June 02, 2009

Shout Out: Dale Jarvis, the Real Deal

Dale Jarvis on stage
I first got to know Dale Jarvis by his online presence. He's one of the few storytellers with stories on YouTube. He's one of the even rarer storytellers who has ventured into the virtual world of Second Life. I admired his choice of repertoire (at least via what I could hear on his podcast)-- in fact, a Corsican ghost story ("Goldenhair") had me and my six year old son spellbound in the car convinced me that I would have to hear Dale live and in person someday. However, seeing as Dale lives some 3,476 miles away from me in St. John's, Newfoundland, I didn't see this as very likely.

As luck would have it, Dale and I chose to attend the very same storytelling conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin, this year (Strange to think that Reykjavík, Iceland, would have been a shorter trip for Dale. And hah! I win the prize for longest distance traveled... Berkeley to Green Lake is farther than St. John's to Green Lake by just 23 miles! (and I flew via Phoenix)).

At the Northlands Storytelling Conference, I finally got to hear Dale Jarvis in person, both at a Friday night performance and at his Fringe concert Saturday.

On Friday night he told a Newfoundland Jack tale which delighted the crowd. It was at once a novelty (none of us in the room had heard Newfoundland folklore before) and familiar (the story had familiar motifs of Irish and English wonder tales), and told with aplomb. Dale's telling style was masterful-- confident on stage, with a strong, clear voice, thoughtfully placed gestures, rhetorical flourishes that harkened back to an earlier era, a playful attitude toward the audience, and a deferential one toward the story.

His fringe show the next night introduced not only more Jack tales, but put them in context (after all, he's a professional folklorist): Newfoundland and Labrador has had European settlers for more than four hundred years. So the stories from their home countries like Ireland and England (and France, Portugal, Spain, etc.) have had time to be passed down through generations, evolving, slowly changing. And in a traditional economy based on fishing, with isolated communities, the oral tradition lasted well into the twentieth century. In Dale's telling, he leaves in the rhetorical phrases that old tellers would use (e.g. "and he walked and he walked and he walked and he walked") that you rarely hear anymore from modern storytellers who by and large are not oral/aural craftsmen, and build their stories from images and sentiment.

Dale told a Jack tale that he himself had heard from a elderly Newfoundland woman, who heard it from her grandmother. He's the real deal-- a folklorist who's passing along the oral tradition (instead of assigning it a number and filing it away in a dissertation somewhere). He can tell us stories collected in Newfoundland, he can tell us about how the story was collected, where and when it was collected (whether by himself or by folklorists from earlier times), and by whom.
When was the last time you got to hear a storyteller do that? It has become all too rare.

Dale also tells local ghost stories in St. John's, on haunted hikes, and he's still collecting them... he's even got a column in the local paper sharing supernatural folklore.

You can listen to Dale on this recent interview with three storytellers at the Toronto International Storytelling Festival: (link)

And here, to end this mash note, if you'd like to learn more about Dale-- check out Brother Wolf's interview with him on collecting ghost stories at The Art of Storytelling with Children (link), subscribe to Dale's podcast via iTunes or this page, or visit Dale's very own storytelling blog.


Professional Storyteller Rachel Hedman said...

I have always admired Dale Jarvis, but after reading your "Shout Out" I am even more impressed.

He is truly a storytelling pioneer who encourages others to go along on the journey. . .no matter where the intended destination.

Until we tell again,

Rachel Hedman

Ken O'Brien, St. John's said...

Dale has been a real asset to the cultural life of St. John's in particular (through his Haunted Hike) and Newfoundland and labrador in general, through his keen interest in folklore, folk tales, heritage buildings, and history. And when I tell you that "He tells lies!", that's a pretty good compliment for a Newfoundlander.