Opportunities

Ok lets be honest, my first day/night here I was a bit of a sook. I felt inferior as the only real non-Spanish speaker and I doubted my ability to pull this off.  A good night sleep and contact with my family helped me to return to a much healthier perspective (thank goodness).

Events of the past two days that make my heart beat deeper, slower and feel fulfilled.

Breakfast

Someone else cooks me breakfast everyday. For a mother of three this is, in its own right, a holiday. Not only that its eggs and arepa (tortilla). I am one happy girl.

Family audiences

I have now done two families shows in the park. The kids, parents and grandparents are ridiculously warm, accepting and gracious. I am telling in Spanish (no translator) and they help with words when they can. They get involved in the songs, they accompany me in the story repetition. The sharing and connection is simply amazing.

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My language

I am telling in Spanish – well Spanglish and LOVING it. I am enjoying it as a challenge that both scares and excites me, prior to each event. The sense of satisfaction when I have finished a show is deep.

The festival community

There is easy and immediate warmth between the storytellers and the organisers/workers here at the festival. From day one I have felt friendships begin and grow. There is a lot of music, laughter and warmth. One of my roommates has lent me a dress to wear as it’s too hot for jeans. Another plays guitar or mandolin for us all while we eat or chat. We walk together, travel together and support each other. The organisers and the people who transport us, make sure the tent is set up, the sound, bring water, take us for coffee, etc, etc. They are tired, working very hard and always incredibly kind, smiling and personable. It’s this community they have created nurtures and inspires me personally and in my creative ventures.

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Rediscovering my nature

And finally the most important. This is hard to explain but I am a touchy feely person by nature. It is something that I have to suppress, as most Australians are not comfortable with it. Here all people are touchy feely, men, women, children. It is great. I can feel myself loosening up and responding from my heart as every minute passes. I had not realised how much I hold back.

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Bucaramanga, Colombia

Whilst travel offers many moments of magic it also creates challenges that test your perception of self. This has been my ‘arrival’ experience.

My flight from Buenos Aires to Bogota went very well. I had four seats to stretch out on and I slept soundly. Bogota was my entry into the country of stay so the place where I face customs. Well, the place I would have faced customs, if I received any bags. Yep, the lost bag scenario.

Speaking in Spanish is a challenge for me. One that I love. Filling out official forms and dealing with organisations is also a challenge. One that I do not love. Put them together on top of 27 hours of transit … Well lets call it a lesson in the art of acceptance.

On to Bucaramanga. with no bag. That’s no clothes to change into, no shampoo, no musical instruments and worst of all, no puppets and I have to get on stage in three hours. By this time I have had 36 hours in transit in total and only a few moments of sleep. 

Needless to say I go to the hotel, meet my room mates and have myself a ‘princess moment’. I mean, really, right now I would like a room of my own to have a personal breakdown in. I want to Skype my family who I am missing and I want to shower and have clothes to change into and id like to lay down on a big bed and have a siesta.

Instead I am given a festival shirt, change and to the shops with me. Now truth be known, I hate shopping malls. Give me a market any day, things that are hand made, crafted, where you meet and buy from those that care. Shopping mall hell armed with a coffee ensues as I buy underwear, toiletries and look for something to wear that night on stage. I am taller than most Colombians and flatter than ALL Colombianas. There were no clothes. A new shirt and same old jeans and to the theatre with me.

I am fourth on the list and have not done a sound check but there is no time for that. I have not eaten but there is no time for that. The theatre is packed. Absolutely packed with lovely warm, welcoming people. I take my spot when the time comes and my interpreter doesn’t. I present my first story in Colombia to a totally Spanish speaking audience in my Spanglish. And the main thing I can think is “Why didn’t I study harder before I came?!”

So here’s to all the bilingual, trilingual and amazing linguists of the world. I salute you. When I get home I promise to study harder.

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Magic Argentina

There are certain events or moments during travel that feed an appreciation for serendipity, humanity and this earth.

I am writing this post on my travels to Buccaramunga, Colombia, where I will perform in the 18th Abrapalabra festival. See http://www.abrapalabra.com.co/

I am writing this on the run while in hotel rooms and performing so will offer a list of occurrences’/thoughts and photos.

