Friday, February 29, 2008

Tellers and Tales at Timp - Taking the plunge

(Keep in mind, this was my first storytelling conference ever. I'm not childish. I'm enthusiastic;)

Remember what I wrote about David Novak and his standing-on-the-head performance? Now, that was not only my first encounter with him, but also the first experience on the conference's first day... and it made my day. He was the keynote teller, talking about standing on the threshold as storytellers (I especially like standing on the threshold of everything... and balancing on it... and swinging on it... and doing cartwheels on it... comes with the trickster nature I guess). The room was filled with people, tellers and listeners alike, and in spite of the jet lag and the sleep deprivation (that created black circles under my eyes to match my black blouse) I felt really awake, and ready to remember everything I hear...
The first workshop I attended was Meg Gilman's: Up Close and Personal, about character connections. It was not only fascinating and useful, but also gave us a new perspective about folktales and fairy tales (the Wicked Witch will never ever be the same again...). And of course, it was great fun. I was working with the Dragon Prince - and thanks to Meg now the heroine has a name, she never had one before. Yay!
Lunch was almost just as fun as all the workshops - sitting, talking, being introduced to more people than I can possibly remember (but they were all very nice), running up and down between tables (Wendy just had to show off my dragon egg - yes I have one, a tiny jade green egg, one of my good luck story charms...). Cookies, apples, sandwiches, and we were off to the next session.
Performance, that is. Debi Richan's My Antonia. Afterwards she told us everyone always asks her about the spinning wheel - but come on, this was the first time I saw a spinning wheel live in use, and I was fascinated... almost as much as by her storytelling. She changed into Antonia in outfit and voice and all the emotions; she was loud and sharp and lovable... and she even told a Czech story I immediately recognized as a version of Belfegor and Monna Onetta, and a couple of Hungarian folktales. And she told it well. Now that I come to think of it, this was the first time I saw historical personification on storytelling stage, and I just love it (goes on the "I have to try it once!" list)
Fired up by My Antonia I went to Kate Dudding's workshop, Voices from the Past to learn more about transforming history and biography into storytelling. Kate is a fountain of knowledge and advice on this topic. Historical storytelling is something new, something different from what I learned at home - I do write historical novels, but I never told them. Maybe I could?... Fun part is, Kate had a lot to say about research, but as I see it now, I will make the whole thing awfully difficult for myself - not many newspaper articles from the 2nd century A.D. Well, we'll see. The workshop started it all...
The last workshop of the day was Donald Davis's It's all in the Medium. The tools of a storyteller and all the ways you can possibly tell a story - and who would know that better than him... (and yes, he sneaked in some stories too, and man were they just great...)
Well, after we had dinner in a nice Greek restaurant, there was nothing left but the Friday evening concert (or, as I called it in myself, the concert of the "big brothers"). The auditorium of the Timpanogos High School filled up by the time we got there; it was amazing to see all the families and people arriving, all cheerful and eager to hear stories, stories and stories...
The tandem teller girls who opened the show were just great (it made me add "try tandem telling" to my list - yeah it's growing and growing...) and hip and sassy and totally professional (I wish we had contests or festivals for young tellers too, makes such a difference if kids can stand on the stage...)
David was great as ever. He had a nice Romeo and Juliet/West Side Story/Pyramus and Thisbe/personal story mix - definitely a 'wow' experience. I like the way he works with myths and fairy tales and the way he mixes them with personal stories and his own telling style; the result is really funny but still deep (means we laughed our heads off but kept thinking about it even days later). And I was especially happy about Pyramus and Thisbe (oh joyful high school days when I was Puck for a whole drama season...).
Donald was funny as ever, with a touch of 'owww how sweet' in the mix (I mean his story. But he's sweet too). As always: all the fun of being a kid, all the weird family members, all the touching moments and yes, all the trouble (trouble is Donald's trademark, after all...) (Wendy kept giggling at me from time to time when I gasped "Nooo, he didn't...." "Yes he did.") It's interesting to see how my attitude changed towards personal stories in the last couple of months since I arrived here; I think I had to learn how to enjoy them. Donald is a great teacher for that...
And the first day was already over before I even realized.
Great luck that we had one more to go...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tellers and Tales at Timp - The Setting

