About Red Phoenix

In February 2012 Terrie Howey, better known as storyteller Red Phoenix, founder and artistic director of Red Phoenix of Storytelling & Productions, was awarded the Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship to fund a project to visit American and Canadian Youth Storytelling Programmes. The aim of this project is to learn more about their methods for supporting, mentoring and funding, as well as building international links for young storytellers. The information gathered during this trip will help storytellers in the UK improve youth storytelling practices and support for such enterprises throughout the country, as well as developing the work we do at Red Phoenix Storytelling & Productions.

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

Well I must say what an adventure I have been on since I last blogged.

Crown of Feathers and Fins has been soaring around the country capturing people’s imagination, and getting some great feedback. On the back of such success, Chris and I have been collaborating on a couple of other projects which we hope to unveil over the coming months.

Crown of Feathers and Fins poster with Red Phoenix and Chris Secker

Crown of Feathers and Fins poster with Red Phoenix and Chris Secker

There have been international trips to perform at festivals, lead workshops and visit schools, whilst back in Blighty there have been tellings in local community events, schools, museums, prisons and supportive housing, MCing at Festival at the Edge (UK’s biggest annual storytelling festival), a spot of living history acting and even running a music festival!

Lois Barrett playing at Stable Stock 9th August. Yes I play the cajon now too, opened my own music festival... the hat helps stop my head from expanding too much :D

Lois Barrett playing at Stable Stock 9th August. Yes I play the cajon now too, opened my own music festival… the hat helps stop my head from expanding too much :D

Throughout this year I have been working with Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, to bring to life the amazing lives and conditions that the code-breakers during WW2 endured in order to work around the clock deciphering the German and Japanese communications. I was working with 4 actors to welcome visitors to the park to the world of 1941, rations and all. In June it lead to performing to Princess Katherine at the royal opening of a new visitor centre.

Red Phoenix steps back into 1941 and becomes Thelma Orton

Red Phoenix steps back into 1941 and becomes Thelma Orton

In other news the biggest change is that Red Phoenix HQ moved. The rolling hills of Hampshire were left far behind for rather flatter but no less picture-esq landscapes of Buckinghamshire. The history and beautiful old coaching town of Stony Stratford is now home, and Red Phoenix has made its nest in the top of York House Centre, a place of arts, creativity and community. It has taken a few months to settle in but it has been a warm welcome and there have been lots of local festival to get involved with, I have even created a Stony Story Stroll exploring Stony’s history through tales and poetry with local poet and Bard (2013) Richard Frost.

Lots more is coming up in the next few months, with new shows in the pipeline, events from Sheffield to Portsmouth and loads of places in between, and working with new creative partners. Exciting times lay ahead, watch this space!

The Crown of Feathers and Fins

For a long time I had wanted to do something with music and storytelling, its nothing new, but I had been telling a story for years which just seemed to beg for some music. I tried telling the story in so many ways, but in my heart I heard music and knew until I matched the two mediums I wouldn’t be happy.

Skip a few years until February 2013 when I am running a workshop at a local youth centre, and start chatting to the manger of the centre, Chris Secker, who I had worked with in 2012 on a storytelling and music workshop. From my musical talent depravity perspective Chris seems to have the ability to pick up virtually any instrument and create improvised masters pieces in seconds… Which got me to thinking that if storytelling works on an improvised level, then any music or musician would also need the ability to improvise too. So when Chris mentioned he’d like to explore storytelling a bit more a plan formed in my mind, a talented improvisational musician with and interest in storytelling… It might be time to revisit that story and music combo again. I already had a booking for a featured spot at Three Heads in a Well storytelling club run by Surrey Storytellers Guild, so I suggested the idea to Chris who hesitantly agreed.

Our first meeting involved telling a couple of stories I thought might lend themselves to the project, and Chris brought along some instruments to explore different sounds, the irony was the story I had been wanting to put to music for so long didn’t inspire Chris all that much… D’oh! We talked about different sections of each story, the characters and their journey both physical and emotional, and the feel of different chapters. I saw a lot of links between the two stories and started exploring ways to piece them together into one over arching show.

The next meeting Chris started to play bits he had composed and we started to fit them with different sections in the stories, and although we unravelled that plan several times over, it was the first spark of what was to come, and ease it would develop. Much of the time I had to just say what was happening in a particular section and the emotional state and Chris would start playing a melody on the ‘three string strum stick’ (which creates a sound somewhere between a regular guitar and a lute) and it would fit as though the tune and story had always been together.

The next four sessions we worked upon the second story, as this was the weakest link, it was also the story I had always wanted mix with music… and as if the music had breathed life into the story, suddenly it was alive. To aid the rehearsals and the development process we recorded each rehearsal, which I then edited and shared with Chris via Dropbox, this made being able to reflect upon the work much more effective, and at each new session the beginning was a buzz of new ideas. It also made refreshing the memory so much easier and hear when the story and music worked, and where we needed to adjust levels, let the music or the story shine and for the other to be quiet.

