I'm not sure much more could have been packed into one weekend, but Springfield and the surrounding area tried. And though there were many other things going on the ones I was involved in were the Springfield Area Highland Games (http://www.central-illinois-celts.org/), and the Clayville Spring Festival (http://clayville.org/home).
With the Games I balance being chair of the Heritage Area and storytelling, but once set up was completed, and Iain Thompson completed his "Introduction to Gaelic," I settled in for some tales.
I put up the "Storyteller is In" sign, and gratefully moved my chair into the tent's shade - for the day (despite ominous weather warnings) was sunny, hot, and windy.
The ebb and flow of visitors offered a fascinating array of individuals.
One couple stayed after a "Introduction to Gaelic" class, and to them I told an Orkney tale about "The Storm Witch." This is a tale of a young woman, named Janet, who was caught in the 17th century witch craze, and was rescued rather dramatically by her lover. It was my first time telling it in public, and I was satisfied it flowed well.
Though I had a moment or two wondering how my audience received it as the lady sat silent.
Finally she said, "My name is Janet." Then she smiled a little, and said, "I wonder where that took place - I got to visit the Orkney Islands once."
After that she told us about what all one should see if visiting.
Along the way I told the Irish tales, "The King Who Was a Gentleman" and "The Wolf's Story."
Of course "Tamlin" was a favorite.
The audience ranged from young to elders, and all in between, and at the end of one tale a gentleman said, "You are the first storyteller I have ever heard, though I have been interested in it for a long time."
So he and his wife told me a little of his days as a pastor, and how they were researching which storytelling festivals to go to. I was able to recommend the going to the Illinois Storytelling website (http://www.storytelling.org/) for their calendar.
It's an interesting feeling to learn that you are the first of your art that an individual has heard, and you hope you represented the art form well.
And when 4 came around my friend, Amanda, and I packed up and headed wearily, though pleased, to our respective homes.
For we both knew we needed rest for Clayville the next day, since we're both involved in both festivals.
The weather was still holding, though the reports remained ominous, and with less to haul we headed out.
I was offered a place in the Broadwell Tavern, which was very pleasant with both doors open to provide a breeze. A fact that was very welcome as I was in my full civil war era gown.
My first audience was a lad about 4 years old, named Otto, and his parents; they stopped to listen to "The Two Foxes."
As folks came to see the Inn they stopped to listen.
As one lady approached she exclaimed, "I knew it was you! I recognized your voice!"
It turns out that she had retired several years ago from Horace Mann, and remembered me from when I performed at the Horace Mann's United Way Talent Show.
She remained for a story.
Others stopped for "Jack and the Gower." (Including another lady from Horace Mann who remembered me from the Talent Show).
And to keep us from being bored the members of the 10th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry (http://www.10thillinoisvolcavalry.com/) changed to cowboy garb, and offered many an entertaining shoot-out. Oft using the Inn as a staging point.
But the thunder rumbling overhead put lie to the sound of their blanks, and soon everyone was squeezing into all available buildings.
If buildings have memories I am sure the Broadwell Inn had a sense of deja vu - for once again the Inn sheltered mothers comforting babes, bored children seeking entertainment or comfort, and equally bored men standing at the doors watching the deluge. How many times did the Inn have such crowd during its stagecoach days?
And from the crowd came little Otto, and who found me watching the rain too.
Who looked up at me and said, "Could you please come and tell us all a story?"
So while the thunder broke overhead and told him, "Michael and Friendly Leprechaun."
Though a touch warm today I doubt that any could complain of such a lovely day, and the retirement village I was telling at today is a well-planned, attractive, locale.
The residents were gathering in the dining room, which is a spacious community room, with good acoustics. And I actually had a decent turn out - considering there was a Cardinal game.
Once everyone was settled in I began my half hour program; telling such tales as: "The King's Rice Pudding," "The Twelve Months," "Tamlin," "The Stolen Bairn," "The Pedlar of Swaffham," and "Jack and the Friendly Animals."
At the end of the program many of the residents asked if would come back, and one said that while I was telling my stories you could hear a pin drop.
All in all it made for a very pleasant day.
