Thursday, October 22, 2009

West Virginia Storytelling Festival

My internet has been having all kinds of issues lately, so posting is not so easy as it once once. Tonight, I won't be able to post any of the photos from the festival. Which is a shame since there were some good ones. Ah well. Rural life has its challenges and when we moved here there was no such thing as internet anyway. Who knew it would ever be an issue?

BUT the festival was a ton of fun. Last year the economy forced the festival to be discontinued. This year it came back on a much smaller scale. For the people at Jackson's Mill who plan and put it on, it's a better arrangement. For the storytellers, the festival was well planned and well run. I didn't have to worry about anything except telling my stories. That is awesome.

We had about 900 students over two days. Each day the schools were divided between two buildings, with two storytellers assigned to each building. We told for 30 minutes each, with a ten-minute built-in break. Then it was lunch time. The teachers led their students out onto the grounds for lunch. It was so restful to see children under trees or out on the huge lawns eating together. There was enough time for them to run and play too, which they did with great energy. Then the tellers swapped buildings and repeated the morning schedule. The students remained at the same building all day so they heard all four tellers before they left.

In past years sometimes there would be 1500 students in a day, and I can remember telling to about 1000 at one time in the barn. We would have 10-12 storytellers rotating between buildings and the children rotated too so it was a complex schedule. This simplified version allowed for fewer staff to be involved so costs were kept down.

My telling partner for the two days was Adam Booth, a young (to me anyway!) storyteller from Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Adam brought his unique background as the son of a Jewish mother and Christian father to his stories, and had the kids rolling with laughter at the problems he encountered. Since many children in West Virginia have never met someone from the Jewish tradition, his stories allowed them to learn a few basics about Judaism--such as what a rabbi is, and about not eating bacon and cheese on meat--while being highly entertained by stories of his escapades in Huntington, WV. Adam also told a traditional folktale, a version of the Three Wishes.

I decided to give a new story a try. This isn't a totally new story--some of you may remember reading the story of Idy Mae's Full Moon on this blog a while back. I also told a story about Larry's pet crow once or twice, but neither of these stories seemed to me to have "enough." Enough what? That's hard to answer; enough depth, perhaps? The one was funny, the other interesting, but there was nothing an audience member might feel connected to and remember afterwards. They both needed more of what it is that makes a good story a great story.

What I did was combine the two. I started with a description of the coal camp where my husband grew up, then moved to the coal mining items I had with me and explained what they were. From there to Larry's dad and how they got Jimmy the Crow. And from there to building a new outhouse and so one. The two stories wove together beautifully to create one very good tale. I had to take out some things and added others. In the end I had a story that will become a standard part of my repertoire.

So I came home a happy woman. Adam was a great teller to work with, professional, funny, flexible and dependable. Dave Parker, the festival organizer, and his staff looked after us very well. I think the festival has new, stronger legs and will continue to grow. All of this makes me one happy woman.


Janet, said...

You have such fun with your story telling and you are very good at what you do. Sounds like you had a great time.

Nance said...

ah . . . wish I could have been there!

Granny Sue said...

It was fun, Janet. There is nothing quite like the creative process and energy that happens during a storytelling session. To see the audience's eyes locked into a story, traveling with's amazing.


That's it exactly - the connection betweent the storyteller and the audience as you make the stories together. Its the magic. Its why we love it.

megan hicks said...

Isn't Adam a joy?! And what a great thing for him to work side by side with a veteran such as yourself.

The new story ... I love it when anecdotes finally take that growth spurt that matures them into solid stories.

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