Saturday, September 30, 2017

Storytelling Is A Joyful Thing

Anyone who has spent any time telling for children has heard this phrase....

- Every time we got in the car they had to listen to your CD. No offense, but I got really sick of hearing your voice! -

There are days when I am getting up at stupid 0'clock to head out to a school, and I think to myself,

If I worked conferences more often or any other type of venue, I could still be asleep! Why does the bulk of my work have to begin at 8:45am?

-As an educator and performer, I know how impactful storytelling can be to brain development, language development, communication, literacy, and empathy...that doesn't mean I have to be the person out there doing it at such a foolish hour of the morning!

Sitting in traffic at 8:30am makes thoughts like this careen around in my head like a pinball.

All of that, of course, is before I get there.

Writing this blog has been an interesting journey for me. Sometimes I get so caught up in the inside/business work of being a storyteller I forget that there is the absolute fun of it. The anticipation of waiting to share a great tale is palpable in me, and often even the audience before we ever begin!

I spend so much time writing about the business of telling and the craft of telling, I don't always focus on the absolute joy and reward of it.

I don't want anyone to think storytelling is an easy, throw away thing to do.
I don't want people to think that there is no work, skill, or craft involved in this art form.

I probably don't spend enough time reveling in the experience on this space. So, today, I will share some of the good stuff.

The Barking Mouse
Antonio Sacre
- I was in South Carolina and one of the Kindergarten teachers asked me, "Do you know Antonio Sacre? For a period of time in my family, his was the most important voice of my kid's childhood. We loved him. We still tell his stories. We were with a family who primarily spoke Spanish when we saw him, and all of the kids fell in love with him. We played his recordings so much, we can tell all of his stories by heart. They are in their late teens now, and they still talk about him and tell his stories.

- I got an email from one of my friends who lives in Kansas who wrote, "Oh my gosh, my husband and I were walking through this park, and we saw an advertisement for storytelling, and we were like, "Hey, maybe Donna will be there." You weren't there, obviously, but we saw this amazing performer. Antonio Rocha? He was fabulous! He was a mime storyteller! We didn't even know that existed. He did this thing where he almost got carried away by a big balloon! Have you ever seen him?"
Do you know this guy named

- A teacher at one of the middle schools in Chicago came up to me as I was packing up to leave, "You came to my middle school when I was in seventh grade. I will never forget it, and today, when I heard you were coming, I was through the roof. I have been talking to my kids about you non stop all week, and they were prepared to be disappointed because they said nobody could be as good as I said you were. When they got back to the class, they were blown away. Now, all they want to do is talk about you. Thank you."

- I've been asked about a whole host of other tellers. They always start you know...and then they launch into the story of where they saw the teller and how important that person was to them and their family.

I don't know all of the storytellers they list, but I am usually familiar with the stories they told.

When I get in front of middle school audiences within about one hundred miles of where I live, I often ask them if they saw me as elementary school kids. Most of them have. They are the easiest audiences. They already like stories, they remember me, and they are anxious to see what we are going to do next.

In the end, they almost always ask for tongue twisters because that is something I do with elementary school kids to get them to start playing with language.

 It is always cool to me when some seventh or eighth grader stops me and says, "Listen to this" and breaks out with a tongue twister. Their next statement is usually something like..."I learned to do that after you did tongue twisters for us."

I've worked with Freshmen in college who've geeked out over seeing me because they remembered me from elementary school. It is quite fun to watch some eighteen year old kid announced, "Epaminandus, you ain't got the sense you was born with!"

Our next door neighbors moved to Texas some years ago. They contacted me last November and told me that out of nowhere, their ten year old started telling Bastienello unprompted. He hadn't heard the CD in years. His fourteen year old brother told it with him. They had a blast in the car. She sent me a recording. It did my heart good to hear it. The audio is really low, but I sat glued to the computer listening to them retell that story with both sass and "bro" language. It was hysterical.

The next generation of people who love stories, support storytelling, and want to be storytellers is moving through our schools. I am honored to be one of the people on the front lines helping them to experience, love, and be excited about storytelling as an art, career, and consumer.

If you work in schools, sitting in front of you is a kid who might one day get up on stage and begin the work for the generations that follow.

From My Scrapbook!
I know this for certain because when I was a Freshman in high school, I sat in an audience and saw a storyteller with a puppet. The show was called The Wizard and Groark. I loved that show. I went up afterwards and got an autograph from the performer.

Many, many years later I was at a storytelling festival in Ocalla, Fl and I could barely contain myself. The fellow who I shared a stage with was none other than Randall McGee. aka The Wizard.

I couldn't wait to tell him that I'd seen him when I was a kid. I couldn't wait to tell him that he was my first actual professional teller. I couldn't wait to admit that the reason I knew that I could do this was because I remember seeing him all those years ago.

Randall McGee and Groark
I remember how excited I was. I can still feel it even as I look at these pics I just posted!

 I get to see that excitement on the faces of so many others.

Storytelling is a joyful thing.

Yes, it is a great deal of work, yes, it is an exhausting business...but it is definitely a joyful thing!

