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Friday
Jul062012

So Much Happening

 

So much indeed.  As many of you will know by now, The Odyssey was an enormous success -- starting out with 100 listeners (a figure that rose to 140 at the half-time), calling great things from the tellers and proving so compelling the the audience simply wanted more.  Check out the sidebar on the 2wp home page for the links to various illuminating blogs, along with a video clip from the Greek ambassador who spoke movingly about the importance of this story for all of us today. Also the words to What Shall We Do With A Drunken Suitor.

There was a brief breathing space for wit-gathering and recuperation and then Jennifer and I were off to the Westben Arts Festival Theatre in Campbellford, ON to attend the premiere performance of The Auction.  Yes, folks, that picture book I created back in 1990 has now achieved another life in the form of an opera. I knew it wouldn't be the story of the book.  My concern was for the book's spirit and that was made to shine through bright and clear.  Westben is a wonderful place -- a performance barn in the middle of a beautiful rural setting -- http://www.westben.ca/.  Artistic values are high and a strong community concern pervades all: witness the scarecrows made by community groups to enhance the ambience.  The audience wanted to talk and talk about what they had seen, drawing on the memories it evoked for them.  Huge congratulations to composer John Burge and librettist Eugene Benson for their achievement.  Check out http://www.facebook.com/westbentheatre for pics and further details. 

Summer brings its pleasures.  Jennifer is visiting family in Paris and I am about to take off for a week of hiking in the Adirondacks.  I can't say the whole shebang is downtime, however.  In fact, I am up to my eyeballs in the edits for a young adult novel which is to be titled The Silent Summer of Kyle McGinley and which will be brought out by Great Plains Publications in Spring 2013.  I started work on this in 2006 and it has had its challenges, largely due to the fact that the central character chooses to stop speaking in the first chapter and doesn't start again until near the end.  Added to that, everything that happens comes through his perspective. I had opted for a stream of consciousness approach but that definitely had its problems.  How to deal with this?  My editor has proposed changing the point of view to first person present.  I believe it's making a huge and crucial difference but I can't say it isn't taking up a fair whack of time.  The task does get easier.  I feel a growing sense of freedom, but I still can't always get my head quickly around the need to look through a slightly different lens.  Am enormously grateful that, as a writer, I have a definite leaning towards terseness.  Imagine being Dickens!

News from the lake? The loons that inhabit our bay really do appear successfully to be raising two chicks.  This certainly doesn't happen every year.  The goslings are almost grown but I saw a family of still-small ducklings yesterday.  The beaver comes by almost nightly.  There are occasional sightings of snapping turtles raising their heads above the surface of the water.  I am claiming at least some gains in my battle against the rose chafer beetles.  The roses are, in fact, truly lovely and that, for me, is grand. 

As for 2wp, the next season is planned and an announcement will be forthcoming in the not too distant future.  Indeed and indeed, all is well. 

Scarecrows at Westben.  Caribou-Man was made by a group of Innu children in foster care, under the guidance of a local artist.  It seems to have such power. 

Thursday
Jun142012

The Odyssey -- At Last!

So long and so long and so long.  Now, The Odyssey is upon us.  Two more sleeps.  June 16, the big day.  (http://ottawastorytellers.caThe Odyssey preparations, inevitably, being the reason for the dearth of blog posts in the last while.

Sometimes the task is to DO.  There isn’t time or energy to be writing about it.  And I have to say, we have been DOING with all that is in us -- Jennifer and I and our trusty band of Ottawa storytellers.

Rehearsals have been on-going.  Together, we have traveled each part of the journey over and over, going ever deeper, seeking and finding means to make all that happens vibrantly alive.  Together, we have conjured the Cyclops and known him; we have felt the terrors of Scylla and Charybdis; we have gone on the dread voyage in to that world of shades and shadows – the Land of the Dead.

We have taken to ourselves Odysseus’ pain that he must come to his home disguised as a beggar.  We have lived his caution even as he sits beside his wife Penelope -- not revealing himself because the time for revelation is not yet.  We have stood in his strength in his great battle with the suitors.  We have known his tenderness as at last he takes his dear wife in his arms.

Ten long years and we have a span of twelve hours in which to capture it.  Eighteen tellers all intent on committing themselves to the full.  So often I’ve felt my heart leap.  Always and always I am touched by the power and mystery of Homer’s great work. 

