A Swap and More at the 2008 Hoosier Storytelling Festival

Sharon Kirk Clifton as “Jack’s Mama”

On Saturday, October 11, 2008, I drove downtown for the final day of the four-day Printing Partners Hoosier Storytelling Festival.  I have already written about the five featured storytellers: Gene Tagaban, Kevin Kling, Brenda Wong Aoki, Charlotte Blake Alston, and Beth Horner.  I would also like to write a little about the swap that was held at the end of the afternoon on Saturday.  It made me think of the many right ways there are to share stories.

Professional storytellers Sandra Harris and Susan Grizzell were the MCs for the swap.  They put out a sheet of notebook paper and encouraged anyone in the tent who was interested in telling a 3-5 minute story on the Indiana History Center stage to put their names on the paper.

Harris is the author of a short book called Getting Started in Storytelling.  She is also a recipient of the Frank Basile Emerging Stories Fellowship, which allowed her to create a 45-minute multi-media storytelling memoir called Too Crazy to Know Better.  The piece is about being a Civil rights activist in the south. 

She also has a delightful new storytelling CD called “A Girl Called Tootsie,” which is a true story from her family history.  It is about growing up in the early part of the 20th century.  Her voice on the CD (and live!) is warm and loving, with a lilting southern accent.  I enjoy listening to this CD in my car when I’m going to a show on the other side of town.  It would make a perfect Christmas gift (or anytime gift) for seniors or as a “bon voyage” present for families to take on road trips.  For more information, you may call Harris at home at 317-257-3053.

Sandra Harris also runs the “As I Recall” Storytelling Guild in Indianapolis.  It meets from 2:00 – 4:00 pm at the Glendale Library on the third Wednesday of every month.

Sue Grizzell is not in the Storytelling Arts of Indiana storyteller directory this year.  I think this is because she is going back to her theatre roots.  She helped quite a bit with the Indy Fringe Festival earlier this year.  

However, Grizzell created the long storytelling piece “Porch Swings & Prairie Wings” a few years ago as part of the ongoing “Sharing Hoosier History Through Stories” series.  I will add a piece to that 15-year series in January with the debut of my own “Of the People: Stories and Images of Abraham Lincoln.”  Both Grizzell and Harris have been very supportive of me in my work on this joint commission from the Indiana History Center and Storytelling Arts of Indiana, which I appreciate!

I went to the swap during the last time slot on Saturday afternoon instead of hearing one of the featured tellers because I hadn’t been to a swap in a long time.  Swaps at festivals and conferences are good places for new tellers to “log flight time” in front of audiences.  They can also be a good place for an experienced teller to try out a new story.  Also, as a swap listener, sometimes you hear a new teller that eventually turns into a popular veteran teller. It is fun to be able to say, “I heard him (or her) first!”

But mostly on Saturday I just wanted to be a “juicy faced listener” for anyone who needed one that hour.  I am grateful for every swap audience that has ever given me their attention.  It felt good to be giving some of that kindness back to the community. 

Five people signed up to tell.  I didn’t jot down their names because it is unnerving enough to be telling in front of a group for the first time without having to worry about some blogger writing about you on the Internet.  However, I would like to write about them sort of generally because I really did enjoy their stories.

The first teller was an instructor on sabbatical from Vincennes University.  The purpose of her sabbatical is to study storytelling!  How cool is that!  She told a funny story that someone in her family (an uncle?) had told her as a child about how she had come to be in their family.  I think of it as “the baby tree” story.

Next, I think, was a teller who also told a family story.  It was about a time during her childhood when she was repeatedly offered a dessert with a cherry on top in a restaurant and repeatedly dropped it.  I didn’t see the ending coming at all.

Then Indianapolis-based professional teller Frances Whitener told a hilarious story about someone in her Virginian family who took baked beans to a family reunion with disastrous results.

Professional storyteller Vanita Moore got up next with her granddaughter – a budding storyteller – to do the “Little Red Riding Hood Rap.”  It was fun!