The potential of where this project was going filled us both with infectious excitement, and when Helen Stewart contacted me about doing a featured spot at ‘Word of Mouth’ in Manchester, and around the same time an opportunity at Farnham Maltings, suddenly we had the makings of a tour. Of course there was then the issue of a title and considering one story featured a feather and the other a mermaid, and both featured Kings, ‘The Crown of Feathers and Fins’ seemed appropriate.

It was at this point Chris left for three weeks to go travel around America, and I was left to play with the word weaving of the stories, and building the over arch of the entire show. This developed through research into the places the stories came from, the mythology that built the backbone of the plot, character exploration through creating family trees and relationships, and ‘Midrashing’ a technique I learnt from Shonaleigh on the Walking the Wildwoods course. During the latter process I started creating pieces of prose, poetry, kennings and riddles which have danced off my tongue twisting the twirling in images.

Finally Chris arrived back with a sprained/fractured right wrist after a snowboarding accident on the last day of his trip, and so for the first week back it was gentle does it, but at last work could begin on the story for the first half, which was just as well as we had two weeks before our first open run through to a test audience. It was a battle tackling this story, although it had been the one of the two which had seemed straight forward to begin with, now we started working with several elements weren’t gelling. Talking, working, talking, working, listening and some of the strongest coffee I have ever drunk in my life as well as chats with the ever wise councils of Belinda McKenna and Tom Goodale, little by little the story emerged.

I am really proud of both halves of the show now, and I known Chris is too, and no more so when we previewed it to the Home Education group consisting of around twelve 11-16yr old. They were told they didn’t have to watch, or could leave after the first half, but all stayed and gave us amazing feedback, including that the show was just the right length (we had been worried it was too long), that the music and story balanced each other and we introduce five new people to storytelling.

It has been a wonderful adventure crafting this show over the last two months, exploring, understanding and creating, not to mention the laughs, coffee and cake that has kept the process going, and it continues to develop. One of the greatest things of this project has been how we both have developed across medium, I suppose to begin with we both thought I’d handle the story and Chris would handle the music, but now we can both happily make suggestions about story and music.

So now it is ready to share with the world and we want to get it out to as many people as possible. Below are the dates and places we are currently booked for, but if you can’t get along to those then book us for a venue near you… We would especially like a few American and Canadian bookings.

8pm, 3rd May 2013 – Word of Mouth, Manchester
7.30pm, 24th May 2013 – Three Heads in a Well, Ewell, Surrey
18th September 2013 – Farnham Maltings, Surrey

Flyer for The Crown for Feathers and Fins

Flyer

The Gathering (Catch up part 2)

On Saturday the 13th April, at the Resource for London venue in Holloway Road, the  Society for Storytelling celebrated its 20th anniversary at the annual ‘Gathering’, quite literally a gathering of storytellers and all those dedicated to supporting storytelling in the UK. This it was only a one day event, unlike the usual two or three days, but it was filled with such community spirit and lively debate I am pleased to have been involved with the organising of it.

SfS 20th anniversary cake

This 50 x 50 cm cake was designed by yours truly, baked and iced by my Mum, and I hand-painted the lettering and phoenix.

 

I wasn’t meant to be, having just stepped down from the Young Storyteller of the Year committee due to a combination of personal reasons, I was attempting to be free from commitments aside from work for  while. Yet in January whilst chatting to Tom Goodale (of such notable fame in the UK storytelling and folk communities) all that was about to change. After having organised the Gathering in 2012 at Chester, Tom was worried no one had stepped forward to do one for 2013, especially as the SfS (Society for Storytelling) always holds in AGM during the Gathering. So Tom was just beginning to plan how and where to have the AGM. I happen to mention, that after doing the Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, I had a number of questions on how the UK community viewed mentoring, and a personal interest in the relationship between storyteller and dramaturg and wondered if I could have some space during the day to interview people about it. I just imaged being tucked into a side room. Yet Tom instantly started talking about panel discussions and a full day of events, and who would be on my wish list of people to talk about these subjects. Within a three hour conversation we had planned the Gathering, set a timetable and I had picked my wish list, and pretty much that timetable didn’t really change massively. I looked at some initial ideas for venues, but after getting very ill had to pass that mantel on to David Harry who did a super job, and Honor Giles organised Katrice Horsley as our wonderful keynote speaker.

I was lucky that nearly everyone I asked agreed to be on the panels, and on the day Ali Quarrell, Polly Tisdall, Shonaleigh Cumbers and Mike Wilson all gave excellent views on mentoring which spawned a great discussion, and has resulted in the creation of a mentoring special interest group, which I am in the process of setting up. After Katrice’s keynote speech (and that was an impossible act to follow) we had the panel on storytelling and dramaturgy, hosted superbly by Sarah Rundle and upon which I, Simon Heywood and Mike Wislon spoke. I was surprised at how well it was received and the comments it prompted. when something starts off as just a personal point of interest, it can be hard to image anyone else feeling it is interesting, or even worth discussing. Seeing how successful both panels were no one was more surprised than me, or more pleased.

