little boy demanded that she kiss me again. Shocking! She also ordered pizza on her "tail-a-phone" at all three performances. In Clifton, the kids had heard The ghost with the one black eye on my CD at the library, so they were happy to hear it again.

I hadn't quite realized what a large fan base I have in Wamego. This was the first time I'd told at the library, but I'd been to West Elementary three times, so kids knew me. They made very specific requests: "Where's the monkey puppet?" "Would you tell that story in another language?" (that was The ghost, which I did in Bulgarian for them, as they'd heard it in French at school) and "Tell The great sharp scissors!" Instead of complying with this last request, I told Rapunzel, which of course has it's own dramatic moment involving scissors.

I get the day off tomorrow. Well, not exactly. I have to do a bunch of office work, take the cat to the vet, and get ready to go to the National Storytelling Conference in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, but that's all in town. Tonight I'll sleep well.