The Mad Myths of the Irish

I was excited when I found out the first performance of the Storytelling Arts of Indiana season was about Irish tales. I had traveled to Ireland back in high school, and I was thrilled to re-experience the country’s rich culture.

Clare Murphy’s extraordinary performance, The Mad Myths of the Irish, on September 22, 2012, at the Indiana Historical Society, transported me to another world, where anything is possible. What was truly beautiful was the way Clare shared the stories with more than just her words – with her voice, pauses, sound effects, gestures from head to toe and fingertip to fingertip, I could see the different characters and everything they were experiencing. Whether the characters were going through tense or humorous situations, Clare breathed life into them all with every part of her performance.

What I love about myths and legends is that these stories have been told and heard over and over by millions of people through the generations. I get the same tingling feeling when I visit a historical landmark, like the Statue of Liberty in New York, Coliseum in Rome or Blarney Castle in Ireland. So many people have stepped where I have stepped and seen what I had seen; yet, the moment I absorb a place’s sights, sounds and smells and understand its history is a unique moment. I bring my own life experiences to the moment, and all of this affects how I see life from then on.

Myths and legends, like these historical sites, have touched countless people through time. Yet, this storytelling moment “only happens once in this way,” in the words of Clare Murphy herself. I thank her and the rest of the audience for allowing me to share in this wonderful moment.

Family Portraits

Have you ever felt like despite your every intention to leave the house early, you still end up arriving wherever you need to be a tiny bit late? Saturday, February 18, was one of those times for me; yet, the result was far from negative. During the show’s introduction, my mom and I peeked open the door to the Frank and Katrina Basile Theater of the Indiana History Center to a packed house. I had not experienced one of Donald Davis’ storytelling performances before, but after seeing the audience, I instantly knew something wonderful was in store for us.

Donald Davis’ “Family Portraits,” presented by Storytelling Arts of Indiana, was absolutely hilarious and heartfelt. Davis has an amazing gift of fully engaging the audience from start to finish. His exceptional performance illustrated how the simple things in life – school, family, neighbors and friendships – make the best stories. He captured people’s personalities and the way they thought and behaved so skillfully that it was as if we in the audience personally knew the characters or could easily relate them to people in our own lives.

What I liked most about “Family Portraits” was that it highlighted how you can never predict what extraordinary experiences and people you will encounter. I am so happy my mom and I had the chance to see Davis’ performance – this was definitely one of those cases of “better late than never.”

Stars of Indiana

I don’t know what exactly triggered my fascination with space; it just seems like throughout my childhood, I have always had been in awe for the astronomical. I loved drawing suns and moons and decorating my bedroom with glow-in-the-dark stars. I remember in middle school being excited for our moon mission at the Challenger Learning Center. Jump a few years, in high school, I remember an English paper for which we were to explore how events of a certain time period inspired literature or vice versa. I easily knew I wanted to write about science fiction pieces like Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and the space race.

Last Friday I had yet another delicious opportunity to indulge in my interest in space. Celebrated Indiana storyteller and co-founder of Storytelling Arts of Indiana, Bob Sander performed “Stars of Indiana: Hoosier NASA Connections” at the Indiana History Center on January 27, 2012. Even though I personally did not live through the beginnings of the space race and NASA, through this storytelling event, I felt that I had experienced it all.

Bob used a combination of stories, multimedia and 30-second discussion breaks with our neighbors to bring life to the story of Indiana’s space connections. Bob took the audience on a journey through history, starting with the early human desire to fly and the first planes to the present-day legacies of the space race (like Velcro and cell phone communications). Growing up in Indiana, I was aware of some of our links to space exploration and NASA, but listening to the stories of Gus Grissom, David Wolf and others who are from Indiana or have studied here reminded me of these connections and ignited my pride in being a Hoosier.

Bob’s stories also provided insight into the people inside the spacesuits and the people who admired them. We got to know the various astronauts, their calm and quick decision-making skills and how they simply had “the right stuff.” The general public cheered on these new celebrities. Bob’s performance followed one such fan as he grew up during the space exploration era, and he gracefully captured the various light-hearted, momentous and devastating moments during this slice of history.

