Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Days off

This is one of those weeks in which I don't have performances. Nice to have a little break to catch up on office work and other stuff. Yesterday I mowed the lawn, then went out to help my brother-in-law split and stack firewood. That's for next year--I'm hoping I've lit my last fire of the season.

We used the hydraulic splitter, which is much easier than how I split wood at home. Here's the home method: get a log set up, set a wedge in the top, whack it with the maul and have it fall over, pick it up, whack it again, pick it up, whack, pick it up, whack, repeat until the wood gets tired of being knocked over and decides to split. Average time, 5 minutes. With the splitter, it takes seconds. Watch the fingers, though.

I stayed for lunch, and then my sister and I worked on choosing new pictures for my website. The pictures up now are about five years old--time to update. I know some storytellers who are still using photos from many years (and hairstyles and clothes sizes?) ago. Do they think people who book them won't notice? Maybe it's like a combover.

I spent the rest of the afternoon doing more office work at home, then went to yoga. It was a pleasant slow-paced day, wrapped up by watching the BBC Mystery series Campion.

I've got plenty to do today, but I'm taking the same easy pace. When I've hung the laundry on the line, I think I'll have lunch on the porch swing.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mid-Missouri Storytelling Festival, part II

Back to the festival. Did I mention that it's put on by the Missouri River Regional Library and the Daniel Boone Regional Library, with tons of other sponsors? This year was the 10th anniversary, and there were 13 storytellers.

I performed at two Catholic schools on Thursday, two public schools on Friday, and twice at the Columbia Public Library on Saturday. On Thursday, I had kindergarteners through eighth graders in one group, then kindergarteners through sixth graders a the other school. Though I can perform for such a wide range of ages (5 to 13), and everybody did have a good time, I find a smaller range of age to be more effective. Obviously, kindergarteners are developmentally different from adolescents, so what fits for the younger kids might feel too small for the older kids. I end up spending extra time reassuring the older kids that I respect them.

On Friday I had a smaller range, kindergarteners to third graders (age 5-8). This made more sense. I was reminded of how every performance is different: the morning show had 60 kids who listened with quiet enjoyment. The afternoon group was about 250, in a sweltering gym just as a storm was rolling in, and the kids came in already excited. I had a good time playing with the energy, watching how the students settled in to a quiet story and then got a little wild with a more active tale. I always try to bring them back down to a manageable place before I send them back to class.

On Saturday at the Columbia Public Library, in the shows I shared with Beth Horner, we had families. The morning show was full of active tinies, the afternoon listeners had that post-lunch quiet energy. The really tiny children must have been at home having their naps.

Mid-Missouri Storytelling Festival, part I

I meant to blog while on the road last week, but I left the power cord to my laptop sitting quietly on my desk. I jumped online for a few minutes each day, not daring to spend too much of my battery power. Oh, and if you tried to e-mail me near the end of last week, try again. Had a few other glitches, now resolved.

I was in Jefferson City and Columbia, MO at the Mid-Missouri Storytelling Festival, my third year in a row at this mostly school-based festival. Some festivals take place at one site, some are spread over a larger region. For example, the Cape Girardeau Festival was held in three tents, while Mid-MO took place at almost 50 sites, mostly schools and libraries. Depth and breadth? Each style has its merits.

One of the fun things about this festival is getting to see the other storytellers in between shows (and we get to see some of them tell stories, tra la!). We check in with each other, talk about what we're working on, see pictures of grandchildren (Jim Two Crows even brought his grandson Zach), tell stories and jokes, play dice, sing and generally behave like the kind of grownups we are. That is, the kind who still remember how to play.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Outside In Storytelling Boot Camp

Remember this? Back in February I flew out to Phoenix to join Sean Buvala of at the first Outside In Storytelling Boot Camp, which focused on marketing. We spent three days immersed in practical ideas about how to make a living as a storyteller (or other performing artist).

