Tips and Programs
Performer's Review: Solvang's Flying Leap Storytelling Festival
ear Storytellers Who've Never Been To Solvang Or Who Are Preparing to Tell at a Festival For the First (or Second or Third) Time: I write this letter to you.
Of all the storytelling festivals I've attended or performed in Solvang's Flying Leap Storytelling Festival, now in its 12th year, is an ideal of intimacy: with a single venue for the all-day Saturday festival, there's never the torturous moment when the audience has to choose among multiple fabulous performers; the Friday night winery shows give adults a chance to experience more of the theatrical, profound, and profane sides of storytelling than they may ever have heard before; and the idyllic location north of Santa Barbara in a green valley among the Santa Ynez Mountains, with the charming town of Solvang to explore, creates the perfect setting in which magic can occur. The audience looked to be a mixture of locals and out-of-towners, storytelling aficionados and first-timers, families and couples, children and older adults. (As at many other festivals, notably absent were young adults, people of color, and gays and lesbians. Where are they all, I wonder, and could they possibly be having more fun than we are? Which of our stories would entice them, and what amazing stories do they have to share?)
The line-up at this year's festival comprised a symphony of powerful talents and unique voices: Jim May, relaxed and resonant, sang the bass notes of family and farmland. Willy Claflin provided high notes of laughter and subversion through his twisted folk songs and the inimitable Maynard Moose. Antonio Sacre beat the drum of authenticity, true life experience, and wonderfully suggestive humor. Beth Horner sounded the depths of our passions with finely crafted original stories of family, social activism, and history. And then there was me, the least well-known, a California-based teller who's performed in more festivals outside the mainland than in.
Let's be honest: As a regional performer relatively new to the festival circuit, I felt extremely honored to have been invited-and very nervous about sharing a stage with these gods and goddesses of the storytelling pantheon. Getting wired on too much ice tea the night I was sharing a winery stage with Antonio didn't help. What did help was remembering Bob Jenkins' advice when I was on my way to Edinburgh to tell stories at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival: "Bring good stories," he said, and paused in a Jenkinsian manner. "You may be nervous, you may not be a seasoned main-stage performer, but strong material that you know well will carry you through." I also followed the advice of Joel ben Izzy, a previous performer at the Flying Leap Festival: "It's an intimate setting. Try to create more of a conversation than a highly polished performance."
Joel's advice was especially relevant at the Bridlewood Winery, where about 90 adults filled the lovely, wood-ceilinged room with a convivial atmosphere and a strong desire to be entertained. Since the Festival is held right after Valentine's Day, I opened with a few "happily ever sometimes" stories-the realistic side of romantic love, from Yiddish folklore to a Katherine Mansfield story to the true tale of how I met my husband in the casual carpool lane. Antonio followed with the story of meeting his wife backstage at the Steppenwolf Theater, as well as The Barking Mouse (due out as a children's book in March!) and slice-of-life tales from his storytelling journal-an itinerant performer's On the Road. In the second half, Antonio followed his director's advice to "do what scares you most." In that spirit, he performed a stand-up comedy routine he'd written, to loud and rolling guffaws-before handing the stage back to me. What to do? I'd spent all afternoon sitting in the sun behind Mission Santa Ynez rehearsing my story of taking Grandma Elsie to Belize-but I wasn't ready to change gears so completely while people were still wiping tears of laughter from their eyes. So I followed Antonio's director's advice, and did what was scariest: invited Antonio to improvise a story with me.
Now improvising stories is something I do regularly in schools, but never with a partner, and rarely with an all-adult audience. Nevertheless, I pulled a second stool onto the stage, and started a story, set right there in the Santa Ynez valley, about a family of. And I turned to Antonio. (I should mention that we had discussed this in advance: Antonio had told me that he'd never really improvised a story with an audience before, but wanted to try, so this wasn't a complete ambush.) "Crocodiles!" he heard from the audience, and we were off. Any time Antonio drew a blank, he turned to the audience and got their first suggestion. Any time I drew a blank, I did the same. Most inspired of all, Antonio gradually began acting out the role of the main character (a female crocodile no bigger than your thumb, who had various magical powers including the ability to fly). The audience loved it, because Antonio, nervous but eager, represented them up on stage, and because they knew the setting so intimately-in the end, the crocodile flew right into Bridlewood Winery and took up residence in the duck pond.
After that evening, I relaxed. We had a great time with the 9:00 AM children's showcase, all five tellers dipping up treasures from their rich repertoires: Beth Horner and her brothers and sisters danced in soap-covered nakedness behind the barn. Antonio and all the kids who had been at his Solvang School performance on Friday told the story of the nun and the priest who go golfing. I told a story I call "Goblins Love to Dance," (a variant on Lafcadio Hearn's "The Man with the Wen"), inviting the audience to become dancing goblins as a mid-set stretch. Willy and Maynard told the story of the Moose and the Cheese, whose infamous (and inarguable) moral is "Don't Talk with your Mouth Full." And Jim told a wonderful, rambling version of the "Strength," in which all the animals hold a contest to find out what strength is.<
The rest of Saturday was filled with Antonio's solo show, a noon story swap, a duet with Beth Horner and myself (so much fun!), Jim's solo set, and a workshop on Teaching Children to Tell Stories taught by Beth. I met several children and adults who stayed for every set! To end the festival, we had a showcase scheduled from 7:30 to 9:30 PM. (Yes, friends, that's right-more than 12 hours of storytelling on a single Saturday!) Beth, the organized-yet-flexible M.C., checked with each of us about the tone and style of our stories, and orchestrated an order with plenty of variety. As an evening's entertainment, it truly showcased a group of extremely diverse voices-the ideal of a good storytelling program. And even though we went a little late, the audience stayed with us completely, ending up an extremely satisfying storytelling festival on a high note. What a lovely, creative, coherent experience!
But back to the newish storyteller who I addressed at the beginning of this report: a few more things for the Never Forget list: Never forget to ask about transportation to (and from) the venue! If you know you're going to want a nap, make sure that someone will be available to drive you to a bed, if necessary. Never forget to eat (!) in time to have energy for a performance, but not so much as to be stuffed and logy. Never forget safety pins-to position a lapel mic, to readjust an outfit, to pin together a bundle of related business cards.whatever. And most importantly, Never Forget to have fun while you're doing it-because if you're having fun, the audience will have fun, and that's really the most important thing.
—posted April 2003
Why I Hate Lady Ragnell Alan Irvine's article and the rebuttal it engendered.