Friday 30 April 2010

Brimstone and Gall! A Stratford Postcard

Earlier this week, I went went my parents and a few family friends to see the Stratford Festival's production of Peter Pan. It was great fun, well staged, beautifully costumed and acted, with Tom McCamus as an elegant Captain James Hook, who must be one of the most entertaining stage villians to play.

It was nice to be there with my parents. I have strong memories of going to see pantomimes as a family when I was young, and I'm sure that it was one of the things that influenced my love of the arts and performance.  We are all getting a lot greyer, but it was good to still sit and laugh and enjoy the spectacle of Peter Pan as a family.

I like the mythology of Peter Pan, and I do believe that J.M Barrie captured some of the otherness of the fairy realm quite well. There is magic and wonder and adventure, but always that hint of sadness, death and loneliness.

In the program notes for the Stratford production, Bob Hetherington writes, "Peter Pan is arguably the last man-created myth of near-universal appeal, in the sense that subsequent fantasy narratives have tended to be regarded as pastiches of general to which Barrie's belong unambiguously." In a sense, Barrie's word is a pastiche, a blending together of fairy lore, Rackham-esque buccaneers and classical mythology. But it does have a remarkable wholeness that does, as Hetherington argues, move it beyond a pasting together of motifs towards its status of modern myth.

As a storyteller, I loved the framing of the Stratford production around the on-stage presence of J.M Barrie as narrator. And I had nearly forgotten as an adult that it was storytelling that enticed Peter to the Darling household, and that it was Wendy's professed talents as a storyteller that ultimately took her to Neverland. All in all, a great production, for all those who believe in fairies, or those who never really wanted to grow up.

Monday 26 April 2010

Storyteller on the road: A Wisconsin Postcard

I've just finished the Northlands Storytelling Network conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin, and barely know where to begin. The conference was great, and packed full of stories and wonderful conversations with storytellers. It is a very busy conference, with lots of great workshops and storytelling concerts. Some highlights for me:

  • Jeff Gere from Hawai'i and his great Pele and chicken skin stories;
  • Greg Weiss's workshop, and great ideas for using story cards with kids to create stories;
  • Sue Black's fantastic story (with a rather grisly stew recipe);
  • Cathryn Fairlee's illustrated talk on traditional Chinese teahouse storytelling;
  • Debra Morningstar's great workshop on who should tell aboriginal stories;
  • Having another Canadian there this year, Renee Englot of Alberta;
  • Hanging out with the American tellers who are coming to the 2010 St. John's Storytelling Conference this July; and,
  • "Goldilocks and the Three Beers"...
Thanks to the very large, very enthusiastic group who braved my early Sunday morning workshop on working with historical material!


Jeff Gere

Sue Black

Debra Morningstar

Cathryn Fairlee

Renee Englot

July 2010 Conference

Thursday 22 April 2010

Storyteller on the road: A Toronto postcard

Another note from the storytelling odyssey that is my month of April.  I had a VERY long day on Tuesday. I woke up early in the morning, and storyteller Ruthanne Edward kindly picked me up and took me to the airport, for which she earns lots of celestial karma, I am sure.

I flew Porter into Toronto Island, the first time I've flown them. I loved it. I loved skipping Pierson altogether, and ending up right downtown. Emily Pohl-Weary was there to meet me, waving from beyond the sea of men in suits.

I met Emily in Happy Valley-Goose Bay at the Labrador Creative Arts Festival a few years ago. She is an author, poet, comic book writer, youth organizer and the type of community arts activist I love doing stuff with. I'd done a workshop for her Parkdale Writers group before, and had said I'd do it again. She asked me to do a workshop for a native men's writing group at a place called Sagatay (a new beginning), a transitional shelter developed and operated by Native Men’s Residence (Na-Me-Res). So after breakfast at the Tequila Bookworm, we went off to Sagatay.

I told a few supernatural stories, and the guys started in with stories of the Wendigo, little people, ghosts and hauntings. I had them map out the community they grew up in, and tell each other stories about that place, and then everyone did a writing exercise about one of the stories they had told.

After than, Emily and I booted it to Parkdale Library, where Emily runs the Parkdale Writers group, or as their website describes it, a "free writing group in Toronto's west-end led by kick-ass local authors, comics artists, filmmakers, hip hop poets, and street artists."

I started them all in on a fairytale workshop, telling the Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella, complete with toes getting cut off and eyeballs getting plucked out. Then I taught them how I teach storytelling to younger kids, teaching them all the tools to be able to do that themselves in the future. All of them worked with a short traditional pourquoi tale or Aesop's fable, and ALL of them told their story in front of the group. I was impressed at how supportive they were of each other, and even the shyest of them felt comfortable enough in the group to share their story, a testament to the kind of work that Emily is doing.

Afterwards, most of the group stuck around for another hour, and we talked about art and working as an artist, storytelling, and how to get started doing what you love and making money at it.

A late subway and bus to the Cousin Cindy Slaney-Miller Bed and Breakfast, where she fed me, as always (mmm, homemade macaroni and cheese...) and put me to bed.

Then, the next morning, less than 24 hours from when I arrived, I was back at the lovely Porter lounge, waiting for my flight to the US. If you ever need to fly from Toronto to Chicago, trust me, there are about a thousand less headaches flying Porter than flying anything that goes through Pierson. Just a little plug for Porter there (anytime you want to thank me by sponsoring the St. John's Storytelling Festival, just let me know, Porter Management!).



Emily Pohl-Weary

Parkdale Writers

Tequila Bookworm

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Storyteller on the Road: An Ottawa Postcard

I'm travelling for a few weeks, doing a series of storytelling events, and am just finishing up in Ottawa. It has been a great week! My storytelling show (part of the Speaking Out/Speaking In series at the NAC's 4th Stage) sold out a week ago (woot!) and I had a lot of fun with those of the Ottawa storytelling community who turned out to my day long workshop on historical storytelling at Library and Archives Canada.

I spent two days on the lake out near Almonte, Ontario with Jan Andrews, Jennifer Cayley and Ellis-Lynn Duschenes. It is always fabulous to see them, and I had great long walks, and chats with Jan and Jennifer about the state and future of performance storytelling in Canada and abroad.

Then I hung out today with Ruthanne Edward, who is our SeƱorita del Slam for the first Storytellers of Canada-Conteurs du Canada story slam in July. The poetry slam stuff happening here in Ottawa seems to be exciting, and it would be great to see some of that energy in contemporary storytelling.

Tomorrow I head off to Toronto, where I'm doing two workshops for the fabulous Emily Pohl-Weary. Stay tuned! Props to Jason Brophy for lending me his house while he is ash-bound in Italy, poor unfortunate that he is, and to the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, who are making my trip to Toronto and beyond possible.


Ottawa Storytellers

St. John's Story Slam