Monday, September 17, 2007

The Outside In Storytelling Boot Camp

This is going to be so cool! Sean Buvala of invited me to be the guest presenter next February in Phoenix at his first-ever Storytelling Boot Camp.

What's it about? The three-day event is designed for storytellers and other performers to learn the tools and attitude necessary for actually making a living in the arts, recognizing that this is a small business. It's about thriving, not just surviving.

Sean has written it all up very clearly, so go check out the website, read his blog entry about it, download the flyer, and register soon. The boot camp is limited to 20 participants.

The ethics of adaptation

Years ago, I read a compilation of advice from professional storytellers in an article in Storytelling World. I think it was Bill Harley who said something like, "You know you're a professional when you can say no to a job that doesn't suit you." Too true. (Wish I could find that article.)

I was early for my set at the KC Irish Festival a few weeks ago, so I sat and listened to the other storyteller. I know a lot of storytellers in the area, but didn't know this fellow. I still am not certain of his name.

He introduced himself by saying that he travels to many lands to find stories. Then the story: he began by setting the scene, a village with shamrocks all around. Huh? Strange image, not one I'd ever seen in the research I've done in Irish stories, but okay. He introduced a little girl named Rosie who liked to go down to the seaside. The more he told, the more suspicious I got. I knew this story. It wasn't Irish at all. I recognized Bimwili and the Zimwi, a story from Zanzibar, even before he messed up and used Bimwili's name instead of "Rosie." He did this several times, as well as forgetting that he had changed the drum in the story into a bag.

Would I have been less annoyed if he had gotten it right all the way through? No. I was outraged at the assumption he must have made that it didn't matter. He just picked up an African story, changed the names, and claimed it was Irish. He made the ogre into a leprechaun, retaining the physical description of the ogre.

It was clear to me that he loved the original story. I'll give him that. He went on to his second story, a stretched-out version of Daniel O'Rourke and the Leprechaun. At least that really is an Irish story. It sounded as if he had just found it in a book five minutes before the set.

He finished his set 20 minutes after he began. I guess I shouldn't fault him for not doing a full set (I'm still not sure if we were doing 30 or 45 minute sets). He obviously didn't have any more material, so we might have heard another African story or maybe a Cherokee story.

I was going to go speak with him, but I wanted to wait until I was less annoyed. By the time that happened, he was gone.

To be completely honest, in my set on Saturday, I told one English story. I told the audience the origins of the story. On Sunday, I told a number of non-Irish stories, but was honest with the audience and also had cleared it with the organizers in advance.

I understand what it's like to be offered a job and not have the stories to match it. I know what it's like to have the gas bill looming and need the money. Every time I've taken a job that didn't suit me, I've regretted it. I don't know anything about this storyteller, don't know where the organizers found him--maybe they were in a panic about filling the stage and just stuck him in there. He would have served the audience, the festival and storytelling better if he had been a professional and said he couldn't do the gig.

Still, I have questions. When is it right to adapt a story? How is this different from my telling of The Kansas Three Pigs? I used to tell an Ethiopian story that I reframed to fit into Vermont and New York City. I always told the audience about the origin, though. Sometimes I've taken jobs that have been a bit outside my comfort zone, and I've stretched to them, learning great new stories in the meantime. Am I the pot calling the kettle black?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Festivals and car trouble

What a wild month! I began with the Kansas City Irish Festival, then performed at the Choctaw Oklahoma Oktoberfest (say that five times fast!) and next week will go to the Moonshell Storytelling Festival in Nebraska. Sounds like I'm always performing at festivals, though in fact schools, libraries and museums are my main bread and butter. I've got some of those this month as well.

As I backed out of my driveway on the way to the Irish festival, the car had a little hiccup. It didn't improve with driving. Fortunately, I had friends going to the festival about an hour after me, so if I got stuck on the side of the road, I could call for a ride. I did arrive at the festival and also got home (thanks for the escort!). I was relieved that I could borrow a car from my sister for the next day.

At that festival, I was booked for two ghost story sessions, one on Saturday night for older kids and adults and one on Sunday for all ages. Saturday was the better set, with stronger stories and less sound bleed from the main stage. The second night, I could barely hear my own voice. I knew that the audience could hear me (good microphone and speakers), but it was a struggle. This was the first time this stage was in that location--hope they change it next year. The organizers of the children's activities seemed as frustrated as I was with the sound.

