Sunday, September 25, 2016

RMS Storytelling Festival

Elder storytellers are cultural curators and consummate performers.  They know ridiculous amounts of information and they know how to tell you about it all and make you want to hear more.  If you are lucky, these masters of the craft will also drop some hints on their methods of mastery as well.

While sitting for altogether around 6 hours can be hard on the body and rigorous on the attention span, it's rewarding to all the pleasure centers in the brain.  Stories broaden the world view, deepen empathy and create social connection as well as more density in our own neural connections.  Stories are fertilizer for the mind and for our humanity; through stories we know ourselves better and appreciate each other more profoundly.  Through stories we become more of who and what we are.

A day spent studying and hearing stories always leaves me reeling for a few days afterward, buzzing like I've swallowed a massive cup of espresso and CBD: euphoric, inspired and hungry for more stories.

Mark Lee Gardner, an award-winning musician, author and storyteller, dropped a bomb of inspiration on me with a single metaphor about perfume. As a singer of cowboy songs and many other genres of folk music (in fact, probably ALL of them), he condenses old ballads to a few verses. He does this because, (I paraphrase) "Like perfume, condensing the old ballads concentrates the story." And like perfume, the condensed story is a more potent way to tell. The meaning permeates; with less volume you make more impact.

I've never heard a better metaphor, or argument, for brevity.

Priscilla Queen, a descendant of western pioneers who tells true tales from her grandmothers’ adventures in 1800s Arizona Territory taught me, through her technique, about using detail as dynamic.  She crafts her stories around actual events by grounding the listener in time and place, skipping past decades in some instances, but in between these time-travel jumps she relates lavish detail of setting and lifestyle, the smells and tastes and emotions of her true-life characters in those settings.  I had never understood how detail can be used as a dynamic, so I'll be stumbling in circles for a few days with this new knowledge.

Jim Weglarz, who calls himself a "history buff" (I'd say more like Historian, though I'm sure he's clear on the definitions) is president of Historic Douglas County; he recreates local legendary figures, telling their early Colorado stories.  Jim took the mic with an introductory apology about "Not being a storyteller like other folks." at the event, but his technique is astonishing.  He begins by telling a series of historical facts, but as he builds momentum he links these happenings very intuitively.  So even as he's listing names, locations, and dates, he draws the audience in with a hunger to hear the connecting events.  In a story you want to know what happens next. Jim knows what happens next, and knows how to make you want it.  He's masterful in a unique way.

 I'll still be buzzing for several days, but the lasting effect is always the same from great performances like this:  WANT.  MORE.  STORIES.

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