Saturday, April 12, 2008

Walking the Talk

It has been a while since I last posted and thankfully it looks like my leap of faith might be working out. There are so many new avenues opening up that my head is swimming, but it's all good!

Last weekend I attended the Sharing the Fire conference in Nashua, New Hampshire hosted by the LANES organization. I posted an overview of my time at the conference on the Storytell listserv and I share it with here as well. My apologies to anyone I left out.

The weekend started off in grand fashion meeting Csenge from Budapest, Hungary in the lobby of the hotel. She is truly everything folks have shared about her, a lovely young woman full of energy and delight. We were able to spend some time together and I had fun introducing her to the STF community as we wandered about. I am sad to say I missed her showcase as I was hosting another one at the time, but I consoled myself knowing that I will have the opportunity to see perform again soon.

The Friday night concert began with Simon Brooks. I have heard Simon tell before but he just gets better and better each time I have the opportunity to be in the audience. He shared The Story Untold, The Song Unsung. Simon is incredibly relaxed on stage, alternately playing with the audience and the story. He is such a strong performer and I have no doubt we will be hearing a lot more from him. Simon is from England so to use his natural vernacular, I think he is bloody brilliant!

Jean Armstrong
shared her animated, funny and poignant personal tale about attending a dance festival. I had the pleasure of seeing her perform this at the NSN fringe in Pennsylvania in 2006 and it was just as much fun the second time around.

Uncle George, as he is fondly known in our New England circle, shared the folktale The Tiger's Whisker. A well-know tale to be sure but he told it with a personal passion and made it his own. We talked a bit afterwards and he shared that he had worked on it a great deal, being coached by a number of people and it helped him immensely. Another plug for story partner work!

The last person in the set that night was a librarian from NH whose name unfortunately escapes me. I believe who just won the Librarian of the Year Award. She told a fractured version of Cinderella that was fall off your seat funny! Her presentation was filled with dry, hysterical wit that was so polished it appeared effortless. I don't know if it is is her original version, I suspect it is, and if so, she needs to get the story published. A true delight.

I presented a three hour workshop, Storytelling With Ease, on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, last minute preparations kept me away from Susan Klein's keynote but I heard she was fabulous! The focus of my workshop was beginning storytelling skills and judging by the evaluations it went very well. Eighteen librarians, educators and folks interested in storytelling were present. They were an attentive, receptive audience, willing to play and learn. Our goal was to learn one story by the end of the workshop and present it to the group.

One attendee, Wesley, a young adult age 15 stood up in front of the group full of adults and shared the story of The Stone Cutter. This is a difficult cumulative tale and even though it was a very shortened version I would have pulled out of the pile of stories to use had I realized it was there, yet he took the challenge and did a wonderful job. His mother found me later at the conference and shared that he had actually performed the story for her later in their room. Her words were "What did you do to my son? He is incredible shy, I can't believe he performed the story for me!" Of course it wasn't me, it was the magic of storytelling. Hopefully, we will hear and see much more of this young man in the future.

Late Saturday afternoon I attended a workshop on Storytelling and Literacy with June Peloso. She offered some wonderful information, statistics and activities. I wish her workshop had been longer, she has so much to share and truly does great work.

On Saturday night there was the main OLIO and it was grand. There was a very eclectic mix of stories and tellers, including Dave McPherson, known for his poetry slams in Boston, Slash Coleman, an awarded winning playwright, Robert Perkins, filmmaker and writer whose work has been shown on PBS, Leeny Del Seamonds a well-known teller who appears at festivals around the country and Cris Riedel. It was a terrific mix of styles and genres that worked incredibly well and certainly highlighted that there is room for all kinds of storytellers and styles.

Everyone was grand, especially Cris Riedel who performed Possum's Tail. I have known Cris for years, taken her workshops but never heard her tell. She is fabulous! Her voice is so rich and full, no wonder she's a voice coach. Her telling style is relaxed, fun and intimate. She made a huge roomful of people feel as if she was telling just to them. I can't wait to hear her again.

Leeny was her usual effervescent self, sharing the delightful bi-lingual folktale, Who Rules the Roost. I wish I had her ability to deftly switch from one language to another, without missing a beat.

Saturday night found me in Regi Carpenter's room, an incredibly talented teller who was awarded the J.J. Reneaux award for emerging tellers, conferred by the NSN. There is no question in my mind why she received it. Regi gave us, about 12 in all, a private performance of the fringe piece she will share in TN at the National Storytelling Conference. It is the amazing story of her father and family, interspersed with songs that fit each era. Regi can not only tell, that girl can sing! The story is heartwarming and heart wrenching, filled with all of the pathos and joy life throws our way. Truly not to be missed.

Sunday morning began with another keynote, this time we were treated to the insightful words of Lee-Ellen Marvin. Although Lee-Ellen is not an elder in the numerical sense of the word, she is truly an elder in our community. She has accomplished so much, gives of herself in so many ways and continues to mentor students in the art of storytelling. Her keynote was powerful, wise, humorous, encouraging and made you want to jump up out of your chair and make a difference in the world.

Later on I sat in on a coaching workshop offered by Jackson Gillman. Three folks are chosen by lottery but others can observe, which is what I did. I was glad I went as I learned so much from Jackson. His coaching style is gentle but spot on! He is truly a master at knowing what works and what can be improved upon. If you ever have the opportunity to be coached by him don't pass it by.

The last workshop I attended was by Molly Catron, Storytelling in the Business Jungle. Molly is from TN who has worked in the business world for 20 years and she knows her stuff! She packed a lot of information into 90 minutes; her workshop could easily be an intensive, she has so much to share that comes from her "in the trenches" experience, not just from books.

The closing ceremony was lovely, filled with music and dancing, honor those past, those present and those who will follow in our footsteps. Three youth tellers shared their stories with the audience. One young man, Dylan, is 12 years old and brought the house down with his original story of how God gave humans the give of speech. At the beginning of the story God realizes his mistake and Dylan slapped himself on the forehead and in place of "Oh my God" said "Oh my self!" It was just one of the many hysterical, creative moments of his story. He is one to watch!

Well, there you have it, my highlights, at least those that I can remember at the moment. Again, my apologies for leaving anyone out. The weekend was full and rich, it was grand to see old friends, make new ones and be filled to the brim with stories! Sincere thanks to Lauretta Phillips, this years conference chair, and all the volunteers who made it work! I hope they are all taking a well-deserved rest right about now!

On another note, this week I had a wonderfully productive meeting with the director of a local arts organization. The director and I will be part of a city-wide Literacy Summit
this coming week and hopefully bolster an interest in storytelling and education. The organization is committed to working with other community organizations and schools to bring families, educators and the arts together in an accessible and productive learning environment. We have a lot of ideas brewing and will continue to work together on a number of projects, including an after school student storytelling program, teacher training, an evening open mic for adults, and more. Stay tuned!

Another storytelling friend and I have a new, long range project in the works as well. We haven't yet unveiled it as we are still fine tuning the details; please check back later to learn about it and share in our excitement.

As I said before, serendipity is a wonderful thing; I would never have the time to work on all these diverse projects had I not left my office position in March. So, onward and upward, exciting, new adventures await. I hope our paths cross along the road!