Sunday, January 31, 2010

Puppets I've made

Often I'm asked if I make my own puppets. For the most part, no. I buy them and sometimes perform minor puppet surgery. However, there are a few I've made. Here are some of them:
Now for an awkward question: do I have a pattern? No. I've never been very good at following directions. I looked at some store-bought puppets and reverse engineered them. Many I made in the early 90s, back when women all over the country still had a bottom drawer full of shoulder pads (you know who you are). Shoulder pads make lovely puppet mouths. This is the extent of my sewing expertise.

These puppets are hideous, in a strangely endearing way. I use them in the few stage shows I perform. Usually my puppets come out in between stories, with no stage, and without their own story to perform, though one or two may play a part in a story. Every now and again, I perform Rumpelstiltskin, Jack and the Bookstalk, Bettina and the Beast, The Prince and the Pea and a few other slightly twisted versions of folktales with a stage. The stage is short, only about a foot tall, and it sits on a table. I'm completely visible and play the part of the narrator. My friend Judy Nichols was my inspiration for doing puppet shows this way.

Truth to tell, though I enjoy the stage shows, I find them a lot of work to prepare and set up. My usual storytelling with puppets requires one trip from the car, with a bag of puppets and the sound system. Stage shows require two or three trips and anxiety that I've left something crucial at home. A few years ago, for example, I left the stage itself at home! Fortunately, the library where I was performing had a stage I could use.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Puppet gallery

The other day, I discovered that a good friend thought I only had three or four puppets. Oh, my! Here's a picture of most of my collection:
I was trying to get them all, but they just wouldn't fit. In all, I think there might be about 75, not including the multiple Trixies and Babies (backups, for when these most-used puppets wear out). Here's a picture of them:
Trixie's little sister Roxie is sitting on the Baby's lap. Roxie is 103 years old; Trixie is 111.

I'm going to do a series of puppet groupings over the next few posts. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Back to Tristan and Iseult

Next week I'll go back to Salina, KS for a couple more days of a school residency. Though I don't yet have my schedule, I expect to visit two sixth grade classes (11-12 yr olds) to tell Tristan and Iseult.

Debbie, the teacher, is a big fan of this story. She was as disappointed as I was when the extremely bad movie came out in 2006. I won't go into my rant here.

I do love this story. I've told it on the radio (KOPN-FM in Columbia, MO), at the Going Deep Long Traditional Story Retreat, twice at the Johnson County Juvenile Detention Center, at the Smoky Hill River Festival, in solo shows at the Union Pacific Depot in Lawrence and at house concerts. I almost told it in Mexico last year, but it didn't quite fit the schedule.

This is my longest piece, clocking in at about 95 minutes. I'll try to get a good recording of it this time--the last time I got a halfway decent audiorecording was many years ago, not for want of trying. What is it about the story that stymies technology? Is it because it was first written down in the 1100s?
Here's the text of the program for the shows at the Depot:

Tristan and Iseult, A Medieval Classic

An epic tale of good luck, bad choices, giants, dragons, fools, betrayal and of course, Romance.

Some stories are meant to last. Tristan and Iseult was first written down between 1160-1190 by Beroul (French poet) and around 1173 by Thomas of Britain, originally from the oral tradition, probably from a Celtic tale.

Sir Thomas Malory folded this story into the Arthurian legend, in Le morte d’Arthur (1469). Many other versions have been written and told in various languages and styles, including Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde.

As a storyteller, I perform without notes or script, with only the images in my mind to prompt me. I use Le roman de Tristan et Iseut by Joseph B├ędier (1864-1938) as my base; there is a nicely readable translation by Hilaire Belloc, The romance of Tristan and Iseult .

I have taken liberties: some scenes are omitted, others expanded, and there are slight anachronisms, all in the service of the story. Stories live and change in the process of telling.

Time to go refresh my memory of this fantastic epic!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Meet Ray


In 2010, the summer reading theme in public libraries around the country is Make a Splash: Read! for younger kids, Make Waves at Your Library for young adults and Water Your Mind: Read for adults, with help from the Collaborative Summer Library Program.

As librarians begin contact me about performances for summer, I'm preparing. I'm offering a program called "Didja ever see a fishy?" which will be a mix of stories, songs and puppet hilarity for all ages. I expect we'll have a big fun time.

When found this eagle ray puppet, I was compelled to buy it. His name? Ray, of course. I'm still working on his voice and character. So far he's a bit of a wise guy.



Kids often ask how many puppets I have. I don't know, but I'd guess around 75, including those I let kids use. Some come out for a summer and then retreat to the puppet closet (yes, they have their own closet), some stay in the puppet bag forever, some make guest appearances from time to time.

Stay tuned for more news from Ray. I wonder if his last name is Dio. It's possible I'll get to tell stories in Raymore or Raytown, Missouri. I should get some mileage out of that.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Winter Tales

It's winter, for real. It snowed again yesterday, the third (or fourth?) time since Christmas. The current temperature is 4 degrees Fahrenheit, with a windchill of -12 (that's -16 Celsius, windchill -24).

This is the perfect time to put another log in the wood stove, start a batch of bread and set it to rise, make a simple soup that will simmer on the regular stove, and haul the laptop into the living room for story research. I alternate between actual books and the Internet. The books in my stack at the moment are four collections of Bulgarian stories and one collection from Italy, all from the University library. I'm especially interested in two of the Bulgarian books, which are recent publications of folktales.

As for the Internet, here are a few sites I like to dip into:
This is storyteller Jackie Baldwin's labor of love. On the SOS page she has collected references to stories from the Storytell listserv. There are full-text stories, bare bones stories, suggestions of books, songs and poems, and ideas for programs. Jackie not only provides this service, but she also has a weekly Story Lover's World radio show on KSVY-FM, 91.3 in Sonoma CA.

Professor D. L. Ashliman has done storytellers an incredible service in pulling together texts from many cultures. He began putting this up on the Internet in 1996, before many storytellers were even online.

Project Gutenberg has provided full texts of thousands of books in the public domain. These books have been digitized by volunteers. I know my friend Batsy has done some of them--thanks, Batsy! The Andrew Lang books are some of my favorites on this site. I even found some of my great-grandfather William Douw Lighthall's books on Project Gutenberg.

Not only are there full-text stories on Sur La Lune, there's a very active discussion board about the stories. Very fun to dig around here!

This is "the largest freely available archive of online books about religion, mythology, folklore and the esoteric on the Internet." I've had a great time noodling around on this site.

These are only a few of my favorite story sites. There are, of course, zillions more. Enough for a lifetime of winter days.