Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Leanne Johnson..."and so it shall always be..."

Leanne Johnson tells "Step It Up and Shake It Off" Northlands Storytelling Network, April 2007

I first became acquainted with Leanne Johnson's quick wit and sensitivity as fellow members in an online storytelling community, the storytell listserv. Not long after we began corresponding a bit off list, she told me she was coming to the Northlands Storytelling Network's conference, then located in Dubuque. We hoped to meet "in real life" there.

I'd signed up for the School of Storytelling, a day long intensive on Friday. The session I'd chosen was a large one, and all the participants were circled up and doing their introductions. After I'd barely begun my introduction, a sprite of a woman across the room from me leapt up, ran across the room, flung her arms around me and said "Gwyn!" She didn't even have to tell me who she was; she was exactly as I'd pictured her.

This was the conference at which Leanne announced to everyone at the general session on Saturday morning that she was "getting married, check out my rock!" while making sure it flashed in the light of the lovely conservatory setting of Clarke College. After the conference, many of us were invited to join her at the boat with her soon-to-be husband Dayton and her faithful canine companion, Geronimo. It was a wonderful wind-down from a wonderful weekend, made more so by her easy comfort with all these strangers.

Though Leanne and I live on opposite sides of the Cheddar Curtain at some distance away, we enjoyed each other's company at Northlands every year after that, whether at a workshop, during meals or those parties after the Saturday night concerts. I had the delightful privilege of hearing Leanne tell at many of the concerts and also at little venues we'd hold during our meetings when both of us were serving together on the Northlands board of directors. I especially loved those moments when she combined her celtic harp with her exquisitely crafted stories. I have vivid memories of her telling such a story a couple years ago in that drop dead gorgeous purple dress. Go get 'em, Leanne!

In spite of, or perhaps because of, her ridiculous puns, we bonded as fellow pun geeks. My middle school student storytellers were eternally grateful to Leanne for sharing with me her lyrics to "Tom the Toad"...."Oh Tom the toad, oh Tom the toad, how did you get smashed on the road?" While I can remember and retell those awful groaners, they seemed to slip off her tongue at a moment's notice, a response to something said in conversation. Leanne was a consummate storytelling artist, but she had the skills of a stand-up comedian, too.

Leanne Johnson left this world on August 24, less than two months after first experiencing symptoms that were quickly diagnosed as cancer. I will miss her quick comebacks as much as her gentle soul. Leanne was one of the few storytelling colleagues with whom I shared my personal family struggles, and she among very few, would email me back in righteous indignation about the russian roulette the insurance company was playing with my son's life. She was there when I needed a kind word and support even when she couldn't be in the same geographical border. Though I tried to return that kindness with fervent prayers, there were other plans for her, I guess. Do I understand that? Maybe. Do I accept it? Not really. Leanne's spirit seemed indominitable, her humor kind and razor sharp all at once, and her storytelling.....it will be sorely missed, gone way before her time.

Leanne.....I was privileged to call you "friend," and will do so till I join you around that storycircle in the ever after.

It was Leanne's wish that any memorials go to Northlands Storytelling Network, POBox 1055, McHenry, IL 60051-1055.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Just another busy storyteller's weekend.....

Why is it that these things run in spurts, anyway? I suppose some of it might have to do with the total lack of desire on my part to do any serious marketing and letting the gigs fall where they may. Not sure. Whatever the reason, I'm heading into one such weekend. As in the previous two years of its existence, tomorrow and Saturday I'll have sets in the Wee Folks area at Irishfest LaCrosse. Bodhran included, along with the heat and humidity. Guess I won't need to be wetting the goatskin.

Sunday is the Big Event. Northlands Storytelling Network decided as an organization to put our name in the lottery for the Minnesota Fringe Festival. One of our newer board members, Katie Knutson, is well-versed in this whole Fringe thing, and we thought perhaps bringing storytelling to Fringe audiences would help broaden our appeal. Of course, folks like Nancy Donoval and Kevin Kling have been Fringe fixtures, but this would give Northlands a chance to shine.

Our ticket got pulled! Numerous discussions, email and otherwise, led to the formation of five completely unique performances, featuring tellers from all five states encompassed in the Northlands region, each performance with its own unique theme, with the overall show title, "Storytellers Unleashed!"


Imagine my shock when Tina Rohde, capable co-producer with Katie of this show, contacted me about taking one of the remaining slots. The show is Sunday afternoon, with the theme "Newsworthy."

This will find me telling on a black box stage at the Playwright's Center, with Mom, Dad, younger brother and his wife sitting in the audience. Minneapolis native and all.

Telling my "newsworthy" traditional tale about a creative response to adultery.

Stay tuned!

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Gwyn tells her tale at the final Fringe performance!