Storytelling Reviews and News: 2010 Basile premieres plus Niall de Burca is coming!

On Saturday, November 6, 2010 I drove to the Indiana History Center in downtown Indianapolis to see The Frank Basile Emerging Stories Fellowship Premieres, presented by Storytelling Arts of Indiana.

As usual with this annual event, there were actually two premieres:  two new 50-minute pieces developed independently for adult audiences by selected Indiana storytellers.  This year’s winners were Jennie Kiffmeyer and Celestine Bloomfield.   I enjoyed both of their pieces very much!  I left the IHC feeling relaxed and optimistic about life.

Below are my thoughts about each performance, followed by news about the next big Storytelling Arts of Indiana event, which is Irish storyteller Niall de Burca’s visit to Indianapolis coming up on December 3-4, 2010.

(All photos below were provided by Storytelling Arts of Indiana.)

“The Rivertown Dispatch,” by Jennie Kiffmeyer

What It Is About

Jennie presents herself as a woman named Mary who is serving as the interim publisher of a local newspaper in a small town on the Ohio River. Mary is running the newspaper while the owner – a relative of hers – is looking for a buyer. 

Mary is better at the job than anyone, including maybe herself, expected.  She finds that she loves the discoveries she makes as she goes about her town, listening to people.  She finds that she is good at this newspaper job, even though she just prints the kinds of items that interest her:  human interest stories, poems, etc…

The bulk of the Jennie’s storytelling piece is a handful of these homey but fully human stories and poems woven together.  A single dad who has lost his factory job but hasn’t told anyone yet bonds with his mall-loving daughter over a walk in the woods in which they discover a forgotten grave (and another story) from Civil War times.  A neighbor has a mother with Alzheimer’s now, but a hidden box of poems brings back flashes of who she once was. 

Mary the narrator reveals secrets about herself, too, but obliquely, through only brief references in passing to things like how long she has been sober.

When her relative sells the newspaper to a media conglomerate and the “newspaper” becomes a rag whose only local news is the police report, Mary sells everything she owns on e-bay and becomes a kind of modern-day troubadour, collecting and sharing people’s stories in places like bus stations and diners.

“And how do these stories end?” Mary/Jennie asks us before she starts telling them.  “I don’t know. Maybe you will take them and finish them.”

At the end, Mary invites us to post our own stories on her website, which is, I think, just part of the fiction, but makes sense in terms of the story arc.

Artistic Considerations

The storytelling purist in me would call this a solo theatre piece rather than a true storytelling piece because the performance artist “becomes” someone else telling a story rather telling a story “as” herself.

However, the part of me that loves all forms of performance art – and storytelling in a larger sense – says, “Oh, Hope, stop quibbling!  You enjoyed this!”

And I did.  Jennie has a very down-to-earth, relaxed, and intimate telling style that is very appealing.  At the same time, her stories include sophisticated bits of poetry and other deliberately beautiful and specific language choices that are also very appealing. 

At one point in “The Rivertown Dispatch,” for example, a box of papers “burst like a glass of water…some of them trickling under the bed.”  I don’t know that I jotted down the exact words, actually, but the image they created in my mind was lovely and vivid.  This is just one of many examples.

Audience and Appeal Factors

Sue Grizzell, the MC, told us that Jennie is a reference librarian at Earlham College and is known for sharing “sacred stories” in that community.  My program says that she has been a professional storyteller for twelve years.  Jennie’s mother, Barbara Kiffmeyer, told me at intermission that both Jennie and her husband have theatre backgrounds as well as academic backgrounds and that Jenny has won prizes for her poetry and other writing.  I think “The Rivertown Dispatch” would appeal to adults who love any of these art forms, not just oral tradition storytelling.

(By the way, I include librarianship as an art form.  Yes, there’s a science to collecting and sharing stories and information, but there’s an art to it, too.)

This piece would also probably appeal to the same kinds of adults as the tourists that are attracted to Rivertown in the story because it seems to them to be “the little town that time forgot.”  The storytelling piece itself makes one feel nostalgic for independent, essential, hometown newspapers that were printed on paper and delivered by boys on bicycles, while also embracing the digital age.

It would also appeal to people who dream of quitting their day job cubicles and living “off the land” as modern-day troubadours.  (The bare-bones traveling life doesn’t appeal to me as much as it once might have, but I still get the appeal.)

There is nothing “x-rated” about “The Rivertown Dispatch” but it does include themes and content that are probably of most interest to adults, so I wouldn’t bring little kids to a sharing of this piece.

This was my first time hearing Jennie Kiffmeyer tell.  I hope to get the chance to hear her tell again some day!

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“Zora and Me,” by Celestine Bloomfield

What It Is About

To begin, Celestine shares a little about what it meant to her to discover Zora Neale Hurston’s stories, and about what it means to all children, of all ages, to find people like themselves in stories. 

After that, Celestine shares some of Zora’s stories that have resonated most strongly with her.  She does not recite them word-for-word, but she does stay true to the author’s plots, character dialogues, descriptive word choices, etc. as she makes them her own for telling.

