Saturday 16 November 2013

Republic of Doyle's Krystin Pellerin and Steve O'Connell on stage this December

Sweetline Theatre Company is delighted to present David Mamet’s Oleanna from December 4th to the 7th at the Barbara Barrett Theatre at the Arts and Culture Centre. This production is the inaugural offering from newly formed Sweetline Theatre spearheaded by Danielle Irvine. Oleanna will feature Republic of Doyle’s Krysten Pellerin and Steve O’Connell as student and professor in this controversial two hander.

O’Connell portrays John, a university professor on the verge of attaining tenure. Carol (Pellerin) is a student that is having a hard time grasping the material as presented in his course. Their office meeting to discuss the problematic material eventually leads them in directions they never could have imagined and combine to create a powerful piece of theatre that will have you on the edge of your seat and challenge you to remain neutral.

Award winning director, Danielle Irvine, is excited about bringing Oleanna to St. John’s audiences. She has directed theatrical productions of all sizes and types, both in St. John’s and across Canada. Danielle is looking forward to this official launch of Sweetline Theatre.

Krystin Pellerin was born and raised in St. John's Newfoundland. She is a graduate of the prestigious National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal. CBC's "Republic of Doyle" has brought her home to St. John's to play the role of Sgt. Leslie Bennett where she often appears with her sometimes nemesis Sgt. Hood, played by fellow Oleanna actor, Steve O’Connell.

Steve O’Connell is a local actor, director and writer. Oleanna is the latest in a long line of productions that Danielle and Steve have worked on together over the years. Previous collaborations include: Henry V, The Taming of the Shrew, Wit, The Laramie Project, and The Drawer Boy

Oleanna runs in The Barbara Barrett Theatre of the St. John’s Arts & Culture Centre at 8 PM from December 4th to 7th, 2013, with a Pay-What-You-Can matinee 2 PM on December 7th. Admission is $27; $22 for students and seniors; and can be booked at 729-3900 or online at

For further information, or to arrange for rehearsal attendance, interviews or photography please contact Maggie Keiley at 709-726-1269, or

Thursday 7 November 2013

Stamppot, Stories, Fire and Clay. Hello Amsterdam!

I took the train from Brussels to Amsterdam today, and made my way to the boat hotel on the harbour where I'll be staying for the last few days of my European storytelling adventure. I arrived in time to catch a water taxi and take in the very end of the Storytelling Festival Amsterdam's expert meeting on the power of storytelling. The meeting was in Dutch, but it ended with words in English from Canadian storyteller Joe Osawabine, with the Debajehmujig Theatre Group from Manitoulin Island.

There was a dinner for storytellers after, with a surprise for me, a meet-up with my long-distance storytelling friend Melanie Plag. Melanie and I met online years ago, and we seem to have emerged as the online volunteers for World Storytelling Day. We met in person in Zwolle a few years ago, but hadn't seen each other since, so it was great to share a meal and share stories.

And a great meal it was, a traditional Dutch stamppot (what my friend Veva in Flanders would call stoemp) - a traditional Dutch dish made from a combination of potatoes mashed with one or several other vegetables. For us, they had four kinds of stamppot, including one with sauerkraut, along with meatballs, sausage, and fish. So we sat and laughed and talked about all kinds of storytelling-related things: the work of the Federation for European Storytelling (FEST), story trails, kamishibai, the use of costume in storytelling, St. George, and local legends and miracles - the kind of conversation storytellers absolutely love to have.

After dinner, a remarkable treat. The festival organizers had tickets for us to see the more-than-sold-out performance of "Iran vs Israel - Kingdom of Fire and Clay"- simply one of the best storytelling shows I've seen in ages.

Here is the description from the festival program:
Two young artists meet in Amsterdam. One's an Israeli, the other an Iranian. Sworn enemies, or possible best friends? After performing two separate but highly successful shows at the International Storytelling Festival Amsterdam, they decide to combine forces and make a show that dives into their pasts, their cultures and the source of their countries' enmity.
The Kingdom of Fire and Clay combined classical Jewish and Iranian tales (with a much appreciated guest appearance by my old friend the Golem of Prague) as well as the personal stories of Raphael Rodan (Israel) and Sahand Sahebdivani (Netherlands/Iran), along with backgammon, traditional and contemporary music on piano, double bass, and a range of other folk and classical instruments, humour, passion, friction, movement and tales obviously told straight from the heart. As far as performances go, it was certainly one of the highlights of my trip, and the type of show I would like to see more of in Canada.

Then, I took the water taxi back across the harbour to my snug berth on The Botel. Tomorrow, more stories, and exploring Amsterdam.  Tot ziens!

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Heritage, storytelling, and more food than you can shake a stick at

Today was my final day in the province of Antwerp, and it went out with a bang! I spent part of the morning exploring the city of Lier (the fabulous toothy fish above is part of a public water fountain close to the centre of the town), and then headed to the Urban Academy for Music, Word and Dance, to teach a workshop for a storytelling class taught by Veva Gerard.

Veva's class is part of an impressive program, where storytellers have the option of studying together for six years, allowing for very deep exploration of the art of storytelling. It was fantastic to be a room of people who are so enthusiastic about local stories, dialect, oral tradition and the contemporary art of performance storytelling.