To round the day off we had the Taster Tales, which has become a Gathering tradition now, and Honor, Tom and myself had the hard task of picking just six from the influx of applications that came in. Our Tasty Tellers were, Abbie Palache, Annette Armstrong, Phil Okwedy, Mark Steinhardt, Nicola Grove, and Stella Kassimati, all who came in on time and in that room I saw some of the most beautiful tellings I have seen in a while, I have no doubt these will be among the names to watch over the next couple of years.

I had always got the impression that organising a ‘Gathering’ was hard, and many who have done it talk about the experience with a ‘never again’ attitude. But I have to say I loved it, and it was easy, maybe that was because I was working with such a wonderful team of people in Tom, Honor, David and Pippa Reid who gave so much support; or perhaps it was because it was just one day, or maybe a bit of both. I am genuinely sad it is over, the most stressful part of the experience was getting a 50cm x 50cm anniversary cake, with another in my backpack up to London from Petersfield, by train, whilst coping with Labyrinthitis and trying not to fall down or be sick or both, or maybe it was delivering my talk on dramaturgy with a brain that felt like treacle (I did something unthinkable at a storytelling conference, I had to read my notes otherwise my mind would have drifted off topic, but also I remembered why I don’t usually read aloud, my dyslexic brain doesn’t like it – D’oh!). I am so pleased I stayed upright all day, no falls, and only slight sickness (a big thank you to Pippa and her sea sick tablets!) and I am even more pleased someone has stepped up to organise next year’s and that the community seemed to show by numbers, and through comments that the SfS has valued, and is valued and we as a storytelling community care about our development, our future and our traditions.

Coming out of Hibernation… (Catch up part 1)

So finally I am coming out of hibernation from this bleak winter both seasonally and in regards to my blogging goes.

 

Well at last we spoke I had just finished my first week of the three year Walking the Wildwoods course under the supreme supervision of Shonaleigh Cumbers. That week in Halsway Manor was beautiful and such a learning curve, since then I have been working with the tools I learnt, and creating a lot of origami cranes which brought calm in some pretty tempestuous personal storms.

 

December was very quiet, and January although seeing the start of two month school residency also bore witness to the lost of two full weeks of work due to the snow. Much of the work was in relation to the National Storytelling Week, which is celebrate every year in the week containing the 1st February, which is also St Bridget’s day.

St Bridget is a Christianized version of the old Celtic Goddess Brigid who was the Goddess of fire, fertility, the hearth, all feminine arts and crafts, martial arts, smithing, healing, inspiration, learning, and poetry among other things, and is perhaps as close to an ancient deity of storytelling as can be feasibly recognised.

Losing all that work was not only financially hard, but heartbreaking, by able to really bang the drum for storytelling during National Storytelling Week is vital to raising the profile of storytelling in the UK. As a storyteller we work hard all the time spreading the word about storytelling, encouraging audiences, and people to tell. Over the past 11 years since NSW has been running we see each year more and more schools, businesses, groups and individuals take notice and organise events, and so to lose out by the bad weather was saddening. However, Del Reid, organiser of NSW reported at this year’s Society for Storytelling ‘Gathering’ of record hits on the website, so its not all bad. I was lucky half of the work I had booked for NSW got moved to World Storytelling Day around March 20th, and with Book day, or rather week as it increasingly becomes, March proved very busy indeed. In the space of a week I had flown around the through stories on my flying carpet five times, been dressed as a pirate telling pirate and smugglers stories in a Naval town, told cat stories at a Naval base, and secured another storytelling residency, going bi-weekly to a home for disabled adults to tell stories.

 

Red Phoenix and the amazing flying carpet ride

Red Phoenix takes listeners around the world through stories on her amazing flying carpet.

Talking of resident storyteller positions, as well as the weekly one I have visiting a home for profoundly disabled adults, the one I start in January was an amazing project. It started one snowy morning walking around a sculpture park with four groups of year 3s. There were sculptures of every size and type and material at the park near Farnham in Surrey.

one of the wonderful sculptures at the Farnham sculpture park.

The School in Bordon, working along the Phoenix Arts Centre (also in Bordon, Hampshire) had put together a project to create their own sculpture park in the schools grounds (and at two other sites across Bordon, the Phoenix centre and the Eco centre) so that the children could create stories to tell to other children and their families. We started with workshops looking at the sculptures we had seen and building character types from these ideas, and also based in other familiar stories the children knew… We had a lot of werewolves and wizards. Then after picking the top ten most popular characters from the four groups, community artist Rob Turner came in and developed how the children thought these characters might look, and handed these images over to an amazing Chainsaw artist, Jona, how created the images straight from the page.

