Chaos Attraction

National Storytelling Summit 2019--Day 3

2019-07-27, 10:16 p.m.

Today had two intensive (remember, 3 hours/2 sessions long) workshops at the same time with performers I like: Joel ben Izzy on stringing your stories together and Andy Offutt Irwin on “Pin the Tail on the Narrative.” I decided to go with Andy since he’s a Southern guy and therefore I’m less likely to see him around than Joel (who’s in Berkeley). This turned out to be a good choice because I heard from Rick later on as to how Joel’s went anyway.

Andy was a charming delight and all good fun. Yes, the “Aunt Marguerite” stuff is made up and she’s a fictional character (just wanted to verify), but still fun as heck.

The Quotable Andy:
“I’m a shallow man, so I’ll say it’s my fault.”
He gives himself credit for not using the word “tale” instead of “tale” in the title, saying, “that’s what we call comedic maturity.”
“There are very smart people in the room and I’m intimidated, but I’ll get over it.”
“Heckling is encouraged.”
On being a keynote speaker: “I had to wear a tie and keep my shoes on.”
“I’m being heckled at a keynote!” as a kid yelled at him to take his glasses off.
“As a shallow man, I make stuff up. You’re LATE! Run a lap!”
He talked about making up Aunt Marguerite Van Camp, an 85-year-old medical school graduate. “I just ask her what she’s thinking, people like her better than me.”
“Don’t be funnier than me.”
“I loved the fourth grade so much I went twice.” He had a teacher who encouraged him to show off in front of the class after she saw him doing Bill Cosby (sigh) routines.
He said that there are trains always going by at Jonesboro and “We have to have our train material ready.”
“Poetry is prose, it’s just written down funny,” a friend of his said.
He claims to write “occupational showoff” on his taxes.
He quoted “all the world’s a stage” and did that in a Southern accent, which amused me no end right now. “When you do Shakespeare in an accent, people understand it.”
“The digressions are the best part.”
“Nothing happens in a vacuum.”

He talked about capturing material you already have. “The trick is listening to my thoughts.” Grab it, capture it, listen to yourself.
A joke is something you said in the middle and there’s a payoff later.

“Any good storyteller has to have a sense of wit.” Expect your audience to be as smart as you hope they are. Humor requires intelligence and previous knowledge.

Establish who characters are very quickly.

Narrative arc/Hero’s Journey
Quest, obstacle, resolution, new wisdom.
Donald Davis: place, people, problem, progress.

Truth/fact - something magical about storytelling. You still see somebody in your mind. He is the character, but you don’t ever hear them described. You imagine someone.

He talked about how he watched watermelon fall of a truck once and turned it into a joke from Aunt Marguerite seeing the same thing, calling up her vegan daughter, and telling her “all the roadkill’s vegetarian.”

Smaller details build characters.

Essence of humor is recognition. Laughter is the sound of comprehension. We want a laugh at the beginning of a story because you’re allowing other emotions to be jump-started.

Getting a laugh is like having your dog and you know it will sit. “If you train an audience, it’s just like a dog.”

Moments when you do a profound story, when a dark joke is funny.

Rhyme will contrive you to a place that gives you opportunity.

For the pen-throwing part of the workshop, we were given a piece of paper with words like “influence,” “development,” discovery,” “transition,” “connection,” “expansion,” etc. on it and then were told to make our own paper with roles that we play in our lives. We then drop pens onto said papers and come up with weird pairings (one word from each page) and then you have a partner pick the most interesting pair. I was partnered with Dave Pokorny, which was fun because we talked about being theater kids. He saw standup comedy on television and said that’s what he wanted to do, but it took him 8 years to do it. I really need to go to his show sometime in his neck of the woods.

Some fun examples people did in class:

Beth: “quilting” plus “connection:” Her therapist had her do a map of her life with a “parking lot” of things she wanted to get to. She went to the quilt store in Jonesboro and started doing a quilt of family jeans as a healing quilt. “Don’t beat yourself up because you can’t get there from here.”
Drea, “listening to voices” plus “separation:” She heard a voice in her head saying, “Doesn’t matter, you’re quitting your job and moving to Oregon.” She was working as a law firm librarian and was very relieved to hear that. “When I told her this crazy thing, she said, “Thank god.” Now she works in a public library. “I’m terrified for the future, but I’m so happy.”