Utah rocks.
(Er... no pun intended. Really.)
When I arrived, it was foggy and all gray, and I could not see the mountains at all, and although people kept telling me they are there, there were so many other things I could actually look at... especially from the top of Hotel Utah, which was downright amazing, and the Salt Lake Temple (very impressive), and than we were in the car on our way to the Orem Public Library, and then I got hit by the next culture shock: the library was just incredible. I wish we had one like that at home. I mean, come on, they have a whole storytelling room!
I was greeted by Janet Low, and when she noticed that I just couldn't keep my eyes off the walls, she smiled and started to tell me the story of James Christensen's storytelling pictures.
I knew it. I so knew it.
I found Once Upon a Time on the web some time ago, and ever since then I have been looking for it; and there it was, it belongs to Timp (or as you might know it, the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival - Timp just sounds so nice and cuddly). And it has a pair, painted for the tenth anniversary, The Flight of the Fablemaker (and now I'll only remember both of them as Tales beyond Timp, and I don't mind at all). I can't wait till the twentieth anniversary, and it's coming up next year... And then there were those beautiful stained glass windows - at that point I wished so badly I had been a kid in Orem. They are all crowded with fairy tale and mythology characters. I walked along them, pointing out the stories I know, and finding new details with every step - it was so much fun!
And then Wendy arrived to pick me up; when we walked out of the building, the sun had already set, and the sky was clear, deep blue, the exact same shade as the dress of the princess on the window, and I finally met the mountains, face to face, drew with thin silver lines against the evening, and they were just wonderful... at that moment I could believe all the elves and faeries in Christensen's pictures.
(And here comes the getting fed part again) By the time the moon rose we were already sitting in a friendly restaurant with all the storytellers and the conference staff, talking and laughing; first we only saw a cloud with silver lining, then the thin crescent of the full moon behind a mountain we could not see; the talking and laughing paused for a minute as we all watched the beautiful scene. For me, it marked the beginning of a weekend of wonders.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tellers and Tales at Timp - The Cast

First and foremost and above all, there was Wendy. My personal Wendy straight from Neverland, with her smile and her stories, and her amazing family. She picked me up at the library (see Setting later on), and we talked out way through the whole weekend without ever getting bored... (that means expect that there will be lots of "Wendy this and Wendy that" in later chapters;)
Then, there were the big brothers, or the "rock stars" as Wendy's husband called them - Donald Davis and David Novak.
"Oh my God, I'm presenting a workshop at the same conference as Donald Davis." (Yeah I know, one of those things you know for half a year and realize them when you are already there). I already knew who he was, oh I did. He is the guy from Jonesborough with the bow tie and the smile and all those funny and touching family stories, I do remember (how could I forget anything that happened in Jonesborough?...). And then there he was, waving at me from the table when we entered the restaurant the first evening (just off the plane I felt myself a tad unprepared for a place where you have your own menu card and half of it is in French, but oh well, everyone was sooo friendly anyway). During the two days of the conference, he was here and there and everywhere, as you'll soon read, and I found myself waiting for the next story he had...
When I first saw David, he was standing on his head, telling the Maori myth of Papa and Rangi.
And now I'm seriously thinking if I need to say anything more...
Yes I do.
He is the myth-and-personal-mix kinda storyteller, the laugh-your-head-off kinda storyteller, the wow-he-has-a-point kinda storyteller, the this-is-my-version kinda storyteller; the one who was happy to chat about Gilgamesh at the dinner table (yeah, rare treat for me... first of that kind) and makes you like a story you... well, did not like at all... (in case you are wondering, I'm talking about Cinderella, but again, I'll get back to the stories later on)
And then there were The Storytellers who were all around, colorful and smiling and chatting and hugging me randomly like the little sister of an amazing family (little sister for sure. To quote the emcee: "She is young..."). Meg Gilman (with her "you are gonna hate me" workshop and her laugh that made sure we were gonna love her), Kate Dudding (aka living fountain of historical knowledge), Nannette, Steffani and Karla (aka Resonance Story Theater, together with Wendy a nice bundle of fun and smiles that made sure everyone felt like 5 again...), Debi Richan (who gave us one of the best performances of the weekend and lots of laughing) Jo Radner (the always so elegant walking (hi)story book with the mischievous Yankee smile) Linda Gorham (aka Lady Attitude with the strong happy voice) Teresa (fellow blogger, yay!) and Cherie (another one you can't ever see not smiling).
And there were all the story lovers and listeners, those who make the conference roll, and those who arranged everything and fed us (yeah, the feeding part again, I know I'm impossible when it comes to food sorry) and guided us and made sure we had just as much fun as the audience...
And now I spent most of the evening going hyper over all the conference memories, that's enough for a start.
Next chapter coming up soon...

