Saturday, October 22, 2005

The plot thickens......

When you're surrounded by storytellers, you are surrounded by plot. Every single performance, every teller presents plot after plot, woven together with words, voice and action. The National Storytelling Festival brings together a delightful combo plate of tellers, some who have become almost Festival institutions, others who are new to the national scene. Try as I might, I know there were a few I missed, and I'm told it's nearly impossible to hear them all. I came close, though.

One of the tellers I heard was also the very first "real" storyteller I heard, though when I heard Gayle Ross last, she was half of Twelve Moons Storytellers, performing with Elizabeth Ellis. They were featured at the Great River Festival of Music and Crafts in LaCrosse, in the very early 80s. I heard them under trees throughout the weekend, and looked forward to their concert performance in the evening. The weather wasn't cooperative, and the concert was moved indoors--to the university gym. Didn't matter. When those two started into their story, the entire gym was mesmerized, myself included. I couldn't tell you who else was on the bill that night, because I'd decided at that point, I wanted to be able to do what Gayle and Elizabeth had just done, which was to capture the imaginations of all those listening.

Twelve Moons Storytellers has long since gone their separate performing ways, though I noticed that if Gayle was performing, Elizabeth was in attendence. Gayle Ross is a descendant of John Ross, Chief of the Cherokee Nation during the infamous Trail of Tears, and many of her stories reflect her heritage and family history. To understand what it means for someone to share stories from within her own culture, one only needs to hear her tell the story of the Cherokee Rose.

Another teller I had the chance to hear again was Bill Harley. I first had the pleasure of meeting Bill at the Nebraska Storytelling Festival a few years ago, where he was a featured teller. I had the particular joy of taking part in a workshop he presented and roaring with laughter as he told the story of Mrs. Ammons and the Boy's Bathroom. Bill is just a cool guy! A cool guy who tells great stories. I will confess that although I didn't become a "Bill groupie" over the weekend, I tended to choose tents where I could hear him perform at least once each day of the festival. As a teacher, I once more found myself often holding my sides as he told about his second grade foray into the Teachers' Lounge. Bill has the rare gift of being able to present a finely crafted tale as if he were just sitting in the living room with a bunch of friends, in spite of standing on a stage with lights and a thousand people in the audience.

Ed Stivender. What can we say about Ed Stivender? I have some of his audio tapes and video performances, but the real deal is WAY better. You have not had religion until you hear Ed tell the Nativity Story using chess pieces as props. Not a chance!