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Change and Growth

A stunningly beautiful day – the sun shining on the snow and ice left by yesterday’s freezing rain.  Other delights include the fact that I opened my email to find a new draft of Jan Gregory’s upcoming show, Ask No Secrets, in my in-boxThis latest version represents a huge leap forward, moving the piece from a collection of anecdotes into a fully-fledged entity with a dramatic arc to keep listeners on the edge of their seats.

The adventure takes a new turn. I’m excited. I’ve probably said it before but I can’t help repeating myself. I love this process of development, of how each teller must work to find their own path. I love it that there are no recipes. I’m enthralled at the quest of the 2 women to try to find useful pointers along the way. Jan G will be back with us this weekend. I’ll keep you posted as the developments develop. (Tickets for Ask No Questions already available)

Thinking about the work of change inherent in nurturing a show to fruition, I find myself also thinking about the place of change in all our lives. It’s such a constant – sometimes sudden, sometimes gradual; sometimes cellular, sometimes monumental -- always life-altering whether we are aware of it or not.

I’ve given my life to what in bygone days seemed eternals but have proved in recent years to be two rapidly shifting art forms.  As an author, I have to know that book publishing has become a leap-into-the-unknown business.  As a storyteller, I have to face the knowledge that, because the demographic for performance arts audiences seems to have become fairly static, we are probably in for a major upheaval down the road.

I believe I have to this take on, especially since some time ago I decided that I could not bear the process of aging if it took the form of continually looking back and claiming everything was better in the past.  With that, I made a commitment.  I decided I would do my best to remain a vital part of the world I actually live in even if it’s not the world I expected, even if there are losses of things I’ve come to love.

One of my bits of the world centres on the traditional folktale, whether I’m working as a teller or rendering the stories into versions for my readers. I’m aware that there are many who would insist we change the traditional folktales at our peril.  These voices seem important.  We need the guardians -- the gatekeepers -- to make us constantly alive to what the old stories bring us; to how precious their themes and motifs are. 

But what if we won’t also take a risk? What if we choose to leave the stories rigid, to let them languish – reflecting a life our listeners can no longer relate to because it is not the world anyone lives in any more? I ask this out of my own experience. I remember, as a kid, feeling shut out by all those fairytale princesses because they weren’t who I wanted to be. I remember being among those who needed someone to take me beyond the ethos of the Brothers Grimm – not in a way that would rob the stories of their power and wisdom but in a way that would help me make them mine.

Recently, I was caught up with other tellers in a discussion that revolved around what seemed to us the excessive anxiety of contemporary parents. I was definitely on the side of suggesting that such anxiety is unjustified but I also knew I had to admit it is very real. After all, I’ve seen it in action. I’ve felt its compelling force.

I put forward the idea that, instead of fighting it, we might try to use it to help us see fresh potentials and possible paths. Let’s take one example.  Let’s take Henny Penny. Let’s consider if it really matters whether or not there are graphic details of how all those poor foolish animals get eaten.  Let’s mull over the possibility that it might truly be enough to have them simply disappear into the fox’s cave (a solution adopted in at least one literary version I’ve seen). It might even be OK to have them rescued at the last minute as long as we make it clear that their actions have brought them into serious danger of a kind that is part of all our realities.

As usual, I have no answers but -- also, as usual, I do think these are issues with which, as storytellers, we have to be constantly engaged. I was once in a strategic planning workshop where the facilitator enjoined us to be careful to distinguish between traditions and bad habits. His caution has stuck with me. I take it out and look at it quite often in many, many aspects of my life. 

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