Last week I took a few days off from my day job and drove down to the tiny town of Bethlehem, Indiana, for the second “Going Deep: Long Traditional Story Festival.” I went to the first one two years ago in 2006, too. I hope it becomes an annual event. It restores my equilibrium and inspires me in ways that nothing else does.
The structure and content of this festival is magically different from any other storytelling camp, conference, festival, event or gathering that I know about. For a while there I was obsessed with storytelling events, so I know about a lot of them!
The basic structure of “Going Deep” is three times three, starting on a Thursday night and ending around noon on Sunday. In other words:
1. Sharing of an epic story (open to the public) in the evening.
2. A deepening discussion/workshop (for a very limited number of participants) related to the previous night’s story in the morning.
3. A free recreation time in the afternoon. Get a massage, go on a wildflower hike, hunt for fossils, have a session with a palm reader, make a collage, write in a journal, swap stories on the porch, or do whatever other optional activities the hosts might have arranged. Or just take a nap.
Story-discussion-recreation. Story-discussion-recreation. Story-discussion-recreation. Three times three. In most stories, three is a powerful number.
The delicious communal meals in between the three main segments are important, too, though, as is the deepening of connection to the stories at the subconscious level during the dream-filled nights. Maybe the structure is more accurately described as “three times five elements: storying, dreaming, discussing, playing, and eating.”
In any case, the idyllic natural setting adds to the magical effectiveness of this festival. Bethlehem is right on the Ohio River. Birds sing, breezes caress, but also..barges drift by!
One of the co-sponsors of the festival, healer-storyteller Cynthia Changaris, is based in Louisville, Kentucky, but owns and runs a cheery, book-filled bed-and-breakfast called the Storyteller’s Riverhouse in Bethlehem. She and Mary Hamilton, who is another fulltime, professional storyteller, based in Frankfort, Kentucky, together form a storytelling promotion and development company called Scheherazade’s Legacy. Among other projects, they run WOW weekends at the b-and-b to help tellers work on their work.
For “Going Deep,” they organize the home-cooked meals, the local lodging and meeting spaces, and the free-time activities. They also help the festival producers with publicity and evaluation of the festival. Changaris and Hamilton each bring very different skills and strengths to their business partnership, but because they have learned how to blend them effectively, they are an excellent, excellent team. I always feel nurtured and heard when I stay with them.
The three tellers who produce “Going Deep” make a diverse and excellent team as well, both with each other and with Scheherazade’s Legacy. (Five is a powerful number, too!) The producers are Priscilla Howe (based in Lawrence, Kansas), Liz Warren (based in Phoenix, Arizona) and Olga Loya (based in San Jose, California.)
At the 2006 “Going Deep” festival, they were the tellers as well as the producers. Warren told “The Story of the Grail.” Loya told “The Aztec Creation.” Howe told “Tristan and Iseult.” This year, Warren was the MC. Howe told “Queen Berta and King Pippin.” Loya told her version of the Aztec creation story again. The three producers invited Megan Wells to share her “Helen’s Troy.” (More about each of the 2008 pieces in future blog posts.) Next year they plan to have Warren tell again – either her Grail story or something else – and to invite at least one other new teller.
I love the mixture of repeats and new, because any of these long stories would reward multiple listenings and further discussion, but I also know that Warren has been exploring the Welsh “Mabinogion,” and I would love to hear that, too.
I also hope that David Novak will be able to tell his version of “Gilgamesh” in Bethlehem next year. I was delighted to hear that the producers have invited him. He was a participant at the 2006 “Going Deep.” I loved hearing his thoughts about the stories that were told then, and I have loved hearing him tell as a featured teller at the National Storytelling Festival, the Hoosier Storytelling Festival, and at other venues.
Each of these epic stories is entertaining because the tellers are skilled artists, good at what they do. However, each long story is also rich with psychological imagery and emotional resonances that can be unpacked to yield layers and layers of treasure beyond mere entertainment.
The treasure is all the more precious because these long stories do not get told very often, let alone allowed to “breathe” within extended, guided discussion afterwards. Most storytelling festivals provide slots for, and perhaps most audiences think they only want, at most, 20-minute stories. Even when tellers have a whole hour or more in which to tell, they often build a program of shorter stories, rather than developing and sharing one long story.
But as participant Dorothy Cleveland said at the 2006 “Going Deep” festival, “I’m tired of cowboy stories that only tell about the gunfights. The cowboys never mature. I need to hear the whole stories. If you only tell the battles, you never get to see the cowboys grow up. In epic stories, you get to see the big picture, you get to see the blessings of the mistakes. You don’t get stuck in the first half of the story.”
I would add that I am tired of stories that end when the prince whisks the princess off to his castle and they live “happily ever after.” I love working with teenagers at my day job, but there is more to life than adolescence.
Megan Wells said in 2006, “The primary use of the long story is as a curative for society. It helps us to see the blessings of the mistakes of fate, helps us to see that ultimately there is no victimhood, no shame.” At the 2008 festival she added, “Long stories keep me, make me sane. They alone have the breadth and depth to contain one’s wounding.”
Before the festival this year, Christopher Hall, a reporter from the Louisville Courier-Journal, interviewed Cynthia Changaris about hosting the festival, Priscilla Howe about her story, and me about why I was going back a second time. I enjoyed talking with Hall, and I like the way he opened his article in the Sunday, April 6 edition:
“When people listen to stories, they make pictures in their head,” said Cynthia Changaris, host and organizer of the Going Deep Storytelling Festival, which will be held in Bethlehem this week. “It’s very creative, even for the audience.”
I love that the creativity that the “Going Deep” festival brings out in me is not about improving my skills as a storyteller, although that happens simply because it improves my skills as a story listener. It is about deepening my understanding of my relationships – with myself, with my world, with the Divine – through Myth.
The dates have not been set, yet, for the 2009 “Going Deep” festival, nor the fee, but at the closing discussion this year, Priscilla Howe encouraged us to subscribe to the Going Deep blog for updates. I will post info here, too, as soon as I receive it. Olga Loya is going to do an “intensive” (longish workshop) at the National Storytelling Network conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee this August to give people a taste of the “Going Deep” festival, so the dates, tellers, and fee will be set by then.
The “Going Deep” festival costs a significant chunk of money ($550 this year for early bird registration) but the fee includes all meals and lodging as well as the performances and workshops. It is an excellent value for the money. Massages and palm readings from the visiting massage therapists and palm reader are optional and have their own fees.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com