This was the first storytelling event I attended that significantly used multimedia in the presentation, and I thought the video clips, photographs, sound bytes and other slides did a good job in helping the audience experience this journey through the decades – seeing the world through the eyes of the public at that time.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this performance – it skillfully informed, entertained, engaged and inspired the audience. For me, at least, I have a rekindled appreciation when I look at those glowing stars in my room.

Christmas Tales

Nowadays, it is sometimes difficult to feel the “true meaning of Christmas.” We are constantly bombarded with advertisements and sales. The demands from work, school or our other activities don’t seem to take a pause for the holidays, or for anything, for that matter. However, when you strip away all that hustle and bustle, the holidays are a time for us to make new memories and remember old ones. One way to keep old memories alive is by sharing them with others.

On December 3, Patrick Ball imparted some of his stories, as well as graced us with his musical talents, in “The Christmas Rose,” presented by Storytelling Arts of Indiana. His performance was a combination of the spoken word and music from the Celtic harp. The stories – a diverse mix of traditional tales and memories from Ball’s personal history – tied into his theme for the season: hope. As the program mentions, “Hope for something wondrous, hope for a light in the darkness.”

Patrick Ball is truly a talented performer. With his captivating voice, powerful memory, expressive delivery and animated storytelling, Ball engaged his listeners and, for some tales, transported us to a different time and place. Based on the audience’s hearty laughs and rapt attention, his stories illustrated two possible feelings that arise during this time of year: humor and gentle appreciation of life’s moments (I admit, though, I was lost on a few of his funny stories).

What I enjoyed especially was Ball’s harp playing. To say it was lovely would be an inadequate description. I have heard harp music before – through recordings and live – but seeing his hands dance and float to the different strings and hearing the Celtic harp’s exquisite sound is an experience I would love to relive.

In retrospect and with Christmas only a day away now, I am glad my memory of the beginning of this holiday season includes this performance. Not only was it an opportunity for me to take a break and spend the evening with a high school friend, but also it was a chance for me to enjoy yet another style of storytelling through word and harp.

Scary Stories

Last year a group of my friends and I began the tradition of watching scary movies together. Now believe me – I am not usually drawn to horror, gore or the supernatural. In fact, I am incredibly squeamish and jumpy. However, I have stepped out of my comfort zone and have become a friend to frightening stories. Terrifying tales can be intriguing and enjoyable, especially around the time of Halloween.

On October 15, my brother and I attended Disquieting, Disturbing and Dreadful Tales on the Canal, presented by Storytelling Arts of Indiana. The audience sat in rows facing the Indiana History Center. Bundled in blankets and jackets against the autumn chill, we sat transfixed as five tellers spooked us with their tales.

On this evening, we discovered how this storytelling event was similar to watching scary movies; yet, it was its own unique experience. Instead of relying primarily on the sequence of suspenseful images and sounds, like a movie, storytelling involves the teller’s words, tone, pace and your imagination to create suspense. It engages the entire listener: your ears, eyes, emotions and mind. There were definitely moments when I held my breath, waiting to hear what would happen next. Atmosphere also plays a role in the experience – the darkened evening, whooshing sounds of passing vehicles, echoed voices along the canal and the blue and orange lights on the tellers’ faces added to the mood.

The first teller was the winner of the scary stories contest, and the next four were the featured performers Deborah Asante, Lou Ann Homan, Jim May and Sally Perkins. I liked how the program included several professional storytellers – a refreshing change from the single performer shows and Jabberwocky events I attended in the past. I also enjoyed how the selections were a nice mix of familiar stories, like Edgar Alan Poe’s works, and ones I have not heard before. My favorite stories of the evening were Lou Ann’s telling of “Mr. Fox,” a British tale, and Sally Perkins’ telling of “The Ring.” Both ladies spoke so skillfully that I, and probably the rest of the audience, hung on to every word.

This was my brother’s first storytelling event, and he said he really enjoyed the creative, enriching feel of the evening. This was not my first event, and it definitely will not be the last – I liked experiencing this horror genre in this way. You don’t need disgusting images to be scared – if you let the suspense of a well-told story carry you, you can get a thrill your imagination and heart have never felt before.