Category Archives: Hearsay

Jonesborough TN Storytelling Center

The Flounder at the Festival

by Loren Niemi – October 16, 2022

The Christine and I brought the American School of Storytelling to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. It was her first time, and my … well, at one point I was asked if it was my first Festival and I told the bright young ETSU student who asked the question that I came to my first festival in 1979, quite likely before her parents were born. 

I mention this because in the 50 years of the Jonesborough Festival I have been in the tents for at least 40 of them and as such, have had the opportunity to see how storytelling has changed. In the early years (AKA the “Ray Hicks Era”) traditional stories dominated. They had moments of humor but many were sparse and dark variations on their European roots and the hard-scrabble life of Appalachia. If you heard Ray offering a Jack tale, his dialect and accent were so localized you could be forgiven for needing a translator. It was a glorious introduction to a storytelling that would soon pass out of fashion.

At this year’s festival personal and humorous stories dominated. That transition began in the mid-’80’s when Donald Davis went from telling his versions of Jack tales to telling the stories that have been his bread and butter – his childhood. Soon he was joined by Andy Offut Irwin, Bil Lepp, and in a nod to the “not Southern”, Kevin Kling and Bill Harley. 

I have no complaint about the dominance of humor, as clearly the audience appreciates it, but rather that on the whole, the Festival telling feels ”safe”: risk averse and predictable. I suppose risk and unpredictability are what Fringe Festivals are for. After all, Spaulding Gray was on the Jonesborough stage in ‘85 and it was a mismatch of epic proportions. But I, for one, loved the contrast between his neurotic Yankee autobiography and the Southern Baptists trying to make sense of “public confession”.

In my view of storytelling, there is room for it all- traditional and personal, light and dark.

What I appreciated the most about this gathering of the storytelling tribe in the post-pandemic world (are we actually there yet?) was the hugs and greetings, the genuine pleasure in seeing one another in the flesh and not on a digital square. The energy in the tents was palpable and appreciated. Conversations, whether short or long, were punctuated by glimpses and greetings. The prevailing mood was, we are still alive and glad to be in the company of our ilk.

And true it was and is. 

The Flounder Watches Whales

by Loren Niemi – June 16, 2022

The Flounder/founder (Loren Niemi) of the American School of Storytelling just returned from the Storytellers of Canada National Conference where he taught a “Difficult Stories” Master Class with Elizabeth Ellis, a three-hour “Double Helix: Plot and Voice” workshop and was ¼ of the Saturday night concert. It was all good. The Tigh-Na-Mara resort in Parksville, BC was scenic and the folks attending the conference were excited to be able to be in the same room with their storytelling ilk again. 

One of the conversations he had was about the importance of Storytelling Toronto in creating and sustaining the community of tellers. Loren had first encountered it in 1980 when visiting Joan Bodger and Dan Yashinsky. In those days it was two second floor rooms where Alice Kane was teaching an introduction to traditional storytelling class and 1001 Storytelling Nights performances. It is still offering classes, albeit in a more accessible location. It is also producing the Toronto Storytelling Festival and a variety of other story and community related projects. And the truth be told, Storytelling Toronto’s 40 plus years of promoting the narrative arts  is a model for the American School.

What about the whales you ask? The Master Class was on Wednesday and the conference officially began Thursday night, so on Thursday afternoon, Loren, Elizabeth and Noa Baum were treated to a three-hour whale watching excursion that spotted 17 Orcas in three pods, Sea Lions and Harbor Seals (the Orca’s favorite meal). Here’s a good pic of the three of us on the boat and a not so good (close) pic of Orca fins in the water.

Flounder on the Road

by Loren Niemi – May 12, 2022

We just finished twelve days on the road clocking in 3,567 miles to share four performances including three (High School, New Voices, Liar’s Contest) at the Stone Soup Storytelling Festival in Woodruff, SC and an on-line performance for the Northlands Storytelling Network’s 2022 Fringe Festival. In between and around those stories were meals, museums, and visits with friends in Richmond, VA, Brooklyn/ Manhattan, NY, Montclair/ Maplewood, NJ and Peoria, IL. 

It was a nod to the “used to be” of my years of spring tours and a reminder of what I do love about America. Even from the freeways/ tollways/ expressways, billboards and announcements of local attractions invite you to stop and look. Who wouldn’t want to wonder about Noah’s Ark Storage or Uncle Ali Baba’s House of Prime Rib? In another time I might have added stops there and back for house concerts or small storytelling workshops though for this road trip it was a hard two days driving 500 plus miles to get to South Carolina and similar long drives amid bumper to bumper traffic and road construction from Richmond to Brooklyn and Pennsylvania to Indianapolis. Even with the price of gas being what it is, it was good to see spring green.

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