Primero

Aerolinas Argentinas has the oldest long haul plane still in operation. I am taking a guess on that statement, I have no real proof but seriously I’m talking no individual TV sets! I had to laugh when I was seated directly underneath the set that hangs from the roof. Who remembers those?

There were no human safety demonstrators just a Thunderbirds-esque video playing (of which I couldn’t see without giving myself permanent neck damage). No DVD players to hire. And there were ashtrays in the toilets and a wide range of thumping and high pitched whining noises throughout.

The beauty of sleep and a great neighbour made the 14 hour journey and easy and comfortable one.

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Segundo – Buenos Aires Airport

I had a 10-hour lay over scheduled. Did you know you will be kicked out of the airport after 6 hours. No one is allowed to stay in the airport for more than 6 hours. To leave the airport Australian has to pay a US$100 fee.

Tercero – Making the most of 10 hours in Buenos Aires is EASY.

Remember wonderful neighbour. His parent moved to Buenos Aires 2 years ago. I crashed the most wonderfully prepared family reunion dinner and evening. I ate beautiful food prepared in the home with love. I drank good red wine and had wonderful conversations. Then to while away the hours between 1am and 4am (return to airport) I was directed to un Milonga fantastico.

For me this is one of the beauties of travelling. I get to put aside suspicions and doubts and grab opportunities as they arrive. The warmth, generosity and intelligence of the family that took me in was one of travels little miracle moments.

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Back in Business

Thank you for your patience. It has been a long time between posts. I am afraid to say that illness stopped me in my tracks this year. I am very happy to say that I am getting better by the day, which allows me to return to the activities that I love.

Fortunately I have been able to continue a selective choice of storytelling gigs for the most part. Overall I have been struck by just how much adults love storytelling.

In early January I performed at the Illawarra Folk festival to a tent packed with children and adults. By the third day many adults were there without children, listening, laughing and participating. Then in mid January I completed a one week improvised storytelling gig at the Sydney Opera House. I performed 3 shows a day alongside of the Hairy Maclary show. Always after a storytelling session I get the hugs and laughs and additions to stories from the kids and then the older audience would come up. It is a wonderful moment as I get to hear about the stories they used to hear, the stories they tell and the stories they love. Storytelling creates such an intimate connection between teller and listener that the memories stand out as an absolute treasure amongst adults.

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Above is a photo of me performing La Mariposa – a bilingual story which is an absolute favourite amongst festival audiences. When I performed at the Snowy Mountains of Music Festival in Perisher, I had more adults in the audience than children. With groups of adults attending specifically to hear stories even though they did not have children with them.

We also have a resurgence of mainstream stories in the movie world. And an emerging live story scene worldwide, including such events as the Moth, which are true stories told live http://themoth.org/

In Sydney we have Tell me a Story run by Katheryn Beddal http://tellmeastory.net.au/ She organises a once a month event at the Camelot Lounge in Marrickville.  There is also the Campfire collective actively organising events at the Surry Hills Library http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/library

Most significantly Storytellers NSW http://www.storytellersnsw.org.au/ organised an international storytelling conference in June 2012 and hold regular events. http://www.storytellersnsw.org.au/ which is a wonderful way to get your storytelling fix.

This years Sydney Fringe festival again features storytelling, in particular with “Sleeping Kingdom, Waking Beauty” written and performed by Reilly McCarron and “From Slavery to Star Trek” written and performed by Andreea Kindryd http://2012.sydneyfringe.com

So wherever you are and whatever your age I hope you are getting out and enjoying live stories. Better yet I hope you are staying in and creating wonderful stories.

Connections – Stories of migration and relocation

I recently dreamed, created and implemented my first digital storytelling project. Ofcourse it was not mine alone – no storytelling project can truly be said to be so.

In March 2011 I received a phone call from Tracey Kirk-Downey at Wollongong City Council. She had an idea for a one-week project to perform and share stories of migration for family’s week. The initial phone call sparked many ideas, most of which were way beyond the scope of a one-week program. After a number of emails, follow up conversations and some ‘fishes and loaves type funding procurement’ by Tracey, a 6-month project was born.

