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!

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