One of the sculpted characters by the children of Bordon Junior School

Whilst the characters were being carved from huge logs, I came back to do more workshops, this time on how to create, develop, learn and tell a story, and to help the children create their own stories using the sculpted characters. I was also commissioned to create a new story using all the characters and locations involved with the project, which was recorded and put onto MP3’s. Finally everyone came together for a community day at the school to unveil the sculptures, visitors could pick up one of the MP3’s and listen to my story as they walk through the grounds discovery the sculptures, or watch Jona do a chainsaw demonstration. Unfortunately the project ended as it had started, in snow, which meant Rob couldn’t get across from Kent to run a junk sculpture workshop on the day, and my walking tours through the sculptures meant a very chilly 2 hrs outside, and where we had planned for the children to tell their stories outside it proved too cold. We moved the storytent inside and whilst everyone enjoyed hot chocolate and cake, I and the children told stories to warm the heart and soul. It was such a great privilege to be able to spend that amount of time working with the same children on storytelling, and the teachers reported back that it had made a huge difference to their work and attitudes. I just love how when people get the chance to experience the magic of storytelling and the improvements it can offer, without fail they say, ‘why don’t we use this more?’ Indeed a good question, unfortunately the answer is usually found in ignorance and finances.

 

I was lucky to be so busy, but it came at the worst time physically speaking, because in February I was struck down by a virus which aside from attacking my heart showed no other symptoms. I had started to feel a lack of energy, which I put down to the long winter, but as it worsen and I start to feel dizzy and start collapsing it was obvious it was something more, when I finally got checked my blood pressure was down 88/46 at one point and my pulse was so low I was rushed to hospital, hooked up to an ECG and tested for everything. Finally it was concluded that it was a virus, which was also causing ‘Labyrinthitis’ which unfortunately had nothing to do with David Bowie in tight leggins, but rather causes an imbalance sickness placing the body in a constant state of sea sickness. I’d never been sea sick in my life and I have been out on small fishing boats in full on gales. It was terrible, sometimes not being able to move without being sick. After a while the virus stopped attacking my heart, and moved on to attacking my hearing. Although I am still suffering from the Labyrinthitis (they say it can take up to 6 months, to a year to recover) I was given the all clear a few weeks ago that the virus has done no permanent damage. However, they are not so sure about my hearing, the virus has damaged my mid range (where the voice registers) and although it is hoped that no, or minimal, damage has been caused, it is being monitored, until I finally get over it completely they won’t know for sure. In the meantime I have had to cancel a number of events, and even my holiday as I am not supposed to be driving, (a big thanks to my parents who have been ferrying me around to various gigs and workshops) even going on the train with its sideways motion has been troublesome. Good news is apart from the odd comedy prat fall, I am getting better and energy levels this last week have significantly improved.

 

Which was just as well because I helped organise the Society for Storytelling’s 2013 ‘Gathering’ on Saturday the 13th April 2013, and that took a lot of energy, to find one more on how it went, check out my blog post on it ‘The Gathering’.

 

Red Phoenix Here, Red Phoenix There, Red Phoenix, Red Phoenix Everywhere

Well it has been a busy couple of months, and so I have been somewhat lacking on the blog updates, but my time has been well spent…

October began with the annual ‘Pint Pot of Fire‘ storytelling competition, which brings together writers, speakers and storytellers to compete for the converted ‘Pint Pot’. I was back for a second year as the Storytelling Judge, and this year we judges (Rita Wheeler and Bryan Harrison) were treated to an extremely high quality of stories and both Judges and Audience had a hard time choosing the winners: 3rd Charlotte Comley (‘The Trouble with Arthur’ a tale with a zombie twist), 2nd Belinda McKenna (Yes our lovely associate storyteller, who told an amazing autobiographical story about how her life heart condition has made ‘Every Second Counts’), 1st Alison Moulden (‘Deep Fried Mars Bars at the Jungle Food Café’ which chronicled a strange visit to Edinburgh Zoo and the Penguin parade.).
The following night I ran a storytelling workshop in Alton as part of the Alton WordFest. It was well attended by beginners and seasoned tellers. Some wonderful stories were created and shared, it was a lovely evening.

A couple of days I found myself on a flight back to Canada, for 25 days of story-tastic times. I headed back to Toronto, and revisited the women’s group at ‘The Stop’ telling stories and giving a 2.5hr storytelling workshop, and even treated the after school group to some spooky stories for Halloween.

Red Phoenix telling Spooky Tales at the Canadiana Backpackers by Vera

Red Phoenix telling Spooky Tales at the Canadiana Backpackers by Vera

I even nipped back to the Canadian Backpackers to do a set of spooky stories as a warm set before I headed to Ottawa to be the featured teller at the ‘Once Upon a Slam‘ which got a good write up. It was lovely revisiting the lovely ladies and lads of the Ottawa StoryTelling community, especially Ruthanne Edward, Gail Anglin, Catlin Paxson and Martha Singh, I was also really touched that some of the members (Kelly, Debbie and Gary) of the  Bodhran Expert Platinum Group with whom I have been learning for the couple of years, turned out to see me tell. Thanks Guys!!!

Soon I was heading back to the UK and straight into a busy week of Halloween stories telling lots of Gruesome Grimms Fairy Tales, while Belinda returned to Marwell Wildlife Park for the third year running to bewitch crowds with more Grimms Tales (anyone would think its was the 200th Anniversary of the 1st Edition of the Grimms Fairytales being published… Oh hang on… IT IS!!!). And whilst many other were celebrating Bonfire Night I was on a train up to Edinburgh for a few days to discuss future storytelling projects and to visit my former lecturer, Dr Ksenija Hovat, and university Queen Margaret University where I was a guest lecturer, and whom have recently written an article on my progress since graduating in 2007. Dashing back to the South of England I had a wonderful morning telling dragon stories and being a Dragonologist answering questions on all types of dragons and help them investigate the strange Dragon sightings and clues left in their classrooms.