This thread comes from the fact that all I have been only able to ponder, and not to type. It is a train of thought begun by a discussion on the Storytell list about the American focus, at least at festivals, on personal stories as opposed to folktales.
I will fully admit that I haven't followed the current storytelling festival scene due to household logistics and lack of interest. I only have time, and resources, to focus on researching stories, and performing storytelling; as opposed to traveling out of town to hear it. And I count myself lucky that during the days of the Clayville, and New Salem, storytelling festivals, which were near, that the focus was still mainly on folktales. Plus there was the added benefit of the many years that Prairie Grapevine, the local folklore organization, brought in nationally known tellers.
Nor do I have anything against personal stories. I have heard many fine, and powerful ones. Personal tales are part and parcel of human communication since it has we shape our world. and with some being told often enough to enter folklore themselves.
What I have dealt with, though, is that for many of my audience, be they adults or teenagers, folktales are alien creatures.
Maybe there is an obsession with reality? Maybe a a fear of the imagination?
What makes up a lot of folktales? Magic. Or a least of hint of magic. To process the stories the listener has to call upon both creativity and the imagination.
But what is the current popular fare? It is reality television shows, news shows, and talk shows. We even chase ghosts with electronic gadgets, and probably most of the audience is ambivalent about whether they want it to be a real ghost or not. A real ghost would open up doors of far vaster worlds, which can be scary to consider.
This fascination, or "obsession," with reality might somewhat explain the focus on personal stories on stage.
What does concern me is how to help bring back the wonder tales and legends, and other folklore, to the modern culture, particularly the modern, adult, culture.
From everything I have read about storytelling that less than a hundred years ago, in some regions, these types of stories were still part of evening entertainment for the adults. There were certain types of stories for the younger children, and it was considered a mark of approaching adulthood when a youngster was allowed to listen to the later tales.
Now all things magical and wonderful, at least when it comes to storytelling, is mainly considered for children. And it has reached a point where storytelling is mostly considered only for children. It has been forgotten that along with the wonderous tales that there are also wisdom tales that focus on the very human condition.
I find this somewhat ironic since there is also a popular fascination with "supernatural" romance and mystery novels, and with gaming. Yet very, very few make the connection that the source of the "supernatural" elements, however weakly, have roots in folklore and in oral culture.
I still remember last fall when a 13 year old girl was amazed at hearing "Tamlin," and "Jack and the Gower" (a Ozark version of a dragon slaying - in this case it was a giant alligator). She told me she had never heard anything like them; that all that was in books and tv right now was about vampires and that type of stuff.
Magic and mystery can't be done away with, but they can be diluted to safe, often cliche, levels.
So, have I come to any great insights into how to bring folktales and wonder tales back into popular culture?
Only what I have been doing - dogged persistence, and a firm belief that these tales deserve to live and be heard.
This Story Musing offers a bit of a challenge as I am mostly trying to type one handed, and am counting myself lucky, since for the most of the month I have been dealing with a strained shoulder.
It has also been a busy couple of months, starting with the Root of Nature conference in March. This was a wonderful launch of a new nature education conference for early education teachers, which was hosted by the Springfield Audubon Society. Brian "Fox" Ellis offered a fine keynote address, and equally fine workshop.
I'm still amazed the conference is now over, since it has been in the planning for so long.
The following week I had the pleasure of performing at the Illinois State Museum as they opened their Play Museum. I was actually settled on the first floor, under their very realistic looking tree. It was great fun as I worked with my Folkmanis Gray Fox puppet, which got hugged by many children and petted by a few adults.
It never ceases to amaze and delight me how people, young and old, react to the life-like animal puppets; the movement catches their attention, and even when they realize it is a puppet, they still pet it.
And in the middle of this I was able to offer such stories as, "The Two Foxes," and "The Fox Wife." And when I had my squirrel puppet out I added in the French story, "The Fox and the Squirrel."
Now I am trying to play "catch up" on both storytelling material, and more mundane activities; plus gear up for the St Andrews' Highland Games on May 21st, and Clayville's Spring Festival, which is May 20th, 21st, and 22nd.
I am a Springfield, IL based storyteller with a fascination for how folklore travels, and for history.