Sunday, July 7, 2013

Fair Memories

The heavens blessed the Mountain State Arts and Crafts Fair this year. Weather forecasts predicted  heavy thunderstorms each day, but the rains politely held off until later in the evening so the fair stayed relatively dry for its three-day run. The temperatures weren't bad either, never getting out of the 80's. The only complaint was the humidity but it's July and that's to be expected. And there was plenty of homemade ice cream, watermelon, lemonade, sassafras tea, water and other cooling drinks and food to be had.

I am resting today, and reflecting on the past three days of storytelling. Twelve performances and a few impromptus here and there for those who wanted a story but missed a session. There are so many good memories it's difficult to know where to begin. Some special moments come right to the front:

*The early morning group yesterday included a young girl who was really into the stories, and wanted to make the craft. She was there with her teenage sister (I think it was her sister, might have been her caregiver); they were both with the Ravenswood FFA group that was cooking chicken and roasted corn right next to us (mmmm, good, too!). When we told the gunniwulf story the older girl goodnaturedly agreed to be the gunniwulf. Afterward while the younger children made the puppet, the teenager decided she'd like to make one too! A young man also with the FFA had come in during the storytelling and hugely enjoyed it--and then he stayed to make a puppet too. His puppet ended up with  shirt/sign that said "FREE HUGS." What fun they were.

Stage one of the younger girl's puppet; she added a lot more to it later, as you can see below:

Free hug, anyone?

*The audience for one set was mixed, about half children and half adults. I chose stories that would suit all--a Jack tale, a tall tale, and then added a participation story for the children, asking the adults to be their audience. The story was The Gunniwulf, and old tale out of central Europe that is slightly frightening but somehow seems empowering to children, who love it. We used those paper plate puppets I showed here in my last post, and two little girls agreed to play the parts. One of the gunniwulf's lines is, "Little girl, sing that guten sweeten song, or I eat you up!"

The girl playing the gunniwulf misunderstood my prompt and said, "Sing that gluten sweet song or I eat you up!"

"It's guten, not gluten," I explained to her, and added, "This is a gluten free program." The audience loved it and it was one of those moments that reminds me of how participation storytelling has strong elements of improv, and also how much fun can be had by audiences of all ages with such stories.

*A young mother with three children came to one session; since the rest of the audience was adult, I told her the stories might be a little above the children's heads, but we would do a story for them at the end and make the craft. She was fine with that, and since her youngest who was not quite two got squirmy she took the children outside after the first story. She returned later and the children wanted to immediately make their puppets. As the older two worked, the baby one played with my puppets, and was especially in love with the rooster who crowed. The rooster crowed many, many times for him, to his delight.

When the puppetmaking was finished the children wanted a story. I told them the story of Ellen and her bracelets, a story that captivates the imagination of younger children. They asked for another so I told them raccoon's story; then they wanted another and it had to include the bear and the dog puppet. I could not think of a dog-and-bear story right off, so I gave them a highly modified version of why the dog and cat are not friends. And then followed that with Cat and Rat (the story of why cats chase rats). It was a fun, very impromptu session, and in the course of it learned that the young mother is a midwife and knew my former sister-in-law (and still good friend) who is lives in Maryland and is also a midwife. West Virginia--it's just one degree of separation here!

*At the early morning session yesterday my friend, author Beverly Bisbee came to listen and brought a friend. Afterwards her friend introduced herself as a daughter of Dennis Dietz, who wrote the book The Greenbrier Ghost and Other Stories. I'd met Dennis several times and had him come to my library to discuss his book and work. He was a wonderful man, full of stories and a true delight. I was so pleased to meet his daughter. Later in the day, storyteller Danny McMillion came with several friends to hear stories. Danny and I tell different versions of the old mountain tall tale Split Dog; I told my version and was able to introduce her to the audience and tell them that we both tell the story, but in widely different ways. It was a good example of how oral tradition stays alive as each teller makes a story his or her own.

*While telling the story of Tunnel 21, a family entered the room. Later they told me that they were so surprised when I said the name Thomas Johnson in the story (he was one of the first men who lost their lives in the tunnel) because that was the name of their son! Their granddaughters were with them and said, "She's talking about our daddy!" Another mother and son present in the audience lived very near the tunnel and mentioned Tunnel 13 which is also supposed to be haunted. Another story to research.

Those are just a few of the special moments of the three days of telling; there were many more. I was very happy to see one thing: so many families there together, enjoying the fair and all the many activities. From basket and broom making, stained glass classes, paper marbling, and more, there were hands-on activities for all ages and all were taken good advantage of. It made my heart sing to see this--and especially the young parents. For a time it seemed that it was only the older generations who were interested in Appalachian heritage, but if the fair is any indication there is strong interest growing in the younger generations as well.

This young man called his puppet "Cyclops." Can you see why?

For a puppet script of The Gunniwulf, along with easy to make fingerpuppet patterns, visit the Pierce Library website.  For more ideas for paper plate puppets and other neat crafts for children, check out Patties Classroom.

Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Nance said...

I love all the co-incidences and all the "it is a small world" connections. Interesting . . . weekend for you and interesting for me to read. and the 'gluten free' weekend ad lib -- priceless.

Sue said...

Thanks for sharing your stories about storytelling. I love the coincidences!


Beverly said...

My favorite time at the Arts and Crafts Festival was spending time listening to you tell stories. It was so relaxing and loved joining the singing! Cousin Joyce enjoyed meeting you, too. Your storytelling "tent" was the absolute best for cooling down and visiting with you.

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