Red Phoenix telling Dragon tales suitably dressed to deal with any wayward Dragons

Red Phoenix telling Dragon tales suitably dressed to deal with any wayward Dragons

Later that day I was dinning in the Houses of Parliament as part of the WCMT annual dinner, what ever your political views, it was hard not to be impressed by the beauty of the building both inside and out.

A few days of rest and washing later and bags are packed once again, this time to head off to Somerset to take part in Shonaleigh Cumbers‘ ‘Wild Woods’ course, for which I have been excited about starting for over a year.

So as a said a busy couple of months, and with an international festival on the horizon early next year it doesn’t look set to calm down… Did I say I love my job!!!!

a GRIMM ole time!

After the generosity I received on my WCMT trip, with so many storytellers giving me time, books, cds, and a place to stay, I wanted to have the opportunity to give something back, and so this week I am playing host to American storytellers Judith Heinemann and Daniel Marcotte who are over in the UK performing their show Grimm’s Grimmest as part of Kingston University’s After Grimm: Fairy Tales and the Art of Storytelling’ Conference.

Judith and Dan performing Grimm’s Grimmest

I first met Judith in Cincinnati, in fact I was one of the first people she met when she arrived and Karen Chace introduced us and within the first two minutes of conversation we had established that Judith was going to be visiting the UK in September, performing at Kingston Uni and would be staying with me, and now she is it is lovely. Although Judith didn’t come alone, she brought the very talented musical gem Dan Marcotte with her, who I met for the first time when I opened my front door to them on Wednesday.

I am very glad to be able to host two such warm and giving folks, especially because it would seem they have brought the weather with them! Plus it has been great to be sat answering work emails to live lute playing in my living room. And apparently my flat is Dan’s ideal holiday resort, because I am a self-confessed Geek, so my collection of Sci-fi movies and series, my fantasy and sci-fi collector pieces, and my comic book collection and fiction library have been the subject of much conversation.

It has been wonderful to see so many lovely and familiar faces at the conference too, especially when so many of them graced the stage last night to perform a variety of Grimm stories. As well as Judith and Dan, there was Kelly Kanayama (with whom I appeared with earlier this year at the Taster Tales, as part of the Gathering, the Society for Storytelling’s conference), Janet Dowling with who I work with wearing my Surrey Storytellers Guild hat (actually we had a good representation what with Janet, Jeff, me, Alistair and Paul, it was a shame Belinda couldn’t make it, but she was being all dramatic and taking a week in hospital – feel better soon you crazy lady!), Cat Weatherill – the beautiful and sassy fellow redhead, and the spellbinding and somewhat other worldly Jamie Crawford. Not to mention the talent sitting in the audience with the likes of Simon Heywood and Jack Zipes!

Janet Dowling telling the Sea Hare

The evening of stories was truly mesmerising. First up on the small black stage with plush red curtains falling behind was Judith and Dan and their wonderful dressed stage with skulls and candles, Judith’s long black cape and their blend of story, music and historical periods (as Dan explains: ‘We like to take our 19th Century collected Grimm’s tales set them to 16th Century Ballard tunes using a Renascence lute and 21st Century vernacular’.). Next was Kelly blending the Germany folk tales with her experience of East Asian Mothers. A short break then catapulted us into a second half of strange beasts. Janet’s telling of the Sea Hare will linger with me always, I have seen Janet tell many times, but I have never seen her tell with such… pleasure, by the end of her story every woman in the room wanted race off and find a Sea Hare of her own! Cat’s use of the stage, dynamics and emotionally raw tensions really exploded the characters from ‘Donkey Cabbages’ into the room, always just at the right moment so that a greater understanding of the motives and complex relationships was understood and felt throughout the room, a highly enjoyable and thoughtful performance. And never one to disappoint, the last teller of the night was Jamie who told a modernised version of ‘Bearskin’. Jamie seems to have a elven quality to his movements and facial gestures, with just a look of his eyes you could which character was feeling what, he lept on and off the stage and really used every inch of the performance to his advantage, setting the scene and inviting the audience into every aspect of the story.

Cat Weatherill starting her version of ‘Donkey Cabbages’ with a haunting ballad

By the end of the night I felt fulfilled and exhausted by my journey through those dark woods of the Black Forest, and having met such wondrous creatures, sung along to and be serenaded by a chorus of ballads, mixed with magic and danced with the devil.

For a free event it was one that there was no reason to miss, and is such a shame that so many of the delegates of the conference chose too – especially as so many others had been desperate for tickets and turned away. We had so much top talent giving their time for free crammed into a small converted church-theatre and yet half the seats were left empty. It is an issue that comes up time and time again, and makes my heart bleed every time. Storytelling is such a beautifully powerful art form we should support and cherish and yet the attitude of most is that it can be free or it can be missed… if you had seen what I saw last night, you would never miss a tale, fable or story again, maybe this is why I felt the need to play my Bodhran as we walked into Kingston after the show, ‘The storytellers are coming, the storytellers are coming, listen, celebrate and share!’