Of course, now, our wish is for a room jam-packed with listeners.  Please, please join us if you can.  Full day begins at 10 am, half-day at 4.30 pm; telling will be over at 10.30.  Tickets $60 full day; $40 half day.  Location: Fourth Stage National Arts Centre, Ottawa, Ontario.  http://nac-cna.ca/en/community/event/2020

Why the pics?  Because it’s what readers seem to love about this blog – to see views of our lake.  And…because for Jennifer and me, the lake goes always with us – we can’t help but work out of its life.

Tuesday
May012012

The Season Ends and Life Goes On

Goldfinches at the feeder all the time now.  It's been quite something watching them lose their dull winter colours and get ready for spring.  The males are so vivid.  They truly are a stand-out.  Wish I had other photos to add – the pileated woodpecker who is currently appearing on a daily basis, the beaver who comes nightly, the wood ducks who are temporarily hanging out by our shores.  I say temporarily because I know this happens every year.  They come for a while on their journey somewhere and then move on.  Trouble is I don’t have a hugely superior camera which is what you really need for wildlife photography.  That and rather more patience than I have time for at the moment. 

 The Dragon’s Gold show was our finale, meaning a) that the 2011/12 2wp season is at an end; b) that we can now turn our thoughts more fully to June 16 and the day long telling of The Odyssey.  One of the things I’m finding fascinating is the way in which simply undertaking this grand adventure is sparking us to risk in all sorts of other ways.  The quirky little promo video, featuring Odysseus wandering through the streets of Ottawa, is just one example.  Then there’s the internet fundraising campaign – both of which you can explore at www.indiegogo.com/ottawastorytellers.  I know it helps that Ottawa Storytellers has some young, vibrant, savvy members and a vibrant, savvy Managing Artistic Director – Caitlyn Paxson.  Still I have a feeling we wouldn’t have come to either of these ventures before.  Could it be that Odysseus’s courage is reaching to us across the centuries, calling us to greater heights ourselves?

 The Odyssey notwithstanding I shall be traveling fairly consistently for the next two weeks.  First, I’m off to Kamloops on the TD Canada Trust Children’s Book Week Tour (http://www.bookweek.ca/).  Getting storytellers included in this annual Canadian Children’s Book Centre event is something I consider one of my major lifetime coups and I’m happy to be reaping the benefits myself now.  I’ll be including my books in my work, of course, but definitely emphasizing the storytelling, especially in folktale form. 

 What I love about the folktales as a teller is their freedom – the fact that you have to respond to emotional changes on the fly.  I just wish kids were getting exposed to this more often.  I’ve worked sometimes with extremely “reluctant readers.”  Always the told tales seem to give them an entrée into what literature might mean in their lives.  I remember once telling an Inuit story about a dog who, though he is sick and weak, persistently rescues a young girl from encroaching bears.  To be honest, I wasn’t even certain I’d captured it that well.   I still got a letter from a teenager who said, “I loved that story.  It told me it doesn’t matter how small and weak you think you are, you might be able to succeed.”

 After Kamloops, it’s the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading Awards.  You can find out all about that at: www.accessola.org/.../Forest_of_Reading/.../Forest_of_Reading/Welcome.  Do awards make a difference?  This one certainly does.  The biggest thing is that it gets kids reading and talking books and it gives schools a place to focus in their literacy work.  It's also a ton of fun.

 All in all I’ll be busy so it was good to look out at lunch time and see the lake flat calm.  Calm brings reflections so I’m closing with a pic of that.  A moment of reflection for each and everyone.    

Saturday
Apr142012

Joys of Spring

Posting some pics in case it should appear that the Two Women think of storytelling and nothing else.  How could we, when the joys of spring are all around us?  How could we not be called forth from out our doors to check on the latest buds a-bursting and shoots a-sprong?

Yesterday the first of the daffodils came into flower.  Now it seems there are more by the hour.  And, oh, the delight of finding that the cut leaf peony has once again survived the winter; that the phlox and iris and roses will in their own due time be filling the air with their scents.

There is work to be done as well.  Over the years, our willow tree has lost many weighty branches.  Too heavy to clear away?  Not if you saw off enough bits.  We are neither of us brave enough to get a chain saw but a swede saw works wonders if you go at it long enough. 