Monday, February 25, 2008

Tellers and Tales at Timp - Teaser Trailer

Ta-daaah! I'm home from the Timpanogos Storytelling Conference.
4 days. 2500 miles. 5 workshops. 2 concerts. 15 storytellers.
Too many moments of pure fun to count.
Too few days to come home without wishing I could stay more. (A lot more)
Way too many adventures to include in one blog post.
Way too few hours of sleep in the last week.
Title says it all.
I have been running on pure enthusiasm (or pure Glamour, for those who know what I mean...), and it was more than enough for the way to Utah, the two days of conference and all the way back, with an additional couple of weeks of aftermath for sure. I met wonderful people from all over the United States, I heard incredible stories, learned more than I can recount without a list that rolls all the way down to the floor, got fed like a queen (yes, for a college student with weekly menu of pizza and chili, getting fed in those great restaurants does count), oh and did I mention the stories and the storytellers?...
(Yes I know I did)
Details coming soon.
(Insert movie preview music here...)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ready, steady...

Three days to the Timpanogos conference. I'm getting a tad nervous here. And very, very, very excited.
Yes, the poll is closed, thanks for the voting to everyone who did! The result came out quite interesting. Especially because the same questions on my Hungarian blog came out with an entirely different order...
(And none of them has anything to do with the program I finally put together, but oh well, it's still good to know what people think... and it can count as an anthropological research of people's interest in folktales from other cultures - even though some individuals voted more than once for the sake of their favorite stories... cheers to them!)
The Fairy section's winner is The Secret of the fairy lake - one of my favorites, that is. Good choice, good choice. Looks like English-speaking readers prefer happy ends over doom and gloom (just so you know, Hungarians voted for the Fairy of the Hany. Everybody dies...)
The Castle legends section was a close race between Beckó and the Castle made of salt - I love both, Beckó being one of the tales my father had to tell me over and over again when I was a kid. Still, I chose Bátorkő for the program, wanna know why? It's both a castle legend and a Mátyás tale, and because our favorite trickster king just won the third poll, I decided to put them together, so I can tell one more story... (oh my god, the program will be so crammed with all kind of great tidbits of Hungarian folklore... I'll really have to try hard not to run overtime...)
I need guinea pigs to time it before Thursday. *Goes to drag her friends to a quiet corner for an hour of storytelling...*
So I'm almost ready for the first storytelling conference of my life...
Wish me luck!

The crazy girl with the camera

The collective thoughts of all the Trinity students who saw me on campus during last week:
"Oh. My. God. It's freezing out here... and I thought it was warm when I looked out the window, it's so beautiful, the sun is shining, there is not a single cloud on the sky, gee, I can't feel my nose and fingers... hey, what the heck is that girl doing on that tree?
Whoa, she is nuts. Look, she is climbing up the tree. And she is talking to herself... hey, isn't she one of those European students, now where are they from, Czechoslovakia?... er, no, Poland?... that's it, Hungary. But why on earth is she out there in this weather? Come on, I can see my breath...
Look, she is not talking to herself, she is talking to that camera. Oh, I got it, she is shooting a video of herself. Wow, ten more seconds and I'll be frozen solid... c'mon, let's go."
Or something along these lines.
Yes, it was kinda cold. Kinda below zero. Fahrenheit, I mean. That's why I like Celsius better... of course I had no idea it was that cold when I started my quest/mission/crazy afternoon to shoot an introduction video for an internship.
So most of the afternoons people could see me walking around the cathedral, sitting on a bench, climbing up somewhere, lying on my stomach trying to prop up the camera in the right angle, hanging upside-down from a tree (poor tree) (just kidding, no trees were harmed during the shooting of my video, I swear), talking talking talking to myself. And freezing to the point of numb fingers and very painful melting process afterwards (did you ever wash your hands in warm water after they were totally numbed by cold? Hurts like hell). I just hoped the camera would bear the weather better than I did...
It's not as easy as it sounds (does it sound easy? I wonder...). When I have time I'll put a second video together (the first one, by the way, I mean the one I put together with three days of work and several Windows Movie Maker bashing, is kinda cool) - I should preserve all the bloopers, like the one when I noticed after 15 minutes of talking that the wind just blew my gloves in front of the camera, or when I prepared for the speech of the year and then the church bells went off above my head... or the laughing fits I had, totally alone in the middle of the campus (it's a good thing I was alone, otherwise people might have thought I was... well, high).
But it was absolutely worth it. I never thought I would enjoy watching myself on video (my family is rather the taking-photos kind), or making a video, or cutting the video (till 3 o'clock in the morning when my eyes were tiny and red) - but here I am, ta-da, and hopefully soon I'll be able to upload it to this very blog too (let's hope for the best, because the uploading speed here is just scandalous).
One thing I've learned: ideal lighting and weather does not mean you won't catch a bad cold while filming the movie of your life out there...
Well, whatever.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Little museum of friendly medical horrors...

