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Song of Seasons

 

I'm writing this on a June afternoon. It's sultry outside. The cherries are just beginning to turn yellow and red. When I'm home in the winter I sit in a chair and meditate, and afterwards I look out at the cherry tree. All winter, of course, it's dark and bare. And yet it isn't. At one moment it's clothed in snow and another there's a blue jay bounding up and down and another there'll be a squirrel. More than that, it's clothed magically with light when the sun comes up. But now, it's cherries are turning red.

 

 

In Praise of Brother Blue

 

Early in my storytelling career, I told a story called "Magellan" at Harvard University. When I finished Brother Blue leapt up saying, "You have the classic style!"

How many people has Brother Blue leapt up for? He's leapt up for people here and in Russia and in Europe and in Canada and all over the globe. When Brother Blue leaps up, you'd better listen because what he says has lightning in it.

Ten years ago, Blue was on stage at the Three Apples Festival in Harvard, Massachusetts. He called my daughter Laura up and included her in the story. How like Blue that was. At another time he asked my son, Ted, what he wanted to do. When Ted said he wanted to play baseball, Blue launched into a story where Ted was in center field, and a ball was hit long over his head. But before going over the fence, the ball changed course and zipped backward into Ted's glove. Blue has become part of our family life, just as he has become part of the family life of all of storytellers.

Brother Blue is a great storyteller and I think one of the reasons is that Blue is a free man. Blue is as glad of the success of another as he is of his own success. And he's as hurt when a friend is hurt, as he is when things go badly for himself.

Brother Blue can play with the moment because he lives in the moment. Brother Blue is the great guardian angel of storytelling.

He is the William Blake of the movement. He and his wife Ruth are divine gifts to us all.

 

 

Look Who Dropped By

 

Michael Parent came to visit recently on his way to his niece's wedding in Lewiston, Maine. My wife, Linda and I had the rare treat of having Michael to ourselves.

At supper time as we ate our salad, Michael was telling us a story about a little girl who outwits a king. The characters were hopping all about the table. We were laughing, intrigued and lost in the story. By the time beans and rice came, we urged Michael on, and he told a story he had made up for the theatre - a story about a man whose personality changes with the hat he wears.

Linda and I were having such fun, we filled his plate, and cried, "On, on!" And so Michael began to tell French Canadian stories from a book called Fools and Kings, that he and Julien Olivier have just translated. The stories were fresh, full of wonderful language and wit and had the earthiness of life.

It was a long, wonderful supper, and at the end I thought, "Here we are with one of the finest storytellers in the land." It's nice to be a storyteller, because you never can tell who will drop by.

 

 

Asheville Festival

 

Asheville, North Carolina was lovely in early May. The storytelling festival is held downtown, and you feel part of the streets and the hills, and the cafes around.

Connie Regan-Blake is the artistic director, and you sense her welcoming spirit everywhere. When Connie told us that Saturday night the concert would be held on the top deck of the parking garage downtown, I thought: "Not promising!"

It rained during the day, so the concert was set up on the next lower deck of the parking garage. People brought lawn chairs and blankets, and they sat on the concrete floor. The stage was a simple wooden platform with a stand-up mike.

At 8:30, Jim May, the emcee, got the evening under way. Above him a fluorescent light blinked on and off. Jim got everyone laughing with a story where his hands and thumbs act out the characters. He had the audience doing the story with him. Jim's ease created a magic. I was looking out at some youngsters who were totally enthralled, and adults who were trying to do the story as quickly as Jim. Just like that, we were transported from being in a garage, to a Midsummer Night's Dream. The garage had become a lovely forest.

Bobby Norfolk told a "Jack" story, and Bobby shapes energy like no one. He leapt up to the stage, and in midair his feet seemed to be in slow motion and they touched the stage with such grace, everyone knew they were in for something special.

Beth Horner told a ghost story using "the bones". She built the story like an opera - Maria Callas would have cried "Bravo! Exquisite!"

Now the rain was blowing into our forest, and it just added to the magic. Angela Lloyd sang and told a story, and as she did a car backfired. Angela paused, and then wove it beautifully into the evening. Close by was Connie Regan-Blake, the force behind it all.

It was one of the most magical storytelling nights I've encountered. It struck me as a powerful use of imagination. When we think of a parking garage, we think of a parking garage. We think of cars. But the imagination can change all of that. That's what Connie and the festival did. If you can change a parking garage into a Midsummer Night's Dream, there's little we can't do to bring some joy to cities.

That Saturday night in Asheville, the storytelling was superb. The rain came to listen. The wind was up. People were transported. And that's not all - the festival raised money for the homeless and the needy. Not bad, huh!