Mud, Mud, Glorious MUD!!!

The travels across Canada and America maybe over for now, but that doesn’t mean the adventure has come to an end…

The August bank Holiday weekend, as well as being the usually rainy affair we Brits are used to on Bank Holidays, was also the West Country Storytelling Festival, as well as the Devizes International Street Festival.

If you have never been to a storytelling festival, let me start by saying they are curious places where reality no longer holds importance, and fairies, dragons, heroes and villains can achieve impossible feats.

The West Country festival has been held for the past two times at Embercombe in Devon, just outside of Exeter. It has a very eco approach, and as well as have a beautiful stone circle, spiral mound, and lake, it has yurts with wood burning stove for those of us who wanted a bit of luxury as opposed to the camping option… which with all the rain I am mighty glad I booked the luxury!!!

This year’s WC Storytelling festival had a lot more poetry and music sessions, as well as crafts and agricultural workshops than previous years, but this might also be why, when asked at the opening ceremony who was new to the storytelling festival, over half the 750 peopled crowd said they had never been before. In a year when I have been looking at ways to encourage new people into storytelling this was heartening. The Opening ceremony had its usual Embercombe blend of honouring the land, the stories and the mysteries, and after the crowd had sung and swayed, the festival was officially underway.

opening ceremony at the West Country Storytelling Festival

The opening ceremony at the West Country Storytelling Festival, waking the giants of the land and stirring the stories.

There weren’t as many storytellers as in some years, and unfortunately most of the storytellers of note were programmed all to on in the many (some might say far too numerous, yet small) venues during the same times, which meant for those of us going mainly for the storytelling you had some sessions where it was frustratingly hard to decide who to see and who to miss, and other sessions where it was a struggle to find something to see at all. It was delightful though to find time to catch up with storytellers, and have time to meet new tellers too.

The highlights of the weekend were Jan Blake’s amazing stories and music which just made you want to dance. Simon Heywood’s ‘Jack Tales’, and later the same day ‘Robin Hood’, where I discovered several things I didn’t know about ole Robby as Simon blended history and story together beautifully around the fireside in the thick green woods of Embercombe. Shonaleigh’s Ruby Tree captured my heart, brought tears to my eyes and made me think of a story I wanted to give someone special. Sue Charman told the Handless Maiden with such skill, strength and understanding that I found many new levels to the story. Ben Haggarty’s ‘Iron Man’ was told with energy and power, so that the audience could just about feel the ancient Iron Man stirring beneath the ground, and Martin Shaw’s ‘Cinderbiter’ really did transport me somewhere totally other worldly, a fine mixture of music, story, rhythm and wonder, once it finished I actually found I could not speak for a full 10 mins – Martin my friends wants to know that secret!

People sat on top the spiral mound beneath the moon.

People sat on top the spiral mound at Embercombe, telling stories beneath the moon.

The low points was the weather, the damn rain and mud got everywhere, the lack of water for the loos, and the programme booklet being very confusing to read and not having details of the sessions, or times on each page.

The weekend quickly flew by and the fire ceremony Sunday evening really captured the spirit of Embercombe. Unfortunately I had to miss the closing ceremony, as a very early start on Monday saw Team Phoenix heading off to Devizes to perform all day at Devizes international Street Festival, however the weather had other plans! On the up side right next to the story tent, Nero’s Café was kind enough to open a new shop and so all drinks were free until 12noon – and a girl can never turn down free hot chocolate! Last year when I performed at the Festival it was a beautiful sunny day and I did 7 performances between 11am – 6pm with the crowds gathering around the story tent up to 250 people, but this year with the rain we only did 5 performances with the largest crowd being 20 people, and by 5pm all the performers and stall holders were closing up and running for cover as the streets turned into rivers.

Devizes international street festival in the rain

Steam Punk cyclists at the Devizes international street festival, like the rest of us getting very soggy as people dashed for cover from the rain.

Maybe it was the weather or something else but I had a strange day telling, I had gone through my 400 strong repertoire and decided on the stories I would tell during the day, but out of the 20 I had chosen not one of them came, instead I became a story juke-box, asking the crowds what they liked stories about, and from that choosing tales – it was great! Sometimes the freedom to just tell a story in the moment brings about amazing things. It was also great to see people I had told to last year and who still remembered the stories… that is the best feeling as a storyteller that you left stories behind for people to enjoy.

