October 30, 2008

Backstage at the Mesa Storytelling Festival

Just wanted to call your attention to Sean Buvala's report on the Mesa Storytelling Festival from behind the scenes: link

Especially noticed this:
Being out of the tents and into this modern, well-run facility has brought things to the next level.

(The predominance of tents in the American Storytelling Revival is, in my view, a failure of imagination based on the notion of copying wholesale the model of production from the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. (Jim May nearly admitted as much re: the Illinois Storytelling Festival) While Sobol's research rightly points out the accidental serendipity of the Jonesborough tents echoing the liminal space of past cultural events (the circus, chatauqua, and the Methodist revival meeting), tents are a solution to an architectural need: to create a temporary space in the out-of-doors where people can gather for a performance.

I think, after 30 years, we can say "So that tent thing, trying to re-create the past-- How's that working out for ya, audience-wise?"

[Standard I-wasn't-there-I-was-a-thousand-miles-away disclaimer]:
For the Mesa Storytelling Festival, it was a no-brainer- they went with what they have: an Arts Center that was already designed to be a cultural magnet, an economic engine, a local landmark, a regional "destination," and a recognizable hub for the arts. If you have a 212,000 square foot facility to host arts events, there's no need to set up tents in a field.

The liminal space that storytelling creates can be created anywhere... tents are just one option.

Anyway-- back to Sean's report on Mesa:

It's always refreshing to hear opinions from a pro about the production end of things-- if only because it is so rare (Storytelling is a small community, and not one that likes to air its laundry in public; it prefers to spread the word across kitchen tables and conference calls). Sean is one of the few members of the community that not only has a public platform (or seven) for discussion, but isn't afraid to share his candid opinion.

October 20, 2008

Shout Out: Indy Theatre Habit

Hope Baugh describes her blog, Indy Theatre Habit, as “reviews and reflections related to all aspects of live theatre in the Indianapolis, Indiana (USA) area.”

She reviews at least one theatre production a week-- sometimes during the summer, and especially during the Indianapolis Fringe Festival-- a dozen or more!

That she is passionate about live theatre is clear. She'd be an asset to have in any audience.

But the reason I'm calling her out here is that she is consistently reviewing storytelling performances for adult audiences with the same passion. And lest ye cast aspersions on a theatre critic for sneaking into the storytelling room (The subject of the storytelling community's aversion to live theatre and theatre critics will be left for another post), Hope has storytelling street cred: she's a full time librarian and a part time storyteller.

When she does review a storyteller, I note it in the linkroll in the left hand column of this site.

Kudos to Storytelling Arts of Indiana to programming storytelling programs for adults in the first place... giving Hope performances to write about. Hope also covers the storytelling of the Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival and the Going Deep retreat.

Indy Theatre Habit: http://www.indytheatrehabit.com

If you're just interested in the storytelling reviews (and want to skip the local theatre scene in Indianapolis), that's available: http://www.indytheatrehabit.com/category/reviews-storytelling/

As far I as I can tell, Hope Baugh is the only person in North America blogging about live storytelling performance from the perspective of the discerning audience member, and by doing so, educating her readers (many of whom are interested in live performance (theatre) and may not be familiar with storytelling) about the art form.

Hope, you rock!

October 13, 2008

More National Storytelling Festival Wrap Up

Yvonne posts five days of her trip to Jonesborough at http://agreatstorytellingadventure.blogspot.com/

Jaine Treadwell writes a column in the Troy (Alabama) Messenger: "You Have to Experience Jonesborough"

Other blog entries from:

Laurel Winter, "Tell Me a Story --and make it a good one"

Wendy Edey, "Pilgrimage to Jonesborough"

Karen Kennedy, "Once Upon a Time"

One thing I notice about the blog entries on the Festival is how many of them don't focus on the storytelling, but on "making the pilgrimage." Part of it is that some bloggers are simply posting a diary, they're not out to review a performance. But part of this phenomenon is the mystique and lore surrounding the festival (a culture that is both organic to the event and a carefully cultivated (as documented by Sobol and Gneiting), which, for some people, makes writing about the experience moot.

Case in point, over the past weekend, I caught up with a friend who reminded me of his own pilgrimage to Jonesborough in 1993, and --beaming the whole while as he recounted it-- he can still remember what stories he heard from Jim May, and Ray Hicks, and Jackie Torrance, and how much his family loved making the trip, and how profoundly he felt "the presence of truth" in the storytelling, a clarity he hadn't felt since his combat days in Vietnam, albeit this time without the horror. His enthusiasm was so unbridled as so refreshingly uncynical that he nearly sold me on packing up my own kids and jetting across the country for next year's festival.

