Sunday, October 28, 2007

Residency fun

This last week I began my four-week residency in Allen County, KS. I spent Monday and Tuesday in Humboldt, Wednesday and Thursday in Moran. Every kid in kindergarten through fifth grade in Humboldt and kindergarten through sixth grade in Moran has heard me tell stories. I'm famous in those schools.

What's a residency? Essentially, it means that I'm "in residence" in a town or a school for an extended time. Some storytellers use the term to mean teaching instead of performance, but I find myself doing performance residencies more often than teaching kids about storytelling.

This four-week set is a performance residency. I'm with small groups of kids, one or two classes at a time. This is a real treat--instead of performing for 250 kids in a gym, I'm in the classroom or in the library, a more intimate setting. I do have stories that catch the interest of wide ranges of kids, but doing it this way allows me to react differently to the listeners. I can give the sixth graders more sophisticated (and sometimes scary) stories than I tell to the first graders.

One of the other treats of a residency is that I often eat with the kids. In Humboldt I brought my own lunch, while in Moran I had the salad bar for the teachers. Occasionally I'll eat school lunch, but it's not my favorite (gluey pizza, gack!). I love table hopping, sitting with kids who have already heard me tell stories. They tell me which stories they liked. I ask what they like best for school lunch (gluey pizza!), if they have pets, if they know any jokes.

I've got something new for this residency: a study guide. I've known for years that I needed to create one (or more), but it wasn't until this summer that I finally applied myself. The teachers last week were universally pleased to hear that the study guide was available.

I'd better go pack. All this week I'll be at one school in Iola, the hub of this residency and where I'm staying. More later, especially starting on Thursday, the beginning of NaBloPoMo.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Looking forward (?) to November

I'm getting a little nervous about NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). Not only have I told myself I'd do this, I've told all of you and I've signed up officially.

I'm wondering how I'll manage, when I'll be smack in the middle of a school residency (I think I'm going to be in every k-5 classroom in Allen County, KS, BIG fun!), as well as working on buttons/badges for the Bizarre Bazaar, as well as being guest editor for Storytelling Magazine, as well as working on the long traditional story "Queen Berta and King Pippin." Oh, and doing the normal things like going to the grocery store and doing laundry. Patting the cat. Eating. Sleeping.

Ah, well. Everything gets done. This might just be the warning that my blog posts in November will be frequent but short.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Back home from Jonesborough

Whew, what a festival! I met my friend Margaret Meyers for supper at Dogwood Lane just after pulling in to town. After fortifying ourselves with Greek salad and good conversation, we went on to the National Story Night performance (Willy Claflin was a hoot, as always). We began to see old friends as we arrived. The tribe was gathering. Some were performing, some were emceeing, some were like me, just along for the ride.

And what a ride it was. There were lots of "New Voices" this year (they're new to the National Storytelling Festival, not to storytelling). Some of my favorites:

Motoko, who is Japanese but now lives in Massachusetts, tells polished gems of stories with a delightful simplicity. I was reminded of that phrase about how yoga should be "effortless effort." Motoko's mix of story and mime was exactly that.

Gene Tagaban refers to himself as "one crazy raven," and how true that is. He's Tlingit, Cherokee and Filipino. His stories were a mix of personal narrative and traditional story, and at the end of one of his sets, he donned his regalia and treated us to a raven dance. The cadence of his speech reminded me of a student from Haskell Indian Nations University who attended a workshop I gave a couple of weeks ago. I think he was also Tlingit. I mentioned this to Gene who told me he also went to Haskell.

I wish I'd gotten to hear more from Dolores Hydock. I went to her performance of "Silence: A Medieval Adventure in Story and Song," which she performed with the Medieval music troupe PanHarmonium. She comes from a theater background, so this long traditional story was told in costume and with an English accent, but neither impeded the story. The tent was full (1000 people or more?) and she got a well-deserved standing ovation. It was fabulous to see how hungry people are for long traditional stories.

I also got to hear some of the "Old Guard" of storytelling. It was a pleasure, as always, to hear Bill Harley, Jay O'Callahan, Donald Davis, Kathryn Windham--she's 89, I think! I went to the Exchange Place, the regional stage where each performer gets about 12 minutes (I performed here in 2001). Some of those performers will definitely be back on the main stage, I'm sure.

And then there was the general hanging around. I got to see my New England story buddies, old friends from Going Deep and WOW weekends, Midwestern friends, folks I've known from countless conferences and festivals. It felt like a large family reunion.

At lunch on Sunday, I was seated with three bewildered ladies from North Carolina who didn't know there was a storytelling festival going on in Jonesborough. They had just come over for a day of antiquing. As we sat in the din of the restaurant, I explained that a gathering of storytellers is rarely quiet, except during performances. I told them about the story magic in the tents. I don't know if they dared stop to listen to stories. If they did, I bet they'll come back next year.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Off to Jonesborough this week

I'm going to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. Can't wait! I went for five years in a row, 1989-1993, then in 2001, when I performed at the Exchange Place (the regional stage). I haven't been back since. It's time.

The festival is markedly different from the National Storytelling Conference. The conference consists mostly of workshops on the art of storytelling, and there are around 500 participants. At the festival, there are literally thousands of people and the main activity is listening to stories.

It's intense. From Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon, Jonesborough is filled with the sound of stories, laughter, applause, conversation between stories, and the occasional train passing through town. The train is a running joke with the storytellers, some of whom wait, some of whom incorporate it into the story, some of whom launch into "I've been workin' on the railroad" whether it fits the story or not. Since I live a short block from the tracks, I wonder if I'll even notice (there are 50-75 trains that pass here every day).

The first couple of years I went to Jonesborough, I tried to go to every session--I was afraid I'd miss something. It was exhausting. Now my plan is to go to one of the six tents and find a good seat to listen in for a while, then take a break, walk around town, look at the bookstore tent, then find another place to hear stories. I haven't decided if I'll go to the midnight cabarets. Depends on my energy. I'm essentially a morning person and an introvert, so I need to recharge by being alone. I'm looking forward to hearing new stories and seeing old friends, but I'll probably disappear every now and then.


I don't know about you, but it has been driving me crazy that I'm so sporadic about blog posting. In an attempt to change this, I've just signed up for NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month. I'm going to try to write a blog post every single day for 30 days. It isn't until November, so I have all of October to get in shape. Chin ups, push ups, ab crunches...

A few years ago I did NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a novel (50,000 words or more) in a month. I finished and I have the bad manuscript and tee shirt to prove it. It was satisfying even if the motto was "Quantity, not quality."

My hope is that if I succeed, I'll begin posting here more than twice a month.

Okay, now back to your regular programming, posts about my storytelling life.