The Connections Project; Stories of Migration and Relocation included Tracey from Wollongong City Council, Family Services, Tim Dennis, photographer and myself as storyteller/gatherer. Between May and October 2011, we set up photo booths in a number of public locations, at Illawarra events, in libraries, preschools and schools. I covered an age range of 3 years to retirement years all discussing, discovering and workshopping what migration, relocation and connection means to the residents of the Illawarra.

 

 

 

 

I interviewed residents of the Illawarra about living in the region. Have they moved in/out of the Illawarra? When did they moved? Why? What they love about the Illawarra region and what stories they feel represent their life here.

The project aimed to produce a video and gallery exhibition for the month of November (during the Viva La Gong Festival – a festival celebrating Wollongong in the Illawarra geographic region). The school age children produced artwork and stories around migration and relocation taking into account future ideas and concepts. Their minds go to so many other places rapidly and with joy, it was a great experience.

 

 

 

 

 

As always, I could write about any number of things in relation to a large project. It was fascinating and provided a wealth of information and learning opportunities. Personally two features stand out; firstly, the act of working with many other people to produce a result and secondly, delving into the world of digital storytelling and what a huge learning curve that is.

Interviewing people in the region was a lot of fun. I am fortunate to be in a position where I ask people questions and I have the time to sit and listen. It struck me how rare this really is in life. It is an honour to hear peoples response’s, memories, loves, dislikes and I get to hear it within minutes of meeting them, none of the small talk to wade through! I found that from the moment I made contact with people I became entangled in their wealth of stories and wished that I could have heard much more. I felt inspired by the range of people, knowledge and experience that exists all around us. I was also fascinated by the results as they began to form.

 

 

 

 

 

As the sole interviewer I obtained a sense of the results as they were forming or coming together. It was wonderful to realise that all people, ages, races, religions and years of living here are bound by similar emotional ties. They expressed a love of open space, including the beach and bush, their family and land connections (particularly amongst long term residents and Aboriginal community), food, education (particularly amongst refugees and overseas migrants), health, friends and work. A four year old boy told me he loved the move as now he has a backyard, a nine year old recent immigrant told me of his love of walking along the beach at dusk and a 70 year old told me the sand is a pain but to sit and watch the beach is her peace. No matter the age, the themes were the same – and it felt like a delightful discovery.

The joy of interviewing also came with difficulties for me. When interviewing at reconciliation events, refugee events and the like I ended up hearing beautiful stories of inspiration and survival and some tough details of violence, war, escape, isolation, removal and more. At times the details of pain and suffering held by these stories and lives would stay with me. The details would swirl in my imagination, dreams and daily life and I found it necessary to work on staying strong and keep all the threads separate. I have always been a person with thin boundaries and I need to take care not to take on other people’s stories. This project was a good example of that necessity.

 

 

 

 

The second lesson was the power of digital storytelling. This was the first time that I have worked with a photographer. It was a gift to end a session of interviews and receive a disk of photographs. Everything on that disk was from a different perspective than what I had. A different angle on the face, capturing moments when we were sharing conversation, thoughts, when I was note taking or the individual was deep in thought. It opened a new realm of learning and understanding for me not only into the people but also into the power of the image. I tend to be much more word focused. To place the image with the word was remarkable.

And the lesson I received in how long it really takes to produce and edit a video clip – well, we wont even go into the detail of those hours and hours and hours of ‘learning’!

I intend to have some stills and a section of the video available on my website early next year.

Once again thanks for reading and I hope that your silly season Christmas stories are ones of sharing, love and inspiration.