Tonight we had a follow-up conference call with a few of the participants. While I knew that I had benefited from the camp, I didn't know the extent to which others had. It was great to hear about specific changes participants have made since then, such as redefining their niches in storytelling, getting new promo pictures taken, launching web pages, and rewriting marketing materials. It was inspiring to hear how people's perspectives about the business of storytelling had changed for the better, thanks to the camp.

Sean has asked me to join him for another OISBC in August (he's doing a special one-day Live in Austin, TX on May 10, so check that out if you're nearby). They'll have to crank the air conditioning up at the conference hotel, because all those good ideas generate lots of energy and heat!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Home from Going Deep, part III

Now back to your regularly scheduled program...

One of the many things I enjoy about the Storyteller's Riverhouse is helping in the kitchen. At WOW weekends, it's expected; at Going Deep, it's graciously accepted as long as there aren't too many people milling around. After lunch on Saturday, I pitched in on dishes and potato peeling. What is it about kitchens that brings out good conversation?

That evening after a feast of pork roast, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and more, we were ready to settle in to the ancient world, to Helen's Troy, told by Megan Wells. She's deliberate about the title--this is about the Trojan war from Helen's point of view. I'd seen Megan tell this a few years ago at the National Storytelling Conference in Oklahoma City, so I knew it would be excellent. It was. This story was full of strong, clear images and characters we could believe in (whether we liked them or not).

On the way back to the Riverhouse, after putting the schoolhouse mostly back the way we found it, Olga and I talked about the richness of Megan's story and of the experience, about how wonderful it was to have three different styles of storytelling at Going Deep. Though our stated goal is depth, we also get breadth.

Back at the house, we sat up for a while longer talking, eating cake, drinking a little wine, some of us playing dice. I was exhausted when I finally went to bed.

The final workshop has the added dimension of being cumulative: our discussions brought in perspectives we'd touched on with the other two stories. Megan opened windows on her process for us, showing us ways she thinks about stories and how she works on them. Because of her candidness, and because of the way we had all made the workshops into a safe place, I think we all felt permission to speak (or not) about the issues she raised. We also had the poignancy of knowing it was the last group session.

We did it! It worked! Stay tuned for an announcement about next year.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hansel and Gretel puppet opera

I'll get back to my posts about Going Deep tomorrow. Before I forget (and in case any of you are close by and can get to the last show at 2 p.m. on Sunday), I want to mention Paul Mesner Puppets and the Kansas City Chamber Orchestra production of the opera, Hansel and Gretel. I went last night and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The voices are done by soloists who are in full view of the audience, as well as a children's chorus. The puppets are five feet tall, on rods worked by up to three puppeteers at once (they're not visible, unless you're in the balcony). I especially liked Gretel and the Witch, who had 80s glam-rock hair.

I sat next to an eight-year old who also had a good time. Before the show, she and I discussed The Secret Garden and A Little Princess in detail, and I heard her speaking French to the adult cousin who brought her to the show.

The crowd of older folks in the row behind us enjoyed the performance just as much--I heard one gent guffawing at one of Paul's lovely comic touches. He's great at working comic relief into the show. For example, before the witches' dance, a puppet who looked very much like a popular young wizard from a contemporary series of books flew around the stage, and there was some nice silliness with a goose and a chicken. One of the women behind me announced to her friends in the intermission, "There were 14 angels , just as there should be."

The show is at the Folly in downtown Kansas City. I highly recommend it!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Home from Going Deep, part II

After Olga's story, we went back to the house for dessert crepes. Did I mention the food yet? Every meal and snack was not only delicious but imaginative. Thanks to Lee and Mary, who fed us well.

In the morning, we were ready to talk about Olga's story. Though we didn't plan it this way, the morning workshops followed a pattern: the first half was a lively discussion of the story from the night before (process, images, correlations with other stories, metaphors, questions); the second half was about the broader themes or about specific story processes, with participatory exercises. We settled into the story and into our own stories.

