On Saturday night I was at the Indiana History Center‘s Basile Theater to hear one of my storytelling heroes, Heather Forest, share “Travel Scenes.” This program for adults was produced by Storytelling Arts of Indiana and “presented” (sponsored) by Marcia Baker. It was part of The Storytelling Series sponsored by Beth Millett.
Several years ago, when Forest…(It feels strange to follow reviewer custom and call her “Forest”)…Several years ago, when Heather was a featured teller at the Hoosier Storytelling Festival, I was her driver for the week. I got to know her a little bit beyond what she shares in her books and her storytelling performances and workshops. I loved her musical interpretation of world folktales, and I was impressed by her talent, her generosity, and her convictions. She was a skillful artist with a unique style. She was also a peace activist who gently “walked the talk.”
On Saturday night, Heather had her guitar with her as usual, but instead of telling all folk tales, she told of her sightseeing trip to Israel in 2006. Within this frame story, she wove folk tales, poetry, personal anecdotes from the trip, and family stories. Even when she wasn’t singing, her speech patterns were naturally musical, and her gestures had a dance-like quality. I was entranced anew by her artistry.
One of the stories she told was about a carob seed that made its way into her pocket. She and her fellow sightseers visited The Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles in Jerusalem. Thousands of carob trees had been planted there to commemorate non-Jews who had helped to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Heather mentioned that Israel is the only country in the world that has planted more trees than it has cut down. I was completely distracted for a few moments, imagining how wonderful it would be if the United States would resolve to do that, too.
She moved from this trip story to a folk tale about Honi the Circle Maker and the seeds that he planted. He knew he would no longer be alive when those trees matured, but he planted them anyway for future generations.
Interspersed with the folktales and personal tales, Heather described her growing horror and anxiety over the reports of violence being done in nearby areas.
Her peace agenda was much more overt than I remembered it being in past performances. Towards the end, the program actually felt a little preachy, but I could sympathize with Heather’s frustration. After all this time, can we not all be even a little more creative in our problem-solving? Is violence really the only choice?
At the very end, Heather sang a heart-wrenching song whose lyrics included the refrain, “There must be a way besides war.”
Half of the audience stood up to applaud. The other half stayed firmly in its seats. Peace is as hard a sell here, I suspect, as it is in Israel. I didn’t enjoy being preached at, but I admired Heather for trying to make a difference, for acting on her concerns.
After the applause died down, she said, “I know this piece was different from the work I usually do. If anyone wants to talk about it, I’ll hang around for a while. Art has a way of going beyond the mind to the heart. Art can create change. Maybe the world’s leaders need to have some artists as consultants.” This made the entire audience laugh and feel comfortable again.
Earlier in the evening someone had mentioned that Heather had finally, after 40 years, completed her doctorate. We all cheered her accomplishment. After the program, as I drove home, I thought of Heather going back to her family and their daylily farm in upstate New York. She just keeps working on what she believes to be important! I felt inspired anew to keep working on my own art, too, and to keep looking for nonviolent solutions to every conflict.
The next visiting storyteller will be Patrick Ball sharing a program for adults called “Celtic Harp and Story” at the Indiana History Center Basile Theater on April 5, 2008. Please call the Storytelling Arts of Indiana office at 317-576-9848 for more information or visit the Storytelling Arts website at www.storytellingarts.org.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com