Claire had my favorite: “conflict” and ... I can’t read my handwriting. But she talked about having a spiritual awakening, wanting a soul mate, making The List of what you want in a guy, and she heard someone whisper a word in her ear: “Mark.” Unfortunately, she knew a lot of Marks. A few years later she’s in a pub and runs into an old boyfriend and emailed him. “I felt my finger was being pushed for me.” Turns out that guy’s middle namea, which she did not know, was Mark. He hadn’t stopped loving her since they were 13 and at boarding school, and they’re married now. Claire said, “I was a very repressed British person” and Drea was all, “You’re a repressed British person? What does that look like?” I asked if he fit the list and she said yes, the important stuff.

I found more about Claire and her husband here and here. I hope sometime her memoir comes out, but hey, look, here’s something online...

I asked Beth about her life map/parking lot thing afterwards and it was basically mind mapping and then a “parking lot” grid to put things in. “This gives me a future.”

We had a long lunch period because they were having meetings or whatever, so I think I had yet more Asian food--probably more fried noodles. I hung out by the pool and wished I’d brought my swimsuit because I actually would have had time to swim.

In the one afternoon session time, I went to “From Print to Story” by Elaine Brewster. Elaine turns history into stories, so she was talking about ways to turn written text into oral.
1. memorize
2. change (a) form, (b) element
3. Condense to bare bones
4. Refine awkward wording
5. Add oral elements--voice, body.
6. Accurate, appropriate, non--anachronistic word choices.

“I consider myself a catalyst, a firestarter.” Just give you enough to go on your own.

On changing the form, she told us a variant of the Jack and Jill story, but changed the setting about it, more of a fractured fairy tale.
She had us telling stories in fewer and fewer words. Sleeping Beauty goes from “princess put to sleep by curse, prince wakes her up” (10 words) to “princess cursed, prince solves curse” (5 words) to “prince wakes princess” (3 words).

Stories move a picture from my head to your head.

Pizza Principle:
necessary: crust, cheese, toppings
extras: toppings.

One obstacle sentence: I wanted to, I....
Or: I wanted to, I tried, but
Resolution--change, new perspective/direction change, restate problem from beginning.

Film strip, story board, treasure map, mind mapping (again!), she said a friend of hers solves all problems by doing this because this is how our brain works.

She told a story about a girl named Olive getting a thimble and being told to put it away before she loses it. “How am I going to lose it when I keep looking at it? Then I went to the outhouse....” Her brother fished it out.

Quote from Donald Davis: “You are the museum of your own life. No one will tell your story but you.”

Dinner again...I think I had more fancy sushi rolls.

At night, they had a bunch of performers, most of whom I’d seen at Sierra, doing 15-20 minutes apiece:

(a) Charlie Chin, said he’d never been in a room with so many Asian storytellers before. Did a story on messages from death (“hey death, come back later, I’m busy”) and one called “The Secret Of A Happy Marriage, “ about a matchmaker finding fitting folks for difficult girls. A blind guy for the ugly daughter, a deaf one for the girl with a bad voice, and the argumentative one gets a shy guy. This works out great until an acupuncturist comes along and cures all the dudes... So they have it redone and they’re only PARTIALLY fixed the next time. “To be happily married you must be a little blind, a little deaf, and keep your opinions to yourself!”

(b) Vicki Juditz: talked about how she decided to buy a gun after the LA riots and the experience of going to Dave’s Gun World. “Your gun is your best friend. It’s always there for you.” Then she thinks, “I could turn and shoot Dave.” Guns don’t require strength, courage, or skill.
Then she talked about “the first time I was always arrested....” Basically, she wanted to get arrested at protests but always had to stop before that went on because of work or her kid. Finally that’s no longer an issue and “I have wanted to be arrested for years! I’m not selling dishwashing liquid any more and my daughter is in college, this is great!” Also, “I was more nervous about taking public transport than I was of being arrested.”