It was raining on that second day. I needed to tell myself Queen Berta and King Pippin, so I went for a long walk, mumbling to myself the entire way. Part of my walk was down by the Ohio River. When my sneakers were too wet, I went inside and finished the story in my room, pacing around the bed.

That evening, I wore a red velvet trousers and jacket, a particularly good bargain from the 100 Good Women clothing swap ($1!). Olga and Liz assured me that it would be the right combination of comfort and elegance.

I did my best to record each of the evenings' performances. I did each one differently: with Olga's story I patched the recorder into the headset microphone, with my story I patched into the microphone on a stand, and Megan's story was recorded directly from a spot on the side of the stage area. I'm not sure how they sound yet--one of my tasks this weekend is to listen to these. They might just be our mediocre archival copies.

My performance felt pretty good. I'm trying not to be too critical--there are always parts I wish I had done differently. The audience seemed to like it. It was nice to have quite a few listeners who were not part of the festival workshops. Once again, we went back to the house, this time for cake (dinner for me) and wine.

It can be hard to sleep after telling one of these big stories with a brain full of images. I did eventually conk out, though, and was up early to get ready for my workshop. As Hope mentioned in her blog, participants felt strongly enough about the story that the discussion got really loud in the morning session. We talked, we sang, we told stories, and we wrote.

To be continued...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Reviews of Going Deep

I'm going to post my own thoughts on Going Deep: The Long Traditional Story Festival. In the meantime, I highly recommend reading Hope Baugh's reviews. I've linked here to the overview. Don't miss her three following posts about each evening. I love reading Hope's reviews, because she lets her whole self shine through, without letting the posts be self-indulgent.

Home from Going Deep, part I

Whew! That's all I seem to be able to say about the last week. Whew! I arrived at the Storyteller's Riverhouse in Bethlehem, IN on Wednesday afternoon. Nobody else was there yet, so I spent a few hours working on my story and napping. Very pleasant.

There were seven of us there early, so we got to work on Thursday morning, setting up the schoolhouse for the performances and attending to last minute details. In the afternoon we had a lovely wildflower tour--Mary Hamilton showed us Dutchman's britches, May apples, bloodroot and many more treasures near the road between Bethlehem and New Washington. Then three of us went on to the grocery store in Charlestown.

I'm trying not to dwell on the fact that my car got run into in the grocery store lot in Charlestown. Kitrina was napping in it, but wasn't hurt, thank goodness. It was hugely disappointing to have my new-to-me car hit. Today I got an estimate on the body work (insurance will take care of it) and they pounded a little bit of it out so I can now open the driver's side door all the way.

Anyway, that mishap didn't mar my enjoyment of Olga Loya's performance of The Aztec Creation Myth that evening. The story was even better than two years ago--and it was masterful then. Here's a picture of Olga next to the altar she set up:
We reveled in the sounds of the gods' and goddesses' names, we chanted, we joined a parade, we laughed and wondered and strongly felt the emotions of the story. Aaaah.

Going Deep was as intense as two years ago, so I can only write about it in bits. More soon.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Improv with puppets

I wish I had a picture of the baby puppet and Maynard the Moose doing improv together at the Cape Girardeau Storytelling Festival last weekend. Of course, Willy Claflin and I were there as well, but the puppets did all the heavy lifting.

To begin, Willy asked the audience for a problem and an animal.

Problem: Tattoo removal.
Animal: Marmot.

It turned out to be a tattoo of a chicken, on the marmot's head. First the marmot tried to scrub the tattoo off. Then he went to the zoo, where the elephant worked on it. Then he went to the dermatologist, who used a sanding block.

I thought the baby could have come up with a better last choice, but it seemed to go over well. It was our first try ever at this kind of improv. I wonder if we'll get another try at it later this month, at the Mid-Missouri Storytelling Festival.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

How 'bout them 'Hawks?