And so the rain still falls tapping on my window as I tap on the keys writing up my report about my journey and discoveries in Canada and America, it makes as a strange rhythm, the music of stories, listen and see what stories you hear…

time flies!!! part 2

After San Francisco the next and last stop was Montreal for the SCCC (Storytellers of Canada) national conference. However I did make one final pit stop in Toronto to try and rest as the all the travelling was beginning to take it toll and to it gave me the chance to say goodbye to people in the hostel that had made Toronto home over the last month, and who I hope our paths will cross again.Thank you so much to Lindon, Pete, Dave, Dimitri, Laura, Sandra, Mary, Anna, Iman, Stephie, Nicole, Marijanka, Mossy, Hendrik, Kathrin, Amelia, Gordiano, Robbie, Goran, Marcin and Vera for making Toronto unforgettable, it was a barrel of a time!

With one last teary glance I said farewell and headed for Montreal a few days later than planned, and several hours later thanks to the bus deciding it had its own special timetable (at this point in my travels I was so over the bus journeys, to other WCMT travellers I give this piece of advice… take the train, or in fact just treat yourself to the plane, you’ll have more energy to do your work!) Finally reached Montreal, tired, hungry and on the brink of a hypo, then I found the storytellers with food, and soon sleep and the world was a better place!

The next morning the conference started, and just like the NSN conference a whirl of faces and names, workshops and performances filled the area, and information and contacts abound at every avenue. I will admit that my energy levels were not what they had been in Cincinnati, and getting up early and staying up late to catch people to chat about youth storytelling just wasn’t physically possible, and with the venue having no air-con everyone was finding staying awake tricky. However I did manage a conversation here and there, interviews, and I came away from it with pockets of cards to contact people who I knew I wouldn’t get the chance to talk over the weekend. I spoke to Jennifer Caley about how she got the Canadian arts council to recognise storytelling as an art form in its own right, which would hugely beneficial around in UK. Ruthanne Edward’s workshop on Story Slams was a wealth of discussion about getting young/youth into storytelling, and the methods, and the AGM of the conference was unlike any AGM I have ever been too, so much fun and silliness… got to say I approved.

The SCCC 2012 Storyquilt

The SCCC 2012 Storyquilt, I so wanted this, its a beautiful idea!!!

I also got to see the Story quilt, which is a bit of a Tradition, a new one is made each year byt the storytellers and the auditioned off to raise money to support the ‘Story Save’ project, which aims to record the voices of the older storytellers in the community, so they aren’t lost forever.

The Lovely Ladies from Ottawa, Gail, Ruthanne, Caitlyn and Me

The Lovely Ladies from Ottawa, Gail, Ruthanne, Caitlyn and Me

It was also really lovely to see many of the tellers I had met on my way around Canada, Mary from St John’s, Dan, Donna, Marylyn and Molly from Toronto, and the lovely ladies from Ottawa Gail, Ruthanne and Caitlyn, Dear Ole Winston even turned up on my last night…

Sir Winston, hanging on the wall of the Sir Winston Churchill Pub, Montreal

Sir Winston, hanging on the wall of the Sir Winston Churchill Pub, Montreal

My last weekend of my trip rushed past in a heat haze of stories, and sweet memories, and ended by being asked to tell a story at the closing ceremony of the conference, which I felt very honoured to do. Thank you to all those who made the SCCC conference amazing, including Cindy Cambell, Renée Englot, Nicolas Rochette, Marylyn Peringer, Dan Yashinsky, Stéphanie Bénéteau, Norman Walker, Petronella van Dijk, Peter Jarvis, Sylvi Belleau, Mary Fearon, Yannic, Judith Poirier, Yves Robitaille, Jan Andrews, Jennifer Cayley, Jennifer Ferris, Gail Anglin, Ruthanne Edwards, Caitlyn Paxon, Donna Dudinsky,

I can honestly say I never wanted the final hours of my trip to come, and found that I could of happily spent the whole six weeks in each place I went and still had more questions and more contacts to discover. I had some of my pre-trip thoughts confirmed, I had some questions answers, and discovered many more to ask. I was inspired by people, stories, places, moments, chocolate and the generosity of everyone I met my way around. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity that the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust has awarded me, and have appreciated each and every moment people have spared to talk, listen and advise me, and even cheered me on from back home. I may not always had as much time with people as I would have like, but every second counted and has touched, inspired, and altered me forever.

I have learnt that for all I want to achieve in my project this trip was not the whole conversation, but the beginning of a dialogue, so I know already that I will return and hopefully often and soon.

 

 

time flies!!! part 1

Well its been a few weeks since I updated, for which I apologise for. My last two weeks of my trip turned into a whirlwind of planes, trains and automobiles.

So the last installment I was in Toronto, It was becoming increasingly hard to leave as the hostel had quickly become home and where I was returning to in between the different sections of my travels, also have to say I met some amazing people there. Performing in front of my friends, and some just confused hostelers was nerve racking but brilliant, and it was great to share what I do and I was really pleased that people seemed to enjoy it, especially because the age range of the hostelers was for the most part the age range that my project applies too, so good news fellow storytellers, they are out there and they do enjoy stories!

