Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Going Deep, first annual

We did it! From last Thursday to Sunday, about 20 storytellers were completely immersed in the world of long traditional stories, in the first ever Going Deep Festival, held at the Storyteller's Riverhouse in Bethlehem, Indiana.

For years, Liz Warren, Olga Loya and I had dreamed of having a festival where we could tell these epic stories and then have in-depth workshops about them. I told anybody who would listen about this idea. Last year, I mentioned it to Janice del Negro, who said, "Why don't you do it at Cynthia Changaris' bed and breakfast?" Brilliant! We knew--and this was confirmed in the doing of it--that Cynthia and Mary Hamilton of Scheherezade's Legacy would be fabulous at hosting the event.

Skipping over the details of how we got there, here are some reflections on how it all worked.

The first evening Liz Warren told us the story of the Grail. Aaah. We all basked in the warm, strong, evocative telling of a story that is so much a part of Western culture and yet felt new to us. Liz's performance set the tone for the festival--we knew we were in for a rich and satisfying experience.

After the performances each night, we went back to the bed and breakfast (in fact, people stayed in three houses, but the B and B was the hub) for cake and conversation. My dreams that night--and the subsequent nights as well--were full of images.

In the morning, Liz presented a meaty workshop about the story. Ideas pinged around the room as we talked and thought and learned. Some of the participants also tell long traditional stories, some are new to the long form, so we had a wide range in our discussion.

The afternoons were free for massages, palm readings (two massage therapists and a palm reader were there), collage, naps, reading, walks by the Ohio River or through the (O) little town of Bethlehem. Then dinner before...

...we went on to Olga Loya's splendid performance of the Aztec creation myth. Thank goodness she introduced the characters to us first. It was a joy to listen to a story so unfamiliar, so multilayered in a way different from Western tradition, and yet full of the common themes of humanity. We wailed like the Hungry Goddess, we snaked around the room in procession, we were IN the story for the whole time. Wonderful.

The morning workshop was yet another meaty experience, as we explored the intricacies of working with a challenging story from a culture most of us know little about, understanding the layers of the gods and goddesses, understanding our own layers.

More rest and relaxation in the afternoon (I had a continuation of my palm reading from the day before!), and then I told "Tristan and Iseult." I can tell of this only from the perspective of being on stage. It was incredibly cool to be able to perform this story that I love and have worked on for so long to a group of (mostly) storytellers. I felt great support from the audience.

An interesting thing happened after my performance. As on the other nights, we went back to the house. The cooks had kindly saved back my supper, so I sat with Liz, Olga and Rebecca (the palm reader) in the dining room. Little by little, many of the participants drifted into the living room. They had a long discussion about the story and about the process while we stayed in the dining room playing dice. It was at least an hour conversation. This hadn't happened in the same way the other nights, and I think that was because by this time in the festival, a strong community had formed. Also, the pattern of discussion in the earlier workshops facilitated the conversation. Margaret told me later that it was probably good that the performers weren't in the room, because they needed to explore the topics without the "authorities" (Margaret, did I get that right?).

We ranged around a little more in my morning workshop, from the story itself to specific techniques for working on these behemoth stories, to venues for the long-form story. We also had evaluations and a closing Grail blessing, before heading in to lunch. I was sorry that many folks had to leave before the end--and sorry they missed the most excellent jokes at lunch.

If you've read this far, you'll be interested to know that we have plans to do it again. As with everything else about this festival, our plans are a bit unorthodox. I'll keep you posted.

Huge thanks to Cynthia, Mary, the cooks, the massage therapists, Rebecca, and of course Olga and Cynthia, and everyone who made this festival happen.

I'd love to hear other participants' reflections on this festival!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Weird weather

Whew! Yesterday sure was strange. Thunder, lightning, wind and a bizarre-colored sky, before the tornado sirens went off. I called the cat, but he was outdoors, hunkered down somewhere. Time to find the radio and lantern, both of which are battery operated, and head down to the cellar. The power went out. I saw my neighbor across the street so I called her over to join me (she couldn't get to her own cellar). We sat on a couple of chairs in the dirt floor cellar until the sirens stopped and it was safe to come upstairs.

Lots of neighbors were out, looking up and down the street. The cat returned, completely dry (though there was a patch of what looked like motor oil on his leg). There were small branches down in my yard, but nothing serious, nothing like the tree on a pickup truck up the block. That was nothing--all over town huge trees were knocked over, power lines were down, fences and windows and other debris were tossed everywhere. Many traffic lights were out, and some were completely missing. Light poles had been flattened. No tornadoes, but a violent microburst had come out of nowhere, with 70 mph winds.

By early afternoon, the sun was out and it was warm. Clouds came back and I heard on the radio that the sirens weren't working properly. More thunder. An emergency vehicle drove up my street with the siren on, so back I went to the cellar with the lantern and the radio. This time I took a book and the cat, who is only rarely invited into the depths. After he was done exploring thoroughly, I heard on the radio that it was okay to come out.

The sky cleared again, and I picked up the sticks in the yard. I opened the windows in the house, puttered, called friends to find out how they were doing. Then the sky darkened again and we got a short downpour. Later it was clear. There were stars last night. Today the temperature was 30 degrees colder.

I'm incredibly thankful that my big trees stayed upright, and that on this cool evening, I have a good fire in the woodstove. I think there will be plenty of firewood next year.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Read across America

Every March 2 for the last few years, libraries and schools around the US have celebrated Dr. Seuss' birthday, in Read Across America, sponsored by the National Education Association. Some extend the celebration of books and reading for a full week. As a former librarian, I adore this!

I don't tell Dr. Seuss stories (copyright issues), but my puppet Trixie quoted a little from "Green eggs and ham" in our performances last week. I told Robert Munsch stories (I have his permission) and a few other book-based stories in three schools in Topeka. Big fun!

At two schools I was in the gym and at one in the library. When possible, that's my first choice of venue in a school, comfortably surrounded by books and not so echo-filled. At each of the three schools, I felt completely welcome. The teachers at the second school even invited me to a big lunch held in their library. The students at all three schools were attentive the whole time, even though I had a wide range of ages. It's a hoot when kids actually cheer after a particularly satisfying story--in the past, I've occasionally heard kids yell, "Bravo!" as if they were at the opera.

It has been a quiet winter. I'm so glad to be working more now. Did I mention how much I love telling stories?