Friday, March 27, 2009

Reflections on Going Deep

Last week at this time, I was in Bethlehem, IN at the Going Deep Long Traditional Story Retreat. Here's the view from the Storyteller's Riverhouse B&B, the venue for this amazing experience, at dawn: 

Barges glided up and down the river all weekend, red lights glowing at night. The B&B is owned and run by storyteller Cynthia Changaris, who with Mary Hamilton have been incredible midwives for the retreat. Cynthia borrowed several other houses in this tiny town for participants to use, she arranged for cooks, massage therapists, a palm reader and the old schoolhouse. Yoeman's work! We missed Mary, who was laid low by a flu, and whose hard work in past years (and in prep for this year) has made such a difference to us all. Here's the Riverhouse:

My friend Margaret came to my house the night before, and we drove the ten hours to Indiana, arriving just in time for a quick supper and the first story, The Grail, told masterfully by Liz Warren. We sat in a trance listening to the quintessential quest story. I'd heard Liz tell this in 2006 and also on her CD. It was just as powerful this time. 
Afterwards, we went back to the house to eat cake and hang out. Then we slept, dreaming about the story. One of the participants mentioned how hard it was to sleep because of the images pinging around in our heads. 

In the morning, Liz led a workshop on the story. The workshops are what really distinguish this retreat from other festivals and story events. We truly do "go deep" into the story and into our own lives. 

Afternoons at Going Deep are free, with all kinds of options from massage to palm reading to naps to singing. Next time, we may set up a space for a story swap for the participants. 

The second story was The Paths of Osun, told richly and well by Marilyn Omifunke Torres, who holds two Yoruba chieftaincies. Her telling (and singing) of five interrelated stories from the Yoruba tradition brought the audience to a new world of story.

Once again, we went back to the house. As important as the stories and the workshops are the times of just hanging out, eating together and chatting. 

Marilyn's intense workshop the next morning took us further into an understanding of the ritual and tradition of the Yoruba, and into our own wishes and dreams, culminating in a ceremony at the river. The Ohio is sweeter for our having been there!

We also had an equinox ceremony by the river in the late afternoon, before supper and the last story of the retreat, Gilgamesh, told by David Novak

One of the cool things about this story is that in 2006 David mentioned wanting to tell it, at the first Going Deep. We leapt on that, asking him to tell it for us. He created a simple set with river reeds, bamboo mats and tiles. David comes from a theater background, and that comes through in terms of the set, lights and music, but it's still very firmly a story, not a play. We reveled in yet another intense experience as we listened. There's a reason this story has lasted millenia!

As in the past years, on that last night, there were two camps in the after-story: those who were almost giddy from the stories and those who dove deeply into conversation about them. 

David's workshop had yet a different flavor from the other two workshops, with more discussion of the artistic choices he made and the ways in which stories work. Part of the beauty of the retreat plan is that each workshop reflects both the story and the storyteller. There was a lot to chew on in this session.

I was a little sad at lunch, knowing we'd have to go right after we left, and knowing that we've decided not to have Going Deep at the Riverhouse next year. It has been wonderful to be there, but it's time for us to grow up and spread our wings. We are deeply grateful to Cynthia and Mary for nurturing this project for so long. 


1 comment:

Hope Baugh/ said...

Yay! Thanks for taking the time to not only write about the retreat but to share gorgeous photos!

I love the word "midwife" to describe Cynthia's and Mary's role.

Hope Baugh
Indy Theatre Habit