Sunday, August 8, 2010

Home Again

My poor exhausted husband is sleeping on the couch. The car is unloaded, the suitcase unpacked, all the storytelling paraphernalia has been dragged in although it's not yet put away. The turkeys are thankful to be out in their lot after three days of being copped up in their building and the cats are happy to have milk again. It is good to be home.

Hello Pittsburgh!

We've been gone since Thursday evening to the Three Rivers Storytelling Festival in Pittsburgh, PA. I was one of three featured tellers--Tim Tingle and Kate Danaher were the other two. Along with storytelling, I also taught a workshop on ballads and ballad singing.

I cannot begin to describe the festival experience--but of course I'm going to try!

Kate Danaher, Tim Tingle, me

The first day started with stories for children, and I shared the stage with featured teller Kate Danaher and local tellers Edmund LoPresti and Mike Perry Pittsburgh for a two-hour set. Then it was time for a lunch program for seniors with Kate. We decided that rather than me telling for 30 minutes and Kate taking the stage, we would do a give-and-take program: one of us would start, and then the other take up with a story that spun from what the first teller had told. It was magical. It kept us thinking and making connections in our material, even though we had never met before that morning, and had never heard each other tell. The performance was lively, to say the least, with Irish stories and songs mingling with my Appalachian ballads and stories.

Soon after that I presented a two-hour workshop on ballads to a small but engaging group. We talked, discussed the ballads and their sources, the ballad tradition and the songcatchers and much more. I had handouts for the attendees so that could continue to learn on their own.

Then it was dinnertime--the day passed so quickly it was surprising to find that it was time to eat. After dinner Kate, Tim and I took the stage again, and later in the evening we participated in the ghost stories concert with Pittsburgh tellers Sean Miller and Scott Pavelle. Back at the hotel we were amazed at the huge number of people gathered at the hotel for a family reunion. They told us that over 300 people had come from all across the United States. And I thought our Connelly family reunion was big with our 120 folks!

Saturday morning I was onstage again at 11am so we could have a later start. This time I chose to tell tall tales to an audience that included a good many children. Larry and I slipped out for lunch afterwards, then came back so that I could participate in a story swap to fill a session time left vacant by the unfortunate illness of a scheduled teller. I was on again at 3pm, telling Jack tales this time, along with Wizard Clipp, one of West Virginia's strangest supernatural tales. And ballads of course. I include songs in almost every program now because I like the added dimension that song gives to stories.

The final concert followed dinner. Kate was hilariously funny, telling a story about someone using ball bearings instead of nonpareils to decorate a wedding cake with disastrous intestinal results for those who ate the cake, along with other comical tales from the collection of stories by Eamon Kelly, who had been one of Ireland's most famous storytellers. On Eamon's death, his widow entrusted his stories to Kate, entreating her to tell them. Kate has honored that request, not only telling the stories, but studying Eamon's voice closely to match every nuance of accent.

I followed Kate with two stories that are not part of my usual repertoire. I started with my favorite ballad, the first one I ever learned--Pretty Saro. The first story I told was Gracie's Cabin, which I wrote several years ago time ago and used to tell fairly often. For some reason I quit telling it; I don't know why really, but sometimes a teller will do that, just let a story rest. Gracie's Cabin came back stronger than ever, with some changes I had been mulling over that I think improved the story's ending.

I followed that story with the story of my parents--how they met, their early  married life and struggles, and the quest by my sisters and me to find Mom's infamous fruitcake recipe after we lost her in 2005. I have been thinking about this story and how to present it, what connections I could build and how to find the "thing" that the story was about. Simply stringing together anecdotes isn't enough--there must be depth and some place of common understanding and experience with the audience to make a true and memorable story.

Then Tim Tingle took the stage and His story was tense, funny, dark, witty, musical, sad, touching, and I will never forget the experience of seeing and hearing Tim tell it. It was the story of a man who had committed murder and spent many years in Alcatraz, but the story was not about the murder or his prison time. It was the story of someone of Tim's own Choctaw heritage, a boy who grew up hard in a hard time for Indians, who learned young to take what he wanted through violence, a boy who made bad choices and hurt both himself and many others by his decisions. It was hard to listen to and yet...I will carry that tale and that man in my heart. Sometimes the difficult stories are the ones that most need to be told and heard, aren't they? Tim's message--don't judge by what you see, look for the goodness in a person's heart--is one we all need to carry with us.

It was time to go. We lingered, talking, hugging, saying goodbye to new friends in the audience, and finally packing up our items that we'd brought to sell. It was time to go. Once again, a community brought together by stories dispersed to carry the stories home with them, and the storytellers went home to rest and remember the circle of faces that listened to our voices and gave us their trust. What goodness there is in the human heart.

Bye, Pittsburgh!


Susan at Stony River said...

That sounds like a fantastic time; I wish I'd been there with the kids to see you!

Meanwhile I hope you and Himself get plenty of rest after that; it seems like you're always on the go lately. What a summer!

Granny Sue said...

It has been a busy time, Susan, although a bit less so than last year thank goodness. Now it will be quieter for a good while, and we can concentrate on home projects again. But it surely was fun this weekend.


Thanks for your write-up. You bring us right there with you - it sounds wonderful - a rich week-end of good storytelling with everyone having a good time.

Geraldine Buckley said...

What a wonderful description! I wish I had been there. It sounds fabulous!

I was also struck by your paragraph about your mother and your search for her fruitcake recipe. I would love to hear more about weaving universality in and through anecdotes about someone so close to you. Please do an article on that - or a workshop! I want to learn more!

Many blessings,

Rowan said...

No wonder you were exhausted when you got home, that was a very full programme! You obviously had a really good time though.

Granny Sue said...

Thank you, Ellouise. It was rich--that's the perfect word for it. The combination of stories from diverse cultures, and the commonality that still could be found among them, was intriguing. I heard a teller new to me in one session. Kate Pavelle is a native of the Czech Republic and I was able to hear part of a story she told about her childhood that wove in the most fascinating eastern European folklore. Loved it!

Granny Sue said...

Geraldine, that's an interesting question. How do we find those themes, and what are they anyway? I think it's the key component of any good story, really. Where is that we all connect? What are our common experiences? These have to be emotional, don't they? Love, fear, longing, rebellion, conflict...the list goes on and on. So how to find those things in a story, and represent them well enough in a story so that audiences recognize themselves in the tale is truly the storytellers--and I would argue, the writer's--real challenge.

In my story about my parents, I think I can develop more of these connections and the story will be deeper and richer. For this first outing, the connections were (I think) young love, rebellion and standing up to a parent, being self-sufficient, and then the fruitcakes that brought us together as family once again after losing our mother--the realization that without Mom as our center, it was up to us to keep our family whole. There is more and I am thinking about those other things and how to bring them into the story. In the end this will be a pretty long piece, a weaving of several stories into one whole, unifying theme.

Granny Sue said...

Rowan, Larry was so tired because he drove all the way home while I snoozed! So I wasn't as worn out as he was last night. And I was still riding on the euphoria of the performances and the audiences:)

Mary said...

Welcome home! I heard it was grand . . and you were brilliant!

Granny Sue said...

Thank you, Mary :) I don't know about brilliant, but I surely had a wonderful time sharing stories with people who enjoyed listening to them. A win-win, for sure!

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