Dignity for Children Foundation, Malaysia

Recently I was invited to give a workshop on storytelling skills at the Early childhood Conference at the Universiti Tun Abdul Razak in Kuala Lumpur. It was a wonderful conference and extremely interesting to learn about the education systems and the learning expectations that are place on the very young in Malaysia. As a results driven Asian nation it certainly holds many differences to Australia, some of the expectations set on the very young were quite shocking to this laid back Aussie. So it was an inspiration to encounter students and teachers willing to take on creativity as a valid method of learning and development. The teaching conference lasted for two days, the 7th and 8th of October and our warm and welcoming hosts dined and toured us visitors the entire stay of 4 days. I ate some incredible food and enjoyed touring modern and traditional architecture, markets and regions of Kuala Lumpur.

As recent work of mine, over the past few years has included refugee populations of Australia I decided that the link between Australian and Malaysian refugees is not something I can ignore. I made contact with the Harvest Centre (which became the Dignity for Children Foundation in 2010) and offered to volunteer. This was an incredibly rewarding experience. For one day I performed for a number of classrooms, I talked, learned and lunched with the staff and I taught storytelling skills in the afternoon to the teachers.

Harvest Ctr, Sentul, Malaysia

The story circle

First let me briefly describe the Dignity for Children Foundation.

It started from a ground roots need to aid urban poor – those living in shanty towns with no water, broken families, extremely poor, undernourished, high exposure to drugs and crime in their community. Not surprisingly while these kids have the right to an education in Malaysia they do not have the support or ability to continue through. Living hungry, being malnourished throughout their developing years significantly impacts their cognitive ability and concentration levels. They are unable to buy the basic essentials needed for school – uniforms, stationary etc. They have no quiet place to complete homework or study as the family home is small, crowded and often noisy/exposed or the children have other duties to fulfil like babysitting whilst the one parent works or gathering water from great distances.

It took two people from the community centre, Petrina and her husband to recognise that something needs to be done to break this cycle of poverty.

Firstly they had the ability to recognise that these kids are stuck within a poverty cycle (ie its not their fault, they are not dumb). They will drop out of school due to all the difficulties, they will be unemployed, they will have children early, they will be tempted by drugs and a life of crime. Their children will also follow this path.

How to change it?

Offer education that focuses on the whole child. They offer schooling, meals, medical care, hygiene care and therapy when necessary. They offer a safe place for the family to be, to study, learn and share. The education includes opportunities to play sport and to engage with the arts.

Harvest Ctr, Sentul, Malaysia

Girl learning through play

The Dignity for Children Foundation also supports teacher training, sporting competitions, and education (Malaysian curriculum based) for children ranging from 1 year old to 20. There is also hospitality training for those not suited to the mainstream education structures.

When the infants school began a new need was quickly realised. Amongst the urban poor of Malaysia were a different kind of poor – refugees. A refugee in Malaysia does not have the right to an education. That is, currently 16,640 children in Malaysia cannot enter the education system. Their parents do not have a right to work/earn an income and the children cannot gain an education.

The dignity for Children Foundation offers education for all, refugee, urban poor and disabled.

Harvest Ctr, Sentul, KL, Malaysia

The group hug at the end of one class. I love this moment 🙂

The Harvest Centre (the school I visited) is currently at double the classroom capacity accepting the cases that arrive at their doorstep. The administrators, teachers and directors operate from a place of pure heart and love. I was proud to be there for a day and sad to leave so many people in the face of so much need.

In the words of one volunteer at the school – the arts gives these kids an opportunity to learn about people. To learn to trust and who not to trust. Its part of a complete education, its part of what they really need in life. We want to give them the best chance.

Overall I spent one day in my life sharing with these children. I shared stories, language, smiles, hugs, laughter and small details of our histories/our stories. I am in awe of the dedication of those that see a need and an injustice and work with their heart and soul to overcome it. Thank you Kuala Lumpur and the Dignity for Children Foundation for making me appreciate my Australian life and for igniting in me the flame that burns to help another.

If you would like to volunteer time or money please go to the website; www.dignityforchildren.org

Harvest Ctr, Sentul, KL, Malaysia  Harvest Ctr, Sentul, KL, Malaysia

Singapore International Storytelling Festival 2011

I recently attended the Singapore International Storytelling Festival (SISF) 2011 as a presenter and performer. In the hot humid weather of Singapore, storytellers and listeners from around the world converged between the 1st and 4th of September. Funded by the Book Council of Singapore, the festival is dedicated to the art of storytelling in its diverse applications. There were performance evenings, concurrent workshop sessions, full day focus sessions, keynote speeches and short performances offered daily. For a relatively isolated Australian storyteller these festivals are a nourishing experience, in particular I was taken by the performances. What a feast for my eyes, ears and heart.