Happy Telling!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

30 Years As A Storyteller!

My season is in full swing. I've only been visiting my home for the last few weeks as I drive all around the eastern United States.

The work has been fun and interesting.

The workshops have been successful.

The kids have been great.

The educators and parents have been great.

I have been having the time of my life.

I've also been mixing it up a bit.

After thirty years, I feel like I know what works and what doesn't. I feel like I have a good handle on my material and what I want out of it. I feel like I'm pretty good at selecting stories and composing story sets.

What I am discovering is that I seem to have moved into one of those periods where things are bubbling up to the top. Just as I get comfortable, I begin rearranging the room. I'm starting to dare myself about the work just to see what happens.

I am trotting out new material and reworking old material just trying to see how it hits an audience . I'm learning new introductions, and different ways to work folktales and personal narrative together so they speak to various populations. I'm finding nuances, connections, and coming up against ideas that have never occurred to me.

Peter Cook
I'm going to be in Chicago in October at University of Chicago on a panel about using gesture and body in storytelling. Leeny is going to be there as well! I will get to see the healing Megan Wells, and the wonderful Janice Del Negro.

I'll be out in California on my birthday, and in the schools. I don't know if I'll get a chance to visit....but I might.

I also managed to secure a literary agent, and I am now deep in edits for my first novel. Somehow, I overcame my unwillingness to admit that I really want to be writing more for a living, and someone out there said they'd give me a chance.

I'm equal parts terrified, excited, and still in disbelief as I try to reshape a novel for the real world and not my own enjoyment.

Heathwood Hall
I'm sitting in a Hampton Inn in Columbia, SC this afternoon after spending the entire day at Heathwood Hall teaching and telling.

The last few weeks have been quite a wild ride.

One of my adopted ten rules of thumb for the artist is, "If you keep hitting the target you are probably too close."

It is hard to move that target because you might miss...but if you don't move it, you don't get anywhere as an artist.

Today I'd planned to write about being honest with yourself about booking shows so that your first set is as crisp as your last. What is the largest and smallest number of sets you can do in a day and deliver the best quality and why?

I will blog about that next week, but I am feeling pretty transformed about the work I'm doing, and I am finding it hard to be practical!

So, I will continue to throw pasta agains the wall and see what sticks, and hope I come out of it better able to do my job.

I wonder if this has something to do with turning fifty this year?
My kids both in college?
Feeling like I just hit a new phase in my life?
Watching my nieces and nephews get older?
Celebrating my thirtieth year as a professional storyteller?

Who knows?

Ultimately, it doesn't matter. I moved the target. I mean to spend a decade or more trying to perfect my shot.

Happy Experimenting!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Final Day of Teller In Residence - Thoughts on Day 5

My last day in Jonesborough at the International Storytelling center was wonderful. I taught a two hour workshop about literacy and storytelling.

I got a chance to visit the farmer's market.

It was strange to be in the town without the streets blocked, the crowds roaming everywhere, and the shops so full I couldn't enter. I'm glad I got to see Jonesborough as it is every other week of the year!

I had a great conversation with Susan O'connor. Drop her a line if you can. She had a burst pipe and a flooded kitchen when she got home from visiting her grandchildren. Send her some good energy.

Kiran was hanging out at a diner and I just happened to run into him. He was, as usual, hip deep in social activism - finding beds and shelter for people affected by Hurricane Harvey.

I met Krystal Hawkins who has stepped into Becky Brunson's massive shoes and is acquitting herself well.

I am both humbled and energized by my time as Teller-In-Residence.

The story of the rise of storytelling as a profession in our country is one that fills me with gratitude.

I am proud to be part of this continuum. I am honored to be a member of this community.

After my last show, a young man named Jay came up to me.

Jay: "Do you know Rives Collins?"

Me: "Yes! He is the reason I am a storyteller."

Jay: "Really? The reason why I'm here is because I had to see a professional storyteller and write a paper about it."

Me: "Cool! He's amazing."

Jay: "Not only that, you say you live in Durham, NC, right?"

Me: "Yes."

Jay: "I was born in Durham, NC."

Me: "Really?"

Jay: "Yeah."

Me: "Durham Regional Hospital, right?"

Jay: "Yeah!"

Me: "My husband used to work there, and my daughter was born there."

Jay: "Wow. You know. I keep getting signs from the universe that maybe I should be a storyteller."

(He explained to me that he and Rives have the same middle name. It is an unconventional one!)

Me: "Do you want to be a storyteller?"

Jay: "Yeah. I think I do."

Me: "Well, let me tell you, this is a possible career. You can make a living at this."

Jay: "I'm thinking that this might be the way I want to go."

Me: "Good luck."

The story continues......

Happy Telling!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Teller In Residence - Reflections on Day 4

Home Sweet Home For The Week!

They came for the show this afternoon, and then bought me ice cream at JJ's Eatery and Ice Cream.

They were visiting from outside of Knoxville!

I bumped into this guy....

Dropped into the Lollipop Shop on Main Street

I stand up when I tell stories, but this cool, custom made storytelling chair they have at the center is enough to make me wish I sat!