(c) Dixie de la Tour was fucking amazing: she’s a SF kinkster sort of girl and started out with “Whose idea was it for me to follow these two storytellers?” After a friend of hers dies a year after finding himself and his people in a freak accident, she thought “life’s too short” and wanted ot do something special for her and her SO’s families so they can find out who they really that works if they get married. The audience audibly sighed when she said her family is from rural Virginia. Upon telling her mother she was getting married, her mother said, “That’s normal. You never do anything that’s normal.” Her aunt asks for a vibrator, which leads to the quote from Dixie of “Did my wedding just become a sex party meetup?” “You know you love it.”

When the families met, they had something in common: “Is your son as weird as my daughter is?” “YES.” Both families were scared of San Francisco.

“Who I had been had always been wrong,” she said, and “I pretty much felt I was never going to have love in my life.” When she met her future husband, he said on the first date that he missed his grandma and she was all, “You can’t do this shit on a first date, you know that, right? I think you need therapy.” They’ve been together ever since. Awww.

She wanted to show them who she is and who her friends are. She told her friends to come as they are... which includes PORN CLOWNS. There’s also someone who identifies as a kitten, and a Jewish Easter Bunny.

Her brother said, “Do you realize you’re the author of your own story?” “Who talks that way?” she said back. Her mom’s response to the whole thing was “You people are amazing. This is the best party I’ve ever been to.”

Other quotes I have down (unattributed but I think they were from her relatives) are “I threw a rubber chicken” and “How’s Crush Kitten doing?”

This brought up issues with her mom, because her mom never believed Dixie as a kid when she said she’d been molested by her stepdad. She confronted her now and her mom apologized for it....and later died. “It’s never too late to tell your story.”

This got a standing O. I went over later to deliver my compliments and some guy was asking her if she knew this old guy named “Bubbles” with a giant nose ring and while Dixie didn’t know him, I was all, “I saw him around Pantheacon!”

(d) Kirk Waller did more Sunjiata like he did last weekend so I won’t recap, but he did say, “Now I know what a sexual folklorist is. I gotta expand my repertoire.”

(d) Brenda Wong Aoki was the only one I hadn’t seen before, and she retold a story about a woman who was in a Japanese concentration camp. I can’t bear to retype that one.

This was followed by the Grand Slam competition.

Howard the host started out, talking about a guy he knew in school and how they unexpectedly reunited in Chicago in 1968. “He blew me a kiss and I blew him a kiss.” The guy died in Vietnam later.

The competition:
1. Kate: her car ran out of gas, a guy offered to push and Ontario state troopers made sure she got across the bridge because some folks have died on it.
2. Ron: the learning to read story again, which he added more to.
3. Rosie: the crazy lady on the bus story.
4. Claire with the Green Day kitty-- “I have this rock cat.”
5. Angie: an English immigrant whose mom had her as a baby in a relocation camp with a bunch of resentful POW’s. A German POW wanted to hold her because she reminded him of his own baby. Mom let him hold her baby.
6. Ramona: was getting treated for breast cancer and wanted to be SEEN by her doctor, who had one leg so he knew what she meant by that.
7. Christine: entered her cat in a pet competition, it won, she got on TV and then the cat pooped on her white outfit and it was on the news. Twice. She came in third.
8. Jeff (the winner at Sierra’s Grand Slam) did the story about his dad again. He came in second.
9. Sarah Beth, who previously did a story about her kid eating cat poop, now told a story about being a “crunchy” mom and having to figure out what to do with her placenta. This won.
10. Fred: this guy was telling a story about being a cowboy, I think.

To kill some time, another guy told a story about a haunted house.

After that, I went to another fringe show, called “Mary and Her Monsters,” about Mary Shelley’s life from ages 18-25. The lady researched it for a year to re-enact her at different periods of her life. Mostly you end up thinking what a fucking little shit Percy Bysshe Shelley was. He’s married but elopes with her when she’s 16, knocks her up extramaritally (and most of the kids died), his wife eventually kills herself and then they get married. He probably slept with her stepsister, who eloped along with them (why????). She did talk about writing Frankenstein and trying to get it published and the benefits of fame she got from that--and how Percy basically treated her like shit a lot. I got a library book on Mary Shelley to read afterwards (still haven’t read it yet), but man, I wanted to kick that dude in the nuts so bad after this! It was a very good performance, but at this point I am way too tired of writing these entries to recap it all. It’s literally a month after I went to this that I’m trying to!

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