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

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 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!

Bravo Toronto

The CN tower in Toronto

Bravo Toronto

So much to catch up on, because it has been a crazy busy week.

So after the course not running I went up to Ottawa to visit the story circle there I travelled by Greyhound (a 5hr journey where I read ‘A Monster Calls’ which Shonaleigh Cumbers recommended, and whilst it was an amazing book it resulted in me crying for the last hour of the journey… I got a few funny looks) and was met off the bus by Caitlyn Paxson of the Ottawa Storytellers. We went for dinner and met up with Ruthanne Edward, both of whom were a mind of information about what was happening in youth storytelling in Ottawa and I was most impressed with the different activities, such as the story slams which Ruthanne set up. We then went to the Story Circle where such wonderful tales were told and shared. Ottawa was such a warm bunch of people and Gail Anglin was a delightful hostess with story conversation into the night and first thing in the morning. Definitely worth a repeat visit.

The next day I found myself back on the bus back to Toronto to arrive in time to attend the 1001 nights in Toronto, which was a diverse blend ofstories, ages and cultures and the stories reflected that. I met a number of people who use storytelling in schools. Saturday was an early start to the StoryTent in St Clare West, and its was a lovely day where I told a number of stories and met more storytellers we even had time to have a huge conversation about youth projects around the world, my pen had a hard time keeping up. Since then I have been invited back to that site everyday for different projects, which included a group for differently abled folks and a womens group where I got feed and given a lovely massage after I finished telling. They were really keen for me to come back again, but it is time for me to start thinking about the next town and the next adventure. Although it is with a heavy heart and much resistance I will leave Toronto, I would quite happily stay for good!

Thanks again for reading and many thanks to Storytelling Toronto and Ottawa Storytellers for being so generous and welcoming.

Toronto is great, but their driving is nuts!