Chaos Attraction

Asking For Things At The Auburn Storytelling Festival

2020-01-25, 7:32 p.m.

I had a good time at the Auburn Storytelling Festival today. I needed a distraction.

The workshop was with Ruth Stotter, who did a good job of covering techniques of how to liven up a bare bones folk tale story. She said you have to be labeled a storyteller and it happened to her when she got kicked out of camp for telling scary stories. “Everyone was wetting their beds.” The next year, she was asked to be camp storyteller...the director helped her work out what to say.

“You can’t tell a story to your car. Or your bathtub.” You need the interaction.

Have a hook for your first few lines (well, sometimes that’s easier than others... I don’t have one for mine, see below). The audience wants to be your friend. Stories are a three act play. Introduce the characters in an interesting way, do the description as dialogue and embody the character/act it out. She gave a ratio of 1-to-10 gestures, i.e. start at 10 when acting something out at the start and then dial it down. (Something I noticed Tim doing later.) Invest yourself in the characters, be all the characters. Give them 2 personality traits, at least, become almost a puppeteer without puppets. She also said to throw out another line as you walk back to your seat, people will clap even louder.

She handed out three generic stories to have us retell--”I know this story, I’ve been working with it for 33 minutes!” I got one about two boys named Chi and Yi walking through the woods. Chi sees a bear and climbs a tree to get away from it, but doesn’t think to warn Yi. Yi fakes dead when the bear comes, and the bear sniffs him and seems to say something in his ear. Afterwards Chi asks what the bear said and Yi said that the bear said he already ate and wasn’t hungry, and also he should pick better friends.

So I retold this as well, like bros... “So yeah, Chi’s the brawn in this story, he’s not real bright. Yi’s the smaller, smarter one, also he can talk to animals like Doctor Doolittle...” and “Well, you have three options, fight, which neither of them should do. Flight’s what Chi already did. That left Yi to freeze....”

I did the open tell and I told the marshmallow story, which got a lot of compliments afterwards.


* “I washed my hands!” said one guy to me.
* Angela James was there and told me she had a similar story, except it involved the butt and she was not going to retell it.
* One lady suggested that I drop the marshmallow in the fire and I said that would have been a good one except there was a shield over the fire. Then she said I should have fed the marshmallow to the kid and I was all, there you go, that would have solved it!

Other stories: one lady who found herself to be very popular at swimming lessons, having no idea that her suit had burst; a story about tying someone to a car(!), one story involved people singing about a bird shitting on everything in a store (oy...), and a lot of stories about fishing.

I didn’t volunteer to judge the liar’s contest this year, they seemed to have judges set already. The winner was Dave Tarvin, who absolutely killed it with a story about “mining for fish” and getting scammed into buying shares in such an operation, and then he’s never been able to find the fish mine since... He almost made it plausible, which really won it. I hate when people doing the contest tell some third person story instead of claiming, a la Penthouse, that they never thought this would happen to them.

A lady who told a story about being locked out of her house on Halloween and her husband was too deaf to hear her also went well, with lines like “Why would I lie about something so embarrassing?” and “I tried 1 2 3 4” (for the door code) “and then thought, he’s smarter than that, so I tried 5 6 7 8....” and “Then I got one boob in....I prayed all through junior high for boobs, and now they were no help.”

Mike Tomson was the emcee this year and had some great snark, such as “I have gotten more static about this,” saying that people hear this contest exists and then say they won’t go to the festival because they hate liars. But “we’re not politicians up here.” He also did a fun story while the judges were arguing about an old lady claiming to a cop that she had no license, was on her fifth DUI, had a body in the car... and then acted perfectly normal once more cops came over, and said, “You know, I bet that liar said I was speeding too.”

This year’s featured tellers were:

Alicia Retes: on the one hand, told Native American stories, which are usually not Dawn’s or my favorite. On the other hand, she was very lively in acting them out and made sure it wasn’t boring, so you go, girl. (Then at the end she was all, “and I did it in 20 minutes!”)

Tim Ereneta did my favorite fictional story of the night because it went a bit Liar’s Contest. After telling a story about a bratty princess and a frog and how the princess threw the frog against a wall and he became a prince, was all, “And that’s how my parents met.” He said that his dad said being human was better, why did his parents tell him this story anyway, he’s been in therapy....

Claudia Tonge, who I met back in the green room (they let the open tellers go in for the free food) had various stories, but what stood out was her mentioning having Bell’s palsy for a while and thus telling the story “The Girl With The Stone Face.”

(I didn’t write down that many details of any of these...)

Ruth Stotter talked about a rabbi who had the perfect story for every occasion, which turned into one about a goblin trying to figure out whether or not to live with a grocer and feed his belly vs. live with a student and feed his soul, which she likened to an artist having to have a day job. Good point. She also did some rope tricks during a story about a jester about to be hanged. She got confused at one point on one of them and then restarted it a few times before she tried to execute (har) it. People clapped like it was Cirque de Soleil. While she was working it out, someone in the audience yelled, “We’re going to miss you!”

But THE most memorable one of the night was the finisher, Tom Wade, who I’ve seen at Sierra/been in workshops with. He was the one “real life” storyteller of the evening and he did something I’ve never heard before in storytelling.

He started out by saying that he was in a bad relationship in Oregon and it wasn’t working out, so he decided to leave and go back home to California. He said that they say that when a door closes, God opens a window, but “they don’t tell you how far it is to the next door.” And literally, everything works out for him. He gets picked up by hitchhikers. He has just enough money to pay for the hostel and gets offered a free meal. Having a co-op membership in California means he gets free food (or something like that) in Oregon. He continues to hitchhike--gets a ride for 8 blocks and then is all, “God’s a joker.” He gets another ride and his favorite cookies are in the car. “Because I’m with the Lord, I can ask the Lord for things.” He gets back to his house in Sacramento and finds a job, and easily comes across roommates and someone even calls him up wanting to store their furniture in his house. He wants a couch and five couches turn up on the lawn. “When you guys are talking to the Lord, do not stutter.”

Moral of the story: “In four days of shutting that door, I opened a new life for me back where I was from.”

Afterwards I asked him if that sort of thing was still going on for him and he said yes, “you just have to tune into that, you know?”

This has given me a LOT to think about.

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