Then, there's that unsightly patch that was once the foundation for a shed.  At last, enough has rotted that the remaining timbers have been cleaned up with ease.  A rock has appeared.  Jennifer is eyeing it eagerly to see if digging would reveal more.  I am pleading for the surrounding earth to be left bare in case this might be a place where a snapping turtle would see fit to lay her eggs.  The females come into the yard each year, wandering forlornly and scrabbling at unsuitable sights.  Maybe if there was something easier for them to dig into.....

Along with the work, there's listening to the song sparrows and the phoebes; watching the loons in the mornings, hearing the frogs at night; seeing the male gold finches take on their yellow spring time hue.  All in all, we are unlikely to become totally one-track minded.  Had a hike in the hills yesterday and still need to be putting chicken wire around a slew of trees as protection against the ravages of the beaver. 

Happy spring time, one and all. 

Thursday
Apr122012

Odyssey, Odyssey, Odyssey

The poster -- only in first draft, so not quite there yet.  Still coming along, as is the work of performance preparation.  Jennifer and I are now in the midst of attending small group sessions, our next-step follow-up to the two day workshop held in January for tellers, one and all (see the blog entitled Yes, It Works below). 

First -- as we get together -- come the questions.  Pronunciation is a biggie – Eurycleia?  Aeolus?  Eurymachus?  Right now it’s time management that looms largest on everyone’s horizons, however.  We have our listeners with us from 10 in the morning until 10.30 in the evening.  During that time, we’re offering eight and a half hours of telling with short breaks at the end of each one hour set and longer spaces for lunch and supper.  We simply cannot afford to go beyond our overall deadline.  That means no one – but NO ONE – can take more than their allotted portion for their piece.

Homer doesn’t make that easy.  The text is so rich, all of it has a purpose, all of it seems so necessary to the telling of the tale.  That makes cutting painful, even if it has to be done.  We have to work too with such respect.  Ultimately, the task is to cut and still leave the audience feeling that nothing has been omitted, to make sure we keep enough of the wondrous descriptions, similes, repetitions, images to communicate the fullness of the tale.  It isn’t easy but it is possible, so fear not.

Questions of cutting always lead us deeper.  Always we find ourselves talking about issues of characterization, setting, plot.  Each teller only has a part.  It’s becoming up to Jennifer and me to help each one remain in constant awareness of the whole.  Yes, Telemachus does start out in Books 1 to 4 as very much a boy, but in Book 15 he returns from his voyage of searching for his father as a man.  Yes, Odysseus leaves Troy as a “sacker of cities,” a man of war still, but he does gain in humility as all that he has is taken; as he finds himself washed up upon some foreign shore naked and near death. 

As the questions end, we begin to follow the paths opened as each teller presents the small piece of text he or she has chosen to bring.  I think we are all of us amazed at how much has been achieved by this “small piece” process.  I know the decision to work through small pieces came really out of a sense of necessity and was made with some reluctance.  I imagine the tellers were skeptical.  I know neither Jennifer nor I fully anticipated what has evolved.  We did not see as clearly as we might have how the need to look so closely at “a mere five minutes worth” would have such carry overs -- how the fact of paying attention to a ship’s beaching here would make us look at other matters of sailing; how the revelation of Odysseus’ soldier past for one of the teller would help others; how the subtleties of dialogue between a swineherd and a hero would alert us to potentials in other talk.  More then than we could have hoped, the “small pieces” are building the strength of the broad sweep. 

Biggest thrill?  The means by which everyone is growing in delight with regard to what is at hand.  I knew I wanted to do this but I did not know that it would bring me pleasure equal to anything I have felt ever in my hugely pleasurable working life.  I studied The Odyssey in university – fumbling my way through Books 5 and 6 in the original Greek.  The Odyssey was the first work we took on when we started our epic tellings almost twenty years ago at Rasputin’s Café.  I’ve come back to this great epic over and over but I’ve never before had the opportunity to work on it in the company of others so intensely or for  so long.  Doing so is like a dream beyond imagining.

News soon of promotional efforts and of how you can buy tickets.  Date and place (in case you can’t see the print on the poster): June 16 at the Fourth Stage of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.  We know already we have one audience member making the journey from Halifax.  Truly we can say this is something no story lover will want to miss.

As if all that’s not enough? Jennifer and Katherine and I will be performing Dragon’s Gold show again in the next couple of weeks.  Full details: http://www.2wp.ca/dragons-gold/