TED: Carmen Agra Deedy

Back in February, I linked to Creative Loafing's article about Atlanta's storytellers, noting in passing that the story's lede was Carmen Agra Deedy's appearance at the 2005 TED conference. Well, lo and behold, the video is finally available. According to Creative Loafing article, Deedy tossed her prepared remarks, and what you see here is extemporaneous:

...but I gotta think this is part of her standard repertoire.

October 09, 2008

Oral Tradition Journal Opens Its Doors: It's All Available, Free, Online.

Since 1986, The Center for Studies in the Oral Tradition at the University of Missouri has been an interdisciplinary center for research on oral traditions. Its flagship journal, Oral Tradition, has been a treasure trove of papers in anthropology, archaelogy, linguistic, religious studies, performance studies, literature, folklore, and various languages.

It has just opened up its archives (dubbed eOT) via the Web for everyone to access (Previously, you had to have a subscription, or hope your local university library subscribed or could grant you electronic access to the issues since 2003). Every article it has every published, available, now, online, for free.

With the advent of eOT, the free, open-access electronic version of the journal based here, we aspire to remove many of the natural barriers created by print-based and subscription media. Since we believe that academic contributions should be as democratically available as possible, we are from this point onward offering the journal as a pro bono, gratis contribution to the field. Anyone with a connection to the internet will be able to read and redistribute its contents – not only the current issue, but also the entire 22 years and 10,000 pages of back issues.

In addition to reaching a much larger and more diverse readership, we hope that eOT will encourage submissions from scholars whose voices are not customarily heard in western print media because of the difficulties involved with currency exchange and distribution networks.

The archives are searchable by keyword, there's a master index, and all articles are available as PDF files.

Even if you're not an academic, the site is a fascinating treasure trove of papers on a variety of subjects: from Homer to Beowulf, from Coyote stories to The Canterbury Tales, from Japanese theatre to French covers of Bob Dylan songs to the epics of India. Do a little digging and find a story to tell.

And if there are any academic journals out there focused on other specific aspects of oral tradition, ahem, might I suggest (again) considering open access as a publishing model?

Learn more about Open Access at Wikipedia or at the Public Library of Science.

October 06, 2008

National Storytelling Festival Round-Up

I did not have the pleasure of attending the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee this year, so here are some field reports (but not many reviews) from those who did:

Emma Cofer, at Inside Vandy: Stories Abound at National Storytelling Festival

Johnson City Press:
Storytelling festival says ‘The End’ until next year; crowd down slightly


Ellouise Schoettler blogs all four days of her trip! You go girl!
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

Broken on the Wheel: every story has an ending but it's the tale that is the heart

Blabbin' Grammy: Jonesborough Storytelling

Elena and Maeve: Jonesborough Storytelling Trip

Found a few more mentions via Google and Myspace, but just namechecks of the festival under "what I did this weekend" and no reports.

Mountain Mama Suzy, several entries

polgara_5's livejournal

Hey, an actual entry from one of the performers, Minton Sparks, on Myspace.

Jeff Brunson: "The Providential Buckeye"

Betty checks in post-Festival from Jonesborough at her blog.

Exchange Place teller Kindra Gayle blogs about her trip

October 04, 2008

Video Documentary: the Culture of the National Storytelling Festival

First weekend in October, it must be storytelling time in East Tennessee.

The National Storytelling Festival, in Jonesborough, Tennessee, now in its 36th year, has, since its inception cultivated a mystique and body of lore around itself.

Joseph Sobol has an excellent folklorist's perspective in The Storyteller's Journey, University of Illinois Press, 1999. (Just noticed a preview of the book is available at Google: link)

Back in 2001, Arizona storyteller Layne Gneiting created a video documentary about the Festival's culture, as part of his ethnographic research for his doctoral dissertation. entitled "Brigadoon Returns: Culture Formed and Reformed at the National Storytelling Festival." You can read about the dissertation over on his blog at Professional Storyteller. Layne has made the video available on YouTube... FYI, this isn't about storytelling, it's about the culture that surrounds this annual storytelling event:

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

October 03, 2008

Tweets from the National Storytelling Festival

It's doubtful that anyone in Jonesborough will be blogging the National Storytelling Festival live. However, there are a number of people reporting in via Twitter... the "microblogging" service that lets you post VERY short blog entries from your mobile phone.

Read reports from the Festival at:
http://twitter.com/coreymayfield (posting photos, too!)

I don't know any of these people, but they are publicly posting these updates.

These folks are in or near Jonesborough, but so far they're not posting:

To watch a live feed of Twitter posts, visit

On the web page, you'll see three columns, each with the header "monitter" (or you might see "apple" "iphone" "mac").
Type directly over those headers. Replace the headers by typing "Jonesborough" in one, "National Storytelling Festival" in the next, and "storytelling" in the third. (This last isn't the best, but I can't think of another keyword)