Showcase storytellers 2nd Sept

I was involved in the showcase performances – where the invited tellers from a range of nations would tell one story each. These were a wonderful chance to see the varying styles, story choices and in particular the humour (how cultural it is!). Although I must, even though I was a part of these performances they were not the most memorable experience for me. The thing that blew my storytelling mind were the first and the final performances – storytelling of traditional epic tales.

How I would love to have lived in a time and place where this was the culture of the day. Where history and stories were told to us by people considered to be important and worthy of the task. One the first night Abbi Patrix and Ruth Kirkpatrick performed “A Journey of Stories”. Two extremely different tellers performing to this theme. Abbi came on first.

This French, Dutch man told an audience of Singaporeans, Indians, Malaysians and Chinese stories from an old Indian text – Panchatantra tales. He had developed a wonderful script – or holding story that detailed the friendship between a Crocodile and a quick-witted storytelling monkey. We did not get to see the entire repertoire and what a shame that was!

I believe this is one of the best storytelling performances that I have seen. Abbi is a 30-year veteran of storytelling; he played the frame drum and mbira while telling. He integrated strong measures of humour and movement throughout the performance. Importantly Abbi has created a modern day version of this epic – we followed the friendship of monkey and crocodile with delight in all its twists and turns. This friendship created many moments for monkey to tell crocodile stories, fun, adventurous, witty and moral stories. He drew on the Indian text for the smaller stories. It was a wonderful, accessible adaptation. Apparently the Panchatandra are the most widely known stories in the world with over 200 known versions of them. While I had heard some of the smaller tales I was ignorant of their rich source/history.

What are other common examples do we have of the holding tale when storytelling – the first that comes to mind is 1001 nights. You can read the full text of 1001 nights at http://www.bartleby.com/16/

The holding story is of a king gone mad by the betrayal of his beloved wife. He becomes a madman after killing his first wife and from that day vows to take a new wife to his bed every night only to be slain in the early hours of the morning. The smaller stories come from the clever female – Scheherazade who postpones her death by telling the king nail biting stories that he must hear the end of, he therefore must keep her awake and alive through the night and into the next day. She always starts a new story before she can be killed.

Many many cultures have such an epic tale where smaller stories are revealed and savoured. A small taste is provided in this list;

The Canterbury tales by Chauser; http://www.librarius.com/cantales.htm

Homers Iliad and Odesey (and many others) http://www.openculture.com/freeaudiobooks

The Irish Epic of Táin Bó Cúalnge by Joseph Dunn http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/16464

My question to you is when was the last time you got to listen/interact with a series of tales?

As a child I was absolutely transfixed by Monkey Magic. My brothers and I would spend hours playing out the characters or various storylines in the back yard, sometimes inflicting broken bones and always collecting bruises in our fantastical efforts. Did you know this TV series was created from an Asian Epic tale called the Ramayana? In Singapore, for the first time I got to see an adaption of this Epic. Six Asian storytellers performed an adaptation written by Kamini Ramachandran. Each teller had distinctly different telling styles, each were entertaining and informative and had me, and a couple of hundred others, totally captivated.

Not the least because the Ramayana involves the wonderful character of the monkey king – (Hanuman / Monkey) but because the tale was so fantastic. Traversing topics of love, desire, fear, jealousy, faithfulness, friendship, war, gods, death, demons and kings. I was desperately waiting for the stories of ‘monkey’ and was slightly disappointed that no one storyteller could cloud fly! I feel privileged that I could travel to Asia and see this epic told in such wonderful format.

The festival had many sweet storytelling moments on offer but it was the rediscovering of the epic that was most magical for me. To allow myself to become lost within stories that sat within stories… this is something I plan to make a habit of. I hope I can share it with you one day 🙂