Red Phoenix Performing at the Canadiana Backpackers in Toronto

Red Phoenix Performing at the Canadiana Backpackers in Toronto

Very early the next Sunday morning I was at the airport ready to fly to San Francisco and when I got there I was greeted by Robert Greygrass,

Robert Greygrass and Carmel, my generous hosts in San Fran

Robert Greygrass and Carmel, my generous hosts in San Fran

a storyteller who I met pretty much a year ago to the day, while he was over performing at the ‘Festival at the Edge’ which was just drawing to a close back home in Britain at the time Robert arrived to pick me up. And then it was a trip through San Francisco, checked out a couple of toruist spots on the way home and drove over the Golden Gate Bridge… to say I was somewhat excited is an understatement… I WAS IN CALIFORNIA BABY!!!!

However the intial excitment got somewhat subdued by the first couple of days plans getting rearranged, as various people had to cancel and rearrange, which was a pity…

Red Phoenix singing on the San Francisco trolley sytem

Red Phoenix gets her Judy Garland moment.

but it did allow time for the sight seeing of San Fran, and roaming around the Napa Valley and Berkley area.It was nice to catch up with Kevin Gerzevitz again, one of the storytellers I had met at the NSN conference, almost a month earlier, and recap the conference and the learning from it. I was really lucky on the Thursday evening to have the chance to perform in California, which Robert had arranged.

 

Friday started early as Robert was driving me up to Camp Winnarainbow, a performance skills summer camp, which is open to both adults and children (although not at the same time) and I was lucky enough to be performing there too, and would get the chance to talk to organisers… who I discovered was THE ‘Wavy Gravy’, and the camp was at the ‘Hog Farm’ (if this isn’t meaning much to you, Wavy Gravy has been on the Simpsons and has a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavour named after him – go google him now!!!!).

The Tipi village at Camp Winnarainbow where the campers get to sleep.

The Tipi village at Camp Winnarainbow where the campers get to sleep.

The camp was an amazing place where young people are taught various performance skills, or encouraged to develop the ones they have whether circus, drama, music or dance, but its the life skills which are formed out of the kids gaining confidence, communication and creativity which was the amazing part. I got the chance to talk to campers, staff and organisers, which was wonderful, everyone was so positive about the camp, the learning and the development which could be globally reaching, and that storytelling was already being used as part of the process was a highlight.

Red Phoenix dancing with one of the 'dupers'

I got taught a move or two while I was there.

Unfortunately my time at the camp flew by and soon I had to leave to get back to San Francisco (the camp was in Northern California, in the mighty Redwood forests – beautiful) and the trip back to the airport was one of adventure, hells angels, forest fires, traffic jams, flight rearrangements, after which I was never so pleased to see Toronto’s CN tower!

Trips, Tricks and no Ticks

Its was a very early start Saturday morning to get up and ready to so the radio show interview in St Johns, I talked about my research project with the Winston Churchill Fellowship, and plugged the show I was doing that weekend, got to ramble about general story-ness and told the Storytellers parable, and when they asked me if I knew any Newfie music which I would liked played I turned into a total girlie fan and blethered about Great Big Sea and Alan Doyle’s new album, so they played me one of his new songs – I was silly happy!!!!

 

I then went for a lovely brunch with Dale & Kelly after which I headed out to sea for a few hours whale watching.

Humpback whale tail

A Humpback Whale

Whilst out at sea I also got ‘Screeched’ a special ceremony to become an hounary Newfloundlander, which involved drinking dark rum, speaking special phrases and kissing a puffin’s bum! Now there’s a story!!!!

In the evening I went to see Dale Jarvis’ ‘Ghosts of Signal Hill’ show, which was an absolute treat, and I highly recommend to anyone who finda themselves in St Johns. After we headed out to Bay Roberts ready for my story show the next day, Which went amazingly well, more people turned up than expected and everyone seemed to really enjoy the stories and my energetic style. I also learnt that St Johns has no posionious plants no snakes, frogs or ticks.

Monday morning I left St Johns to return to Toronto so that Tuesday I could retunr to the Stop and tell some more stories at the women’s group, and because the summer camp was on I ended up telling to the kids camp and the women’s group. again it went really well and because the kids thought I looked like the Princess from Brave, I told some Scottish stories. I then headed to the Academy of the Impossible to meet Emily Pohl-Weary a writer who works with creative youths in Toronto. I interviewed a few of the attendees and Emily and got a really good prespective on how youths in Toronto (and I suspect elsewhere) find out about activities that they are interested in, and their views on storytelling, and all of them from hip-hop artists to playwright, games designers and poet all told me they were heavily drawing on storytelling to support their work.

Wednesday I back up to Ottawa for an evening interviewing the Ottawa storytellers about youth storytelling, in the gathering were a collaction of tellers who work with youth tellers, are youth tellers, and those just interested in the discussion. from that I have serveral hours of audio recording to sit through and write up… a good evening with good food and lots to think about.

Then back to Toronto for the last few days before heading to San Fran, and while out shopping earlier I bumped into Trick form the series ‘Lost Girl’ I was very excited (lucky it wasn’t Dyson, Vex or Kensi!). And as a parting shot t to the hostel I have been staying in and the many new friends I have made there, I am telling tonight as part of the wine and cheese evening.

Black board in hostel advertising my show tonight

The sight that greeted me at breakfast this morning! Good Stuff!!!