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!