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!’

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.

 

 

Internet Killed the Backpacker!!!

So I went from the thronging conference held in the swanky Marriott Hotel in Cincinnati to the back street backpackers hostel in Toronto, it was always goign to be a change, but having been a keen and well travelled backpacker in the past I was prepared, or at least I thought I was.

It wasn’t the best of starts, the plane was delayed in Cincinnati due to bad weather, and I mean BAD, don’t believe check the news about Ohio! It was beautiful arriving into Toronto on the tail end of Canada Day, as I flew over the city all the fireworks were going off – stunning and at the same time disconcerting have things fly up and explode as you are descending. Just for good measure the bus was late and when I arrived into the room expecting even at this late hour backpackers still to be up due to the celebrations, everyone was asleep!

So I slept missing all my new found friends from the conference, and Monday I got on with my day (which consisted of finding Godiva’s chocolate shop – a girl has her priorities! – and getting my Canadian phone up and running) I get back to the hostel thinking I should spend a little time catching up on blogging and emails, to find the hostel slient once more, people were awake, but all plugged into their laptops. I remember when hostels were bursting with stories, but sadly this is no longer the case, rather than going out and exploring the many wonders of Toronto they sit watching episodes of tv shows or films… I was at a lost as to what technology has cost us.

So OK, I am right here being one of them, I do get the irony about complaining about everyone plugged into the internet while being plugged into the internet – but I am after all on a working trip, and part of that is to report what I find.

However I will be spending sometime away from the computer over the next few days as plans have had to change somewhat. The course I came to Toronto to work on and review was cancelled due to lack of bookings, which is the first time in 30years it hasn’t run – typical! So rather than sit around I am heading up to Ottawa to visit the story circle there, and dash back to Toronto for their story circle Friday night and story tent on Saturday morning where I will be meeting Dan Yashinsky.

But I have not been bummping around waiting for the bus to leave, I met up with Marylyn Peringer who was going to be running the course to find out what would of happen. From what she told me it was going to start quite literturcey (bear in mind I’m dyslexic) based, and build over 4 days to develop a traditional tale for telling. Marylyn took for dinner and dancing bear foot in the ‘Winston Churchill Park – he is most definitely keeping tabs on how my trip is going, Cheers Sir Winston!

International Hide and Seek with Sir Winston… I see you!

No good looking the other way Sir C, the sign gave it away!

And just to prove story is in every fibre of my being, while I was out on the street a Greenpeace canvaser stopped me with the words ‘hey let me tell you a story’ so I stopped and he did, it was great, so being the kind of person who thinks a gift should be met with one in return especailly when it comes to stories, I told him an ancient Roman tell of enviromentalism and consumerism. So happy was he I have been invited to come tell at one of their meetings :)

Ooh and an opportunity has come my way which is mind blowing!!!! But right now its a secret, I might even give a prize if you can guess :)

Stories will travel, and be our passport to places we would usually get too.

And rememebr if you are out there reading this, let me know, it is never lonely or quiet on the road with stories in your heart, but it is nice to know there are others out there.

Much love y’all!

I went to Cincy and found Me!

The National Storytelling Network Conference is over, but my head and heart are full. I have met over the past week so many wonderful, beautiful, giving, brilliant, talented, inspired and inspiring people whom I hope I will meet again many times over as I wander the story path. It was a life changing experience (what with temperatures of 100, and tornado warnings) enhancing my concepts, career and calorie intake.
After the pre-conference on Wednesday the pace picked up and the storytellers arrived en-masse, around about 300 or so.

The Master-class on Thursday afternoon with Jane Stenson and Sherry Norfolk, was not only delightful but incredibly insightful, 5 hrs walking us through creating a storytelling classroom from pre-school to secondary school, (or Kindergarten to High school). I loved the new term I picked up in this class ‘Teaching Artist’ which is one it would be great to see used more in the UK because it recognises the artist who works heavily in school as an educator, and of value to the teaching system. The workshop looked at the differences between what the points of view of what the teacher wishes to achieve and what the artist wants and can provide because Jane Stenson was actually a teacher, and Sherry Norfolk comes much more from the performance side. What surprised me but should have been obvious was how similar the issues facing the ‘Teaching Artist’ is between both the UK and US, however due to recognition of the importance of the library system (some which is not so evident in the UK with so many libraries either already closed or under threat of closing) many of the folks I have met are either teachers or librarians or have served as such at one point which then brought them to storytelling. An amazing session which will sit with me for a long time.

After a delightful dinner with Csenge where we discovered we are actually just the same person cloned (watch out world, yes there are two of us, and we’re coming after you bringing our flaming red-haired story revolution!!!!) the opening ceremony began, and the main conference hall filled with storytellers some new some old, but all were recognised and welcomed, during this I met Rachel Hedman, who told me the ‘New Voices’ would be meeting for breakfast the next day, this was to be a gathering of young storytellers, so of course I pounced on the idea. I rounded the evening off with Mary Hamilton’s Fringe show ‘Around the world with Cinderella’ a delightful blending of 11 Cinderella stories and a Norwegian version with a cinderFella.

