February 09, 2009

Guest Reviewer: Mary Grace Ketner on the Zauberwort Festival

Storyteller Mary Grace Ketner of San Antonio has graciously given me permission to reprint her review of the Zauberwort Erzählkunstfestival held in Nuremberg, Germany, back in January 2009. Her review originally appeared on the Storytell list.

On Saturday my daughter and son-in-law drove me over to Marktredwitz to catch the train to Nuremberg to go hear Richard Martin, the only English-speaking storyteller at the Zauberwort (Magic Word) Festival. I had been to Nuremberg for just a day trip on Dec. 23 to go to their famous Christkindl Market (and, handily, the Steiff teddy bear shop). Amazingly the festival was being held in the very same area of downtown, near the train station, and my hotel was right there, too! I walked to the hotel, then to the site of Richard's telling, the Erzahl Buhne, just to get my bearings. After visiting the Lorenz cathedral and grabbing a quick, delicious sandwich at Cafe Pane, I headed back to Erzahl Buhne.

(Richard, don't tell anyone how badly I'm spelling these German words, because so far they're all impressed! Little do they know!)

The room was a perfectly intimate all-purpose space attached somehow (underground, I think) St. Katherine's Cloister. I arrived about 20 minutes early, and the room was already about half full. (I didn't know until later that Richard had asked them to save a ticket for me, otherwise I might not have been able to get in!) The platform was an orange back drop set with a table with a black tablecloth--and before you think of Halloween, let me say that the shades were not quite right. The table had a candle and Tibetan bells on it. When the time arrived, Richard came out and began his program, lighting the candle.

He started with the Arthurian legend of What Women Want Most, which in Richard's version opens with some humor that gets you right into the setting; in fact, it was a while before I realized what story he was going to tell as it sounded like it might be a parody on Arthurian legends, with Sir Gawain being played by Sir-Prise. The neat thing was that, the way he did it, the story goes through all of Elizabeth Ellis's stages of ha-ha, aha, a-ah, and amen in just one story! If that had been all I had gotten to hear, it would have been enough.

I should mention here that Richard has that kind of voice that oozes into your blood so that you seem to be hearing the story from the inside as well as auditorily. And he's very much at ease, so you just relax right into it!

He did a rat-a-tat-tat old Old Woman and her pig that the all-adult audience just loved, then he told a Jack tale I'd never heard before: "How Jack Built the King's Ship." Perhaps it's less known because it takes a level of knowledge about wooden shipbuilding to even "get" the story, much less tell it, but Richard filled us in on the necessary lore at the beginning. He said he'd only recently consulted with a shipbuilding expert, but the telling rolled out with such natural ease that I'd have thought he'd been telling it for years!

His next story was one that he told me afterward had been posted on Storytell about a year ago by Richard Marsh, the one about Einstein's lecture tour of the USA when, tired of nightly lectures, Einstein took his driver up on the offer to trade places with him to give him a night off. After all, he'd heard the speech over and over again and knew it letter perfect! All might have gone well had not the local university's physics professor not taken the occasion to show off his own brilliance with a tedious question which, of course, meant nothing to the driver. When the professor finished, the substitute lecturer declared that that question was so simple, why even his "driver" could answer it. Einstein proceeded to the lectern and carried the ball from there.

What delighted me so much about that story was that Richard added some "physicist" humor that is so true! So true! My son-in-law whose home I've been staying in for almost a month now, is a physicist and, frankly, I'm not sure he'd have appreciated the humor himself. He is a great guy, but humor is not his long suit, which was part of Richard's sideline jesting.

Richard closed with a delicious version of my all-time favorite, Mr. Fox, a perfect--or perfectly horrible, take your pick--way to end an evening (Well, not counting the curtain call and short, funny encore and happy, quick visit afterwards!)

I have to say that this was the most expensive single storytelling set I've ever been to, if you count the train fare and hotel room, but definitely one I'll remember. The timing was perfect for a break for me and for the new family I am staying with. If fish and company smell after three days, I was a pretty stinky houseguest and very glad to have something of my own to do!

Some things that are quite different from US Festivals I've been to was that the events took place at several different buildings around downtown Nuremberg. Sessions were mostly two hours apart to allow for going from one place to the next. Also, there were no "breakout" sessions, so those of you who complain about not being able to choose which to go to get to go to everything. Also, the tickets--which were very fancy, real ticket tickets (not printed on someone's home or office printer) identified the name of the person telling, like he was a big star--which is Richard's case was true, but still, I've never seen that done. It was more like a ticket to the symphony or the San Antoino Spurs basketball game.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Wanted to call out two items in Mary Grace's final paragraph: the scheduling and the ticketing.

This festival did not schedule tellers in competing slots.

It also printed tickets with the event and performer's name on them.

Neither of these practices is avant-garde, but, in the storytelling community, especially for festivals-- they are so far outside the norm that Mary Grace has to remark upon them.