Friday, February 17, 2006

The old question: what to call it

The love story concert brings up the old question: if I called my performances for adults something other than storytelling, would people actually come? The term "storytelling" makes the general public assume it will be a) boring or b) for children or c) not a sophisticated artform and therefore kind of embarrassing to watch or d) too homespun--maybe they think it will be somebody in a gingham dress sitting on a rocking chair, talking in a vaguely hillbilly style. In case you wondered, I don't even vaguely resemble this last one.

I'm happy that I had an audience. There were even some folks I didn't know. Around 35 people showed up on a weeknight in a town where there's often too much going on. Still, there was a great piece in the newspaper on Sunday, I was listed in calendars in other papers, I sent e-mails to my mailing list, I put signs up all over town, and I asked my friends to tell their friends. It seemed as if I'd have a bigger crowd. The people who came were very positive about the experience, so I don't think it's a matter of my delivery. The term "storytelling" just doesn't sound very compelling.

This morning I was talking with a friend about this. She was at the performance and has heard me in many venues over the years. She's a great supporter. We decided that if I called it something else, maybe people would attend. Monologist? Gack! Even though my second cousin Helen Howe called herself this, I can't stomach it. Public speaker? Even worse, sounds like I'm giving a lecture on some embarrassing physical problem. Spoken word artist? Nah. Performance artist? I don't think so.

I think I'll try doing my show Blood, guts, spies and fat naked ladies in the fall, and I'll bill it as a one-woman show.

I'll let you know how it works.

The love story concert

I'm just emerging from the fog of telling love stories on Valentine's Day. It was a friendly crowd (how could it not be?), with a mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces in the audience. The hall I rented is a former train depot, and the trains still pass by quite frequently--reports from the listeners were that my sound system was good enough to overcome the rumble and roar.

It was fun to tell this particular mix of stories: a personal piece about some bad blind dates, another based loosely on a former Bulgarian folk dancer I met in 1993, three literary stories (oh, how I love Cynthia Rylant's and Richard Kennedy's writing), the folktales Wali Dad the kindhearted, the French version of Mr. Fox, and The wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell. When I realized that Aucassin and Nicolette would be too long, I replaced it with Rapunzel.

Normally, nobody knows exactly what I plan to tell, but this time I printed up a program. I resist this, because I like the freedom of changing the set list at the last minute, as I look at the audience. I've decided I can let go of that resistance, because having a program gives the listeners another way to remember the stories later. I'll do one for Tristan and Iseult in March, to give some background on the story.

The performance was about an hour and a half. As always, I had plenty of energy while performing. Afterwards, I was tired from having worked so hard on so many new stories at once, and for all the other prep work involved in a self-produced concert. I was thankful that my friends and family folded up the chairs, cleared up the hall and helped load my car. I went straight home and almost immediately to bed.

Here's a strange thing that happens after some performances: as I lie in bed trying to sleep, my head is full of images. You'd think the images would be from the stories, but they are just as likely to be unrelated, little flashes of color and shape, some recognizable and some not. It takes a while for my brain to calm down and let go of all the activity. I slept late the next day.

Monday, February 06, 2006

New stories

I've set myself a bit of a task.

Next week I'm telling love stories for grownups. I rented the hall back in December, when it looked like a simple thing to do. Then last month I looked at my list of stories. Did I really have enough love stories for adults? I looked around at possibilities and now I have a new set list. It looks pretty good, about 75 minutes of stories ranging from folktales to stories from books to my own quirky pieces.

So what's the problem? Of the stories I'm planning to tell, only "Sir Gawain and the Dame Ragnell" and "Mr. Fox" (who said the stories had to be happy?!) are truly seasoned from years of telling. "Checkouts" by Cynthia Rylant is one I used to tell (with permission), but it has been many years since I've looked at it. The last time I told "Aucassin et Nicolette," a year and a half ago, the audience couldn't stand the main character and therefore the story--I'm working on a way to make him more sympathetic and still retain the integrity of the tale. "The gifts of Wali Dad" is the story I told at the wedding last fall, and though I love it, I know it needs more work. Then there are two stories by Richard Kennedy I've never told (he also gave me permission to tell his stories). Is that all? No. There are two original stories on the list, one I wrote years ago and haven't told in at least six years and another that is just taking shape now.

What was I thinking?! Now all that comes to mind is "which story should I focus on right now?" In the swimming pool, I lose track of my laps as I run through "The porcelain man." As I walk downtown, I think about the new story about blind dates. Before I go to sleep, I read through "Checkouts" slowly, seeing the pictures in my head. I mention to friends and family what I'm working on, in more boring detail than they want to hear. Hmm, the lines between working, contemplating working, and procrastination get blurred, don't they?

Enough dilly-dallying, back to work!