By the way, Moore and her husband run a funeral home in Brazil, Indiana.  As part of that work, Moore creates eulogy stories out of information and anecdotes from surviving family members who feel too emotional to share the stories at the funeral service themselves.  I have always thought that that must be a very challenging, and yet very rewarding, way to work as a storyteller.

Another teller was a young man who told an exciting story about him and his wife getting stranded with no money in New York City.  I admired the energy in his telling style!

After the swap, I looked over and saw professional storyteller Sharon Kirk Clifton with her assistant at the side of the tent.  Clifton’s telling style involves wearing a costume and taking on a persona.  I got to sit in on a library program that she gave a few years ago as “Jack’s Mama.”  She shared stories and other folklore from the Appalachian Mountains.

At our Festival this year, she shared her own “Sharing Hoosier History Through Stories” piece.  It is called “At Home and in Harm’s Way: the Role of Indiana During the Civil War.”  In it, she portrays Elizabeth George, a member of the U.S. Sanitary Commission from Fort Wayne as well as other Indiana women from Civil War times.

Clifton is also a recipient of the Frank Basile Emerging Stories Fellowship.  For that, she developed a piece called “Abigail Gray: Living Under the Drinking Gourd.”  Gray was an abolitionist farm wife of 1859.  I admire Clifton’s ability to research people and places from history and bring them to life.  It was good to chat with her a bit on Saturday afternoon.

On Saturday night, another Basile winner and “Hoosier History” teller, Stephanie Holman, was the MC for the Story Cabaret.   I first met Holman years ago when I was working on my Master of Library Science degree and living in Bloomington, Indiana.  We were (and still are) both librarians in our day jobs and members of the Bloomington Storytellers’ Guild.  Her historical piece, “Safe and Sound,” was the first thing I wrote about here on my blog.  She, too, has been very encouraging of me as I work on my Lincoln piece.  It is terrifying and humbling work!

Anyway, I loved that as part of her introduction to the Story Cabaret on Saturday night, Holman sang a variety of funny cell phone ring tones to gently remind people to turn theirs off!

During the intermission of the Story Cabaret, I was delighted to see Phoenix actor Gayle Steigerwald in the audience.  She is a wonderful actor.  I have written about her theatrical work here, here, here, and here, and that is only a drop in the bucket.  I also think she would make a wonderful storyteller.  I agree with her that finding the right material is half the battle, but once she finds “her” stories, I am convinced that she will be an amazing teller.

Kevin Kling was the final teller in the final 2008 Hoosier Storytelling Festival event last Saturday night.  He asked Gene Tagaban to play his wooden flute while Kling recited a poem that he had written.  The combination of the bliss in the music and the joy in the language was heady.   A week later, I am still on an emotional and vocational high from that piece and from the whole Festival.  A phrase from one of Tagaban’s Native tales echoes in my mind: “Just tell the story!”

I talked to many people during the 2008 Hoosier Storytelling Festival, too many to mention all of them here.  So I’ll end by saying, “Guess what came in the mail for me this week?”

I received a preview copy of the newly published textbook, The Oral Tradition Today: An Introduction to the Art of Storytelling, by Liz Warren (Pearson Custom Publishing 2008.)   I learned about this book at this year’s Going Deep: Long Traditional Storytelling Festival in Bethlehem, Indiana.  Warren is one of the three producers of that festival.  She also teaches a college level storytelling course at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, Arizona.

I have been looking for a good textbook for my own graduate-level storytelling course, which I will teach for the fifth time this spring through the School of Library and Information Science at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) this spring.  It may be too late to get Warren’s book approved as a required book for my class this time around, and in any case I would need to supplement with required reading from library-related storytelling articles and/or textbooks, but it is definitely going on the bibliography of recommended reading that I give to my students. 

I have only had time to skim it so far, but already I can tell that The Oral Tradition Today is very readable and chock-full of good information.  There are chapters on various aspects of storytelling in general and also individual chapters for how to tell a folktale, a myth/legend/hero tale, a fact-based story, and a personal story.  I am looking forward to reading all of it!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

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