Friday was a bleary eyed early start to meet the New Voices which incorporates young tellers right up to 35yrs old, but I am so glad I did because as well as meeting around 8 young storytellers, there in the middle of them all was Judy Sima who co-wrote the ‘Raising Voices’ book, a bible for anyone working in the field of youth storytelling. I was so excited to be sat there, just knowing that moments like these are what this trip is all about. Once the group had got their breakfast, very kindly paid for by Judy (many thanks Judy) we all started sharing our stories of what brought us to storytelling, what our hopes and dreams are for the future and our futures in storytelling and the challenges facing young storytellers – which as it turned out is a universal issue of; where do we find the platforms to tell, who do we balance storytelling with school work, getting through exams, going to college/uni, finding jobs, love life, starting families, how do we afford conferences and make time for them, how do we convince established older storytellers that we have voices of value to. It was also really interesting to hear about the way youth storytelling is in America through the eyes of the youth, this was an opportunity I hadn’t expected at the conference.
The rest of Friday was spent going to workshops and panels and a walk up the road to a Korean restaurant for lunch in 100 degree heat. I rounded the day off at a story swap and told my tale of the little tree that wished, which went down really well, and as I left that low and behold but who should have just arrived at the conference but Kevin Cordi, who greeted me with a huge hug (those barrage of emails prior to my trip had worked!!!) and even though by this time it was 11pm we talked for hours until we realised the rest of the lobby was empty and it was 2.30am, I already knew at this point a few days of caught moments during the conference was not going to be enough to capture even a brief snippet of the knowledge and experience Kevin was willing to share, and the support he was willing to give. Return trips and future conversations have already been planned.

The rest of the conference flew by in workshops and panels, one by Judy Sima going through the application of some of the exercises in the book ‘Raising Voices’ and a panel on Mentoring, I gave up Friday lunch period to interview Judy and Kevin, which gave fourth some really interesting material and two very different perspectives on youth storytelling, there are many others I wished I’d had time to interview and so I will be email and skyping to catch up with them either en-route or once I get back to the UK.

It became evident during the conference that 6 weeks is such a small amount of time to achieve all that I hope and it is merely the start of the dialogue rather the whole conversation.
It was interesting to compare the similarities between the NSN and the SFS (Society for Storytelling – UK), and the issues facing youth tellers, and those working in the field of youth storytelling. It was also interesting to note the differences, which for me was that sometimes the conversations, workshops and panels were not focused on stories, but on the relationship the tellers had with certain stories – however I was told by many that this is not the norm and was perhaps due the theme of this year’s conference being about remembrance. I also saw how much more organised things were with early starts (8.30 starts would be unheard in a UK story conference) and late nights, folders and handouts at nearly every workshops, PowerPoint presentations, it was much more lecture style than practical which is what I have grown use to in the UK where content can be flexible depending on the needs and wants of the group.

Kevin Cordi asked on the storytellers Facebook page for those who went to the conference to take some time to reflect and asked themselves; ‘Select one to three things that you learned, questioned, or taught and decide how to use it in your life.’
I learnt that as many better opportunities there are for youth tellers in the US there are also similar challenges to what we face in the UK. Trying to define what ‘youth’ means, where does it start and where does it end? How to approach it – do we ask what they think they need, to give them what we think they need? How do we make opportunities for all despite abilities, locations or skill level? How do we make opportunities to attend conference, what workshops would benefit young tellers?
I have learnt I have many more questions than what I started with!
I question the idea that folktales can be copyrighted as some have been with us for thousands of years, and although a version may have been written down in a modern book, research on the internet get other books and you will find many more versions, which you can blend into your own original work, for isn’t that what storytellers do? Traditional/folk tales have so much teaching in them, they have been crafted over millennia to give teachings and make us question, isn’t losing that denying those that come after us part of their heritage, not just of being from this place or that place, of this people or that people, but of being human and part of this world?
I will use the experience to keep my mind open and remember to (as much as possible) pass it forward, to make sure I leave something those who travel the path behind me.

And lastly I would like to make a role call for all those who made the weekend amazing: Csenge Zalka, Kevin Cordi, Kevin Gerzevitz, Karen Chace, Judy Sima, Jane Crouse, Sherry Norfolk, Jane Stenson, Lyn Ford, Lois, Katie, Rachel Hedman, Holly Robinson, Adam Booth, Beth Horner, Judith Heineman, Elise Krakower, Renee, Heather, Gail Froyen, Sara Armstrong, Noa Baum, Buck Creacy, Brother Wolf, Jim May, Kevin Kling, Rick Huddle, Yvonne Healy, Alton Chung, Michel, Bill Harley, and Marilyn McPhie to name just a few.

NSN Pre-conference

Storytellers started to drifted into the hotel as from Tuesday, The first I met was Jane Crouse, whom I had breakfast with, and not only did we share story chit-chat but discovered we were both huge fans of Robin of Sherwood, breakfast was a long and laughter filled event.

Throughout the rest of Tuesday (aside from a little shopping and tourist trip) Jane introduced me to a number of other storytellers including Sherry Norfolk, writer of many books (along with Jane Stenson) on the subject of storytelling in the classroom. The three of us went for dinner and I have been finding out that there are far more similarities between US and UK storytelling especially in the realms of trying to get funding and convincing schools and youth centres to take on stoyrtelling.

Wednesday was the YES/SHE (Youth, Educators and Storytellers Alliance/ Storytelling is Higher Education) Workshop, both Susan O’Halloran, and Karen Chace spoke at it, but Karen’s afternoon session was by far the most relavant to the work we are trying to create in the UK, it focused on the substainable storytelling projects she has worked on in schools, one of which has been running for ten years, and that not only performs to the school, but has a yearly festival. She also has a great website to explore, especially the Teachers Porch, and writes an amazing blog. It is thanks to Karne I am at this conference in the first place as she recommended I came to the YES/SHE workshop, so thanks Karen!!!

I also managed to finally catch up with Csenge Zalka in person, which was lovely after the months of emails going back and fourth, and I am really pleased we did.

I have had such a warm welcome (the temperture is up in the 100s) from all the storytellers here it has been fabulous, If the first day of this conference is anything to go by I can see I will be coming away from Cincinnati armed to the teeth with information!!!