Okay, I'll get back to storytelling in my next post. I'm in Murray, KY on my way to Bethlehem, IN. I watched the NCAA Championships last night with a friend who graduated from KU. I taught Susan's son Sam to play dice while we watched the game. It was easier to watch without the sound. I'm not a rabid fan, but I do like to listen to the Kansas Jayhawks basketball games on the radio when I'm home.

Here was the scene in downtown Lawrence--if I'd been home, I probably would have heard it! In 1988 when they won, it was wild, with cars overturned and revelry all night long. I don't mind that I wasn't in town this time.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

More on the Cape Storytelling Festival

Another beautiful day. Yesterday I had a couple of sets, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The morning session was titled (not by me) "Living in the Midwest." I do live in the Midwest, it's true (how 'bout them 'Hawks!), but I don't tell regional stories. When requested to, I usually tell folktales from countries where Midwesterners' families originated.

Even after years in Kansas, I'm still a New Englander. I had a conversation with Willy Claflin about feeling like a foreigner outside of New England--when we're there, we understand the language, both verbal and nonverbal, and the way of thinking and being. We relax into home.

Anyway, back to Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Marilyn Kinsella went first with some reminiscing stories of growing up in the '50s. I began with "Gramps' appendix," because the emcee reminded the listeners to gather their family stories. As a nod to the theme, I told "It's in the bag," a personal story about a temp job I had in a dog food factory in Lawrence. Then I ditched the Midwest altogether and told "The Belltower," about going back to St. Martin's Church in Providence, RI, where my father was minister in the 60s and early 70s. Nobody seemed to mind.

I shared the afternoon set with Willy Claflin and Dan Keding in a set with a title I liked better, "Stories for kids." Fun! After I got Trixie to stop brushing her hair with her toothbrush, I told "Goulu, the glutton," a school-inappropriate story and "We share everything" by Robert Munsch.

Today my first set, shared with Joyce Slater and Willy Claflin, is entitled "Kid's Stories." Easy peasy. Then the last set, with just Willy, is "Tickling the funny bone." We're considering having our puppets do an improv story.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Cape Girardeau Storytelling Festival

It's sunny today! Yesterday was gray and cold, yet the first day of the first-ever Cape Girardeau Storytelling Festival was well attended. About 700 kids were brought in from area schools during the day, so they joined quite a few other attendees. We're hoping for good crowds today and tomorrow.

The organizers have been working on the festival for about two years, after getting inspired by the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. They decided to start with a big splash, so they have a wonderful lineup of four headliners (Donald Davis, Sheila Kay Adams, Willy Claflin and Dan Keding), and five regional tellers (Joyce Slater, Jim Two Crows Wallen, Marilyn Kinsella, Doug Mishler and me). Blake Travis was scheduled but was very ill, so he's not here.

I'd never been to this pretty Mississippi river town. There's a long mural of river history down by the the banks, on the walls that protect the town from flooding. They've had incredible rain this year (one day a few weeks ago, they had 13 inches, I heard!), so the river is high. Today in one of the breaks I'll go down to have a look.

Time to go. I'll try to write more about this later.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

You never know who might be a client

On Monday, the loss adjuster from the insurance company delivered a check for the old car. I mentioned that I switched the registration to my newer car because I have a vanity license plate (STORYTL).

Of course, the usual question followed, "What exactly do you do?"

We chatted about storytelling and then she gave me a funny look. "You aren't by any chance going to Valley Falls?"

Yup. I'll be there in two weeks. It turns out she has two kids at that school and she's on the PTO. They just approved the payment for the performances.

A few years ago, I was at a bluegrass festival, buying a fresh lemonade. The young woman making it asked if I was a storyteller. She had heard me when she was in elementary school. Another time, I was at Go Chicken Go!(love that name for a chicken restaurant), and the kid behind the counter asked if I was a librarian. He had heard me tell stories as part of the library program at the Juvenile Detention center a year before.

You never know. Treat everybody as if they were a potential or past client.