Celestine told me later that for her Basile program she worked on more Zora stories than she had time to tell at the premiere.  This makes me think that a future sharing of “Zora and Me’ might include a different selection of stories.  In any case, the Zora stories that Celestine told us included: a folktale-like story about Jack, the Devil, and the Devil’s daughter; a story called (I think) “The Gilded Sixpence”; and a story about how men and women used to be equal and always fighting…until Woman found the keys to keeping the upper hand with Man.

Artistic Considerations

Celestine’s rich, warm voice seems to effortlessly fill a performance space and clear everyone’s (or mine, anyway) chakras in a blissful way, especially when she sings a line or two to set the mood and/or signal a transition.  I have heard her tell many times; each time her voice seems to get richer and more expressive, no matter what kind of stories she is telling.

With these particular stories, it was Celestine’s just-right timing that also brought to life their humor as well as their more serious undertones.

Also, Celestine referred to her “issues” during the personal, introductory segment.  That was all she said about them, whatever they are, but there was something about the way she told Zora’s stories that conveyed her personal connection to these literary tales without changing their meaning.  I’m sorry I don’t have a better way to describe it better.  I suspect it has something to do with honesty and courage.

Celestine told me afterwards that she has great respect for Zora Neale Hurston’s command of dialogue and dialect.  This respect definitely shows in Celestine’s fluid telling of these stories.  I was not familiar with the stories ahead of time, but I sensed that respect.   Someone else came up to Celestine and said, “You know me and my love of Zora stories.  You did her proud!”

Audience and Appeal Factors

So…I think this storytelling program would appeal to both fans of Zora Neale Hurston and people who are newcomers to her work. 

It is worth suggesting to fans of literary tales, personal tales, and folk tales.

It is not a program for little kids – again, not because any of it is “x-rated” but because the themes and content are of more interest to adults.

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I’ll just also mention that Don Drennen ran lights and sound for the evening.  He adjusted nimbly to sudden changes in the tellers’ volumes.

And from one of Storytelling Arts of Indiana’s publicity pieces:

“Due to the generosity of Frank and Katrina Basile, we have funded the Frank Basile Emerging Stories Fellowship since 2000. This unique fellowship provides an annual financial stipend to two Indiana storytellers to create, develop and premiere a new story for adult audiences.”

Very, very cool.

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Here is the media release I promised you about the next big Storytelling Arts event:

One of Ireland’s Finest Traditional Storytellers

to Perform in Indianapolis in December

 

Storytelling Arts of Indiana Presents Niall de Burca on December 3 and 4

 

October 1, 2010 (Indianapolis)— Bringing energy and humor to traditional Irish tales, Niall de Burca will perform at two Storytelling Arts of Indiana events in December. The events will be on December 3 and 4 at the Frank and Katrina Basile Theater in the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center. This will be De Burca’s first time back to Central Indiana since he performed in 2003.

A dynamic performer, Niall de Burca is recognized for the diversity in his stories and ability to reach audiences of all ages. He combines tremendous energy and humor with audience participation to tell the Irish tales. De Burca was raised in the wild west of Ireland – a region steeped in Celtic myth and legend. A tradition bearer at ease telling in both Gaelic and English, De Burca is a familiar figure in Ireland telling in theatre, radio and television. Using his voice with a craftsman skill, De Burca tells the old stories with wonderful charm and superb timing. He has toured the world performing in Finland, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Iran, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Argentina.

Fred and Midge Munds present a Weekend with Niall de Burca with two events:

Tales for the Telling with Niall de Burca
Sponsored by Barnes & Thornburg

Friday, December 3
7 – 8 p.m.

Frank and Katrina Basile Theater, Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center

450 W. Ohio St., Indianapolis

Tickets – $5 for children ages 5 – 12, $10 for Adults

Ancestor Tales: The Old Stories of Ireland
Sponsored by Indy’s Irish Fest and Beth Millett
Saturday, December 4
7:30 – 9:30 p.m.

Frank and Katrina Basile Theater, Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center

450 W. Ohio St., Indianapolis

Tickets are $20 in advance; $25 at the door

To order tickets or for more information, please call (317) 576-9848 or visit www.storytellingarts.org.

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 Storytelling Arts of Indiana is one of the premier storytelling organizations in the country. Originally founded as Stories, Inc., in 1988, this unique non-profit presents a year-round schedule of diverse concerts and programs centered on the art of storytelling. Programming ranges from storytelling concerts for adults, a family series, performances for students, the As I Recall Storytelling Guild, summertime Stories in the Park for latch-key children, storytelling for patients at Riley Children’s Hospital, to numerous workshops, programs and community activities. As one of only a very few storytelling organizations in the country to present a year-round schedule, Storytelling Arts of Indiana has made Indianapolis a location of choice on the national storytelling scene.

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I have never heard Niall (sounds like Neal or Neil, I think) tell before, but I love Irish stories and Irish accents, and I trust Storytelling Arts director Ellen Munds’ artistic judgment, so I hope I can get to at least one of Niall’s storytelling concerts while he is in Indianapolis.

‘See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

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