Chaos Attraction

Recap Day: July 2017

2017-12-21, 6:39 a.m.

I went to the state fair and I enjoyed it but don’t remember much beyond the crafts--still a lot less than they used to have, and somehow they had so much room they could have a random steampunk craft sales booth in there. Odd. I kind of wish I’d entered the fair but oh well. I did later end up entering my light up apron in the Yolo County fair (at the prompting of someone in knitting group) and it got a second.

I went to the town Shakespeare festival and loved their production of The Three Musketeers--super, super swashbuckling with freeze-frame scenes, even! One of their best. I was less in love with their other summer show, Wonderful Town, but that’s more of a “the plot was so-so” thing rather than the acting. (For example, the writer sister writes....terribly, but we’re supposed to think it’s good. What?) It amused me greatly to have sisters playing sisters that look really super alike.

The Woodminster season kicked off in Oakland and this year Mom and I brought along two new theater buddies--new family friend Mary and my cousin’s cousin (that’s about the best way to describe it) Randall, who liked to bring fancy food along before the show. It was great fun, and I did enjoy going to shows uh, slightly sloshed because he brings wine.
We saw Mamma Mia, which actually SOLD OUT (this place never sells out!) because it was the first showing of it in the Bay Area like, ever. Here’s the thing: I do not like the movie (way too much running and giggling), but I liked the musical quite a bit. Much more to the point yet still fun. They also did Beauty and the Beast and South Pacific, which were also quite good. We’ll talk about Beauty and the Beast more later in another context...

I also got to see The Book Of Mormon again, which I swear was even better than the last time! Really, really good stuff. Mom slept through half of it again (seriously, you sit her still in a dark theater and lights are OUT) and when I mentioned that the musical is coming to Sacramento next year, she was all, “Then YOU’RE buying us the tickets!” and I was all, hey wait a minute, if you’re sleeping through the shows, why are you coming again?

Sadly, on the same day as seeing The Book of Mormon, I agreed to go see a hometown production of The Wizard