I got the car fixed (new distributor cap wires and a new valve cover) and figured I was set. On Friday I got in the car for the five-hour drive to Oklahoma, only to find that it wouldn't start. Got a jumpstart from a friend and a new battery and off I went. Whew.

I didn't know what to expect from the Oktoberfest. I was pleased that there was a tent for the children's activities well away from the music stage. While I could hear the occasional oompah or yodel from the beer tent, it was not loud enough to distract. I told a mix of stories to kids and adults, some of whom were also doing crafts at the same time. The German Club from the high school helped with the crafts and I had great support from Debbie from the Chamber of Commerce, who ran the tent. I officiated at the sack races, hula hoop competitions and egg-and-spoon races. These were impromptu affairs, as in fact were my sets--I had no schedule for my four performances each day. It was steamy hot in the tent both days, especially after it rained. I don't think I've ever sweat that much during a performance. I had to borrow my puppet Trixie's handkerchief to mop my face. Never mind, I was having a good time.

After the first day, I sat with a beer and a bratwurst, listening to the music and watching people. Lots of men in lederhosen and women in dirndls. I would have danced if I hadn't been so tired. I went back to the hotel and slept.

In the morning, the car wouldn't start again. A kind man in the breakfast room jumpstarted it for me. Though I don't like being a damsel in distress, I confess to being afraid to jumpstart my car. I drove across the street to a mechanic. The fellow there diagnosed a dying starter. He suggested that I keep it running as much as possible.

At the festival, I parked in a way to make jumpstarting easy. After another fun day of performing, I had a half beer and a brat. Still too tired to dance. I turned the key in the ignition with trepidation. It started up. Good.

Not so good the next morning as I tried to start it to drive home. Another kind man from the breakfast room jumpstarted it, also thumping on the starter to encourage it. I was deeply relieved when it came to life. I didn't turn it off, even the two times I had to get gas and the one stop at a rest area. I drove it directly to my mechanic's shop. The next day I had a new starter. All is well.

Next week I'll drive to the Moonshell Festival in Nebraska. I'm looking forward to the performances and hoping for a calm and uneventful drive up there. My mechanic reassures me that the car is in good shape and should last for a long time, despite this little spate of repairs. Hope so!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Baby's first words

Last night before my set at the Kansas City Irish Festival, a woman asked if I had my recordings with me. She heard me perform at Wonderscope with her children. She said that her youngest is just beginning to speak. He says three words: Mama, Dada and Unanana.

Unanana? He heard it in the story of the same name, either from me or from my CD The ghost with the one black eye.

Oh, the fame!

Trixie's got a brand-new bag!

I could have sworn I'd written a post with this title before--maybe I just thought it. Here's Trixie's new bag (or is it her vehicle?):

And here's the bag with Trixie inside it:
I had a bit of luck yesterday at the Kansas City Irish Festival. I arrived a few hours before my set so I could enjoy the festival. On my way back from the real bathrooms in Crown Center mall (no portapotties, thanks), I noticed this bag in a store where I normally wouldn't shop, the kind of store that is heaven to preteen girls. Since 2002, Trixie has had a leopard-skin bag, but the zipper is wonky. It's possible that getting her hair caught in it too many times has ruined the teeth (ouch!).

This new bag is great. It has plenty of room for Trixie, her toothbrush and several of her hats, her little sister Roxie and her hat, the baby, Mavis the monkey, the Gunniwolf, my harmonica, extra cough drops and kleenexes, a few brochures, a clock and a water bottle. In fact, there's space for more!

Trixie was not with me when I bought the bag. I wasn't accompanied by puppets in that set of scary stories for older kids and adults. I had to explain to several parents that their children might be too young for the show--I don't want them to have nightmares. It's strange to chase the audience away. Even doing that, and even with tremendous sound bleed from the big stage (so much that I could barely hear my own voice, though the mike was good enough so the audience heard everything), I had a full tent of listeners.

I told some new stories. It always feels good to add to the repertoire. One's an old chestnut, The cow that ate the piper, one is a folktale I'd never heard called The white bird of death and the other was an adaptation of J. Sheridan LeFanu's story Madam Crowl's ghost. While I get too scared listening to such stories, I like to tell them--I think it's because I'm in charge and know what's going to happen.

Tonight I'm telling milder stories, including some of the old favorite funny-scary tales. I hope those families come back. Trixie's quite chuffed about the bag and is waiting by the door.