The afternoon was divided into two halves. First, I presented a slideshow on the work that is happening in Newfoundland and Labrador around all kinds of oral traditions, ranging from the work we've been doing documenting oral history and traditions with the Intangible Cultural Heritage program, to the St. John's Storytelling Festival, to the [Here]Say story map, to my own work with the St. John's Haunted Hike, books, iPhone apps, and storytelling programs with children, seniors, new Canadians and everyday people who have stories to share.

After the break, I talked about the work I do training storytellers and museum professionals in historical storytelling. Then we talked about how stories and places are linked, and I had everyone draw memory maps of the places where they grew up, and then got them walking people through their maps and sharing memories, and eventually, telling stories they had learned from their classmates through the experience. It was great fun, and I heard some wonderful local stories.

At the end of the class, they had all prepared a rather amazing gift for me. Veva knows me well enough to know that I love local foods, and exploring a place through it culinary traditions. So each student had brought some kind of traditional or local item, much of it food related. They each got up, gave me a gift, and told me a story about what it meant, the associated legend, or where the tradition came from.

So I left to catch the train to Brussels with a suitcase bulging with troll beer, print-outs of Flemish stories to learn, Maneblussers chocolates from Mechelen, vegetable crackers, Natuurboterwafels, Amandelbrood, hand-shaped biscuits from Antwerpen commemorating the cutting off of a giant's hand, Belgian milk chocolate truffles, Leuvense Fonskes, Advokaat, a hand-made witch, Snaps Antwerpse Jenever, kweeperenbier (quince beer!), Wycam's Echte Oude Borstebollen, Belle-Vue Kriek beer from Brussels, handmade patatjes (marzipan balls),  and a jar of Limburgs lekker peren-appelstroop (pear jam). It is probably the most astonishing gift I've ever been given as a storyteller.

One of the participants was the very funny Mia Verbeelen, a Flemish storyteller I met several years ago at the storytelling festival in Alden Biesen. She recently had an operation on her foot (you can guess which one she is in the photo above).  Mia made for me a slightly disfigured foot, a reasonable facsimile of her own, all out of marzipan, in honour of her hobbling her way to the workshop.  I will let you know how it tastes.

Monday 4 November 2013

Zus & Zo, and the Ghosts of Brabant

I've been relaxing this week at the home of Fleming storyteller Veva Gerard and her family, but last night she put me to work. Veva and her accordion-playing sister Nele, along with double bassist Pieter Lenaerts, are the trio Zus and Zo, and the four of us put on a show of ghostly and ghoulish tales and music in Brabant, here in Belgium.

It was great fun getting to rehearse with everyone. I've done a few music and storytelling shows with German-Canadian musician Delf Hohmann, and I adore the combination of tales and tunes. Pieter and Nele were experts, and with minimal rehearsal soon decided on the right bits of music and sound for the stories I told.

I told in English, Veva in Dutch, and the audience kept up with it all. I had some great feedback from audience members after the show, and we were tweeted about the next morning.

Thanks, Benny! And thanks to Veva, her family, Nele, Pieter, the owners of the great atelier where we performed, and the sold-out audience!

Tomorrow, I'm teaching a workshop in Lier, then I say farewell to Veva, and head off to Brussels for an intangible cultural heritage symposium. Stay tuned!

Saturday 2 November 2013

Ghent: candy, breasts, and other fine things to nibble on.

Today's adventures took me to the fabulous city of Ghent. I'd been here once before, but today I experienced it in a slightly different way. I've been staying with storyteller Veva Gerard, and from somewhere she got the idea that I'm interested in food. So she tracked down a tour through the old city that focussed on the history of the place told through food and food stories. Sounds terrible, right?

Off we went with Veva's son Jasper, braving clouds and rain, and we met up with our tour group near the castle Gravensteen. Everyone on the tour was Dutch or Flemish, except me, so the guide told half the stories in English, half in Dutch, with Veva doing yeoman's service translating on the fly.

Every story on the stop had some kind of food connection: a riot over the price of beer, a conceptual artist who wrapped the columns of a local building in ham, the location of the oldest corn storage houses in Ghent, and visits along the way to sample five kinds of candy, chocolate, three kinds of cheese, and three kinds of ham.

One of the best stories of the day was about the little chewy two-coloured candies on the right hand side of the photo above. They are known as Mammelokker (meaning something roughly like "to lure to the breast").

The legend of the Mammelokker is depicted in relief on the building of the same name which connects the Belfry of Ghent and the Ghent Cloth Hall.

A man sentenced to death by starvation was allowed one visit ever day, provided that the visitor brought no food into prison. While other men died around him, that one man lived, even without food. Mystified, the guards watched the daily visitor, a younger girl, and saw that she offered her breast through the bars of the cell, feeding the man and keeping him alive. The girl was the man's daughter, and the court was so moved that they granted a pardon to the father. And now, you can relive that saga with a candy of the same name. 

They are delicious.

After the tour, we met up with Ghent-based storyteller Veerle Ernalsteen, who I met a few years ago at the Alden Biesen festival. Veerle tempted us further, into amazing tapas, and then a long conversation about stories, riddles and the Flemish storytelling scene in the very atmospheric Hot Club de Gand.

And now, some sleep, and then a sold-out storytelling performance tomorrow with Zus and Zo in Brabant!