Having an Amazing Time!

Happy Telling!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Teller In Residence - Thoughts from Day 3

Jackie Torrence

If you asked me which storyteller had the most influence on how I tell, I would definitely say it was Jackie Torrence.

Jackie's style of telling, the way she used expression, and hand gesture were my models.

It is always a joy to me when someone asks me if I knew her, because every now and then I do something that reminds them of her.

Walking around this tiny little town, I am reminded of Jackie's last performance. I stood right in the front of that tent with tears streaming down my face shouting for her at the top of my lungs.

My third day here in Jonesborough, TN has been lovely. The rain stopped, the temperature was pleasant, and I got to walk around downtown.

Today I told stores from my 'Relationships Gone Sideways' program. It is a great deal of fun.

Boone Street Market
Afterwards, I stopped at the Boone Street Market and got lovely gluten free cookies some excellent

cheese and some beautiful purple grapes.

The Corner Cup gave me a free latte seen' as I'm a teller and all, and I popped into a few other places.

Davey from Downtown Sweet! He makes the chocolate and such!
I bought truffles for The David (don't tell him) at a new chocolatier on Main Street called Downtown Sweet who makes some incredible pralines.

One of the audience members left me a lovely little bouquet of flowers.

Yesterday, after the telling, I asked if anyone had any questions they wanted to ask me.

One woman raised a hand. "I don't want to be rude or anything, but did you used to be a really big woman? you know, really big?" and she made a large gesture.

I grinned at her. You're thinking of Jackie Torrence. She snapped her fingers. "That's right! I'm sorry."

"Don't be," I said, "I'm honored that I called her to your mind. She was one of my favorite tellers. She was one of my mentors."

 I love being here in Jonesborough.

Happy Telling!

Teller In Residence - Thoughts From Day 2

Started my second morning with a fun hour and a half laugh riot discussion with Pamela Miller from the Jonesborough Storytelling Guild at The Corner Cup!

Caramel Latte and a gluten free tart!

For seven years, Pam has been driven by a dream to create a space in Jonesborough that is dedicated to the history of the resurgence of storytelling through books, costumes, puppets, writings, and anything that storytellers want to contribute. It would house all of the early history and recordings of the National festivals, and any CDs people wanted to send. The bottom floor would hold books and such, and the upper floors would have listening and viewing rooms.

Pam's dream is that it would be "A National And International Resource For Storytelling Research, Collections, and Artifacts"Laura Simms, and and Liz Weir are also engaged in this work.

Their long, tireless effort has finally begun to bear fruit!

They've found a space. The City has granted them a 20 year lease.

They have been given permission by the family to call it The Kathryn Tucker Windham Center.

If you are interested in finding out more about this organization, what it will do specifically, or wish to get involved with this project as it gets off the ground...CLICK HERE!

As for me,

My cat and I
I did a set called Witchy Women yesterday afternoon. These are tales about love, cleverness, resilience, hope, and facing the dark with determination and love. They are some of my favorite types of stories.

I love witches in general. Considering what I look like without my make-up.....

Really enjoying this quiet time to write and edit.

If you are in Irma's path, stay dry. If you are in the path of the wildfires raging out west stay clear.

Be well!

Happy Telling.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Teller In Residence - Thoughts From Day 1

I love Folktales. I have loved them since I was a tot. Whatever else you can expect of me if you see me perform, you can be sure that if at all possible, I will work folktales into personal narratives included.

As the world of storytelling is more and more defined by the personal narrative, it often gives those of us who tell folktales pause.

(Personal Narrative (PN) is a prose narrative relating personal experience usually told in first person; its content is nontraditional.[1] Personal refers to a story from your life or your own experiences. Nontraditional refers to literature that does not fit the typical criteria of a narrative.

Is there a market for folktales amongst adults?        

How do adults deal with folktales?

How do people react to them?

Do we really need to hear these stories again?

This week, in Jonesborough, all of the sets I plan to present have folklore in them somewhere. Some, like today, have an introduction that is definitely personal, but the meat of the set is folklore.

The answer is...grown people will listen to folklore.

Adults enjoy it when it is done wholeheartedly and they react to it in some ways like children react to it.

Click here to watch Marilyn Tell The Juniper Tree
When I was out in California, I heard the wonderful Marilyn McPhie throw down some amazing folktales.

Adults are often mortified or shocked or interested in different elements than the children, but they react with the same gusto. I'm always pleased when I get audible gasps from the grown folk.

Storytelling audiences will play with you.

I've done my first turn as an almost straight up folklorist here as a Teller In Residence, and the response was positive.

One woman said to me afterwards, "I don't tend to like folklore, I'm tired of hearing the Cinderella story or whatever, but that was creative and interesting. I liked that!"

Tell what you tell with enthusiasm and genuine love. That is what is required of us as storytellers.

Happy Telling.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Teller In Residence at Jonesborough, TN

I'm in residence at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, TN

I'll try to write a little about it every day so I won't be stuck trying to remember what happened next week.

My first public concert is tomorrow at 2 pm at the Center Theatre here in Jonesborough.

Happy Telling!