(Vote vote vote! One week left!)


(It's about time to start the final project for the Museum Studies course... we need to pick an exhibition and dig deep into the background of how it came to be... interesting enough :) Here is the first scouting report...)

Just got back from the museum… it was an unusual experience… weird in a positive way. Judging from the information on their website, I was expecting something strictly arranged and accurately labeled, with white walls and… people?
Well, it started out with the taxi driver not even knowing what I was talking about… but we managed to find the place before we left the city completely. That’s a good start.
The door was locked; when I started making noise with the doorknob, I could see a lady appear on the other side of the small window, with utter shock on her face, and a wonder-like expression of surprise. I found out the reason soon enough: according to the guest book right next to the door, I was the first visitor in two weeks…
Good news is I had the whole place all for myself, and all the time in the world to wonder around. Bad news is, it turned out they were actually about to take the whole exhibition apart for good…
I started walking around in the first hall, looking at the showcases; I found them very interesting, and spent an awful lot of time reading the labels and the stories next to the objects; laughing out loud at the surgeon’s biography who was “the fastest man with a knife in England” (25 seconds for a leg amputation in 1846, no kidding) and getting somewhat sick watching all the horrible instruments the doctors used 200 years ago… ("Where would they stick that? *reads label* "WHAT?! Urgh, NO WAY!... Eeeew...")
And now comes the question, why on Earth did I choose this museum for a field trip. Well, I’ve always liked medical history (maybe because half of my family consists of doctors, and I grew up in my grandparents’ offices playing with medical stuff and writing “recipes” for the teddy bears) (no, no autopsy); I’m also writing my Archeology thesis on Roman medicine and surgery. And I needed to find a museum within Hartford - without a car I can’t get around so easily, and I know the final project would require a lot of time spent in the actual museum I choose… so this was the most interesting among all the museums listed on the Internet.
When I was finished with the first hall (that is, the most arranged and nicely done part of the exhibition), I moved through a narrow hallway (crammed with medical kits and bags and huge boxes with really old microscopes) to the Bicentennial Room. It was arranged in 1976 (from the collection of medical instruments between 1776 and 1976), and it shows the signs of the beginning stage of chaos. I was somewhat surprised to see many artifacts here and there without a glass case or any kind of protection (maybe because I was the once in a blue moon visitor from whom they should be protected – not that I’d touch them anyway). The clear concept of their arrangement was lost, themes were mixed up; the only coherent part was the case in the middle of the room, with 17th century manuscripts in it.
Moving to the next room, I found a couple of dentist’s chairs set up with all the cupboards and medical kits around (there was a green teddy bear and a plush frog sitting in one of them). It was even more crowded with stuff than the one before, and I needed quite a long time to look around and register every detail before moving on.
When I ran out of rooms, and accidentally walked on into an office that looked like a crossover between a library and a storeroom, I finally realized the exhibition was over… backing out of the office, I met two ladies who were very friendly and asked me if I’ve met George. When my answer was no, they led me back into the office (that turned out to be an actual storeroom which looked like a crossover between an office and a library…) and introduced me to a skeleton… turns out George was an actual human being… a long time ago… and was found in some other museum’s or society’s back room, and bought by someone who started the HMS.
After getting to know George, I got to know the living crew of the nice tiny chaotic museum – who soon informed me that they were about to take said place apart, sell and give away most of it, and transfer the rest to UConn. I was a bit disappointed… but when I told them about the project, they got more excited than me, and assured me that I was most welcome to dig into their archives and whatever I’m interested in, if I’m not bothered by the fact that the exhibition is being taken apart above my head… and I don’t think I am.
In the meantime a photographer broke down the door and strolled in with huge bags, and then came the next surprise: the museum has three gigantic volumes of a really old medical dictionary that used to belong to Mark Twain himself – he even wrote a short story based on them, and they are full of notes and newspaper clippings… fun part is, the Mark Twain House does not want them (he himself did not want them, that’s how they got passed down to a doctor who donated them to the Society). So the photographer came to take digital pictures of them, and then there was the four of us, chatting and turning the pages of the rare historical artifacts (i.e. the books) enjoying the fact that we were allowed to touch something Mark Twain touched too… they were really old, the books, Mr. Clemens says (writes) they were confiscated from a Southern physician in the Civil War. How cool is that.
Well, that’s it for now; I got business cards from the museum crew (except for George, who was quite reserved) and left the place, plans of invasion already forming in my head…