What luck! By chance I came to Belgium in the week of the Louvain-la-Neuve Festival du conte, a storytelling festival not far from where I'm staying. It's put on by the Kap Contes, a student cooperative formed around storytelling (more on these later). It's different from other storytelling festivals I've attended. There was a performance for kids on Saturday, then this week there are three evening shows for adults. Next Monday is the grand finale with fourteen storytellers, music and more. I've got tickets for this week.
The performance Saturday was in the form of a short play with stories embedded in it. The students themselves staged this and clearly had fun, as did the audience.
Last night I went to hear Joel Smets. I heard him years ago at the Belgian storytelling festival in Alden Biesen. Here's a clip of him performing at the festival in Chiny:
He tells traditional stories in a lovely relaxed style, occasionally accompanied by accordion. Though his personality is present (and should be), it never gets in the way of the stories. I enjoyed the stories last night. I'd heard many of them--and even tell some of them--but found them no less compelling. His show was long, almost two hours, and was followed by a band.
At the end, Joel made an announcement that I'm still puzzling over. He said this would be his last performance as a storyteller. He looks to be about 60, in good health, with a strong and effective storytelling style. From his comments, I'd say he has been storytelling about ten years more than I have (I began in 1988). At first I wasn't sure I understood. Surely he's not giving this up? Then I thought maybe he was kidding. He was speaking seriously, though.
It made me wonder if I'd ever retire. No time soon, certainly. Would I ever be able to say definitively, "This is my last show. No more." And if I did, would I hold to it? I know a few storytellers who have stopped giving performances. I guess I'd rather be like my friend Dorotha Douglas, who told stories up until about six months before she died in her 90s.
I stayed around afterwards for a bit, but I didn't see Joel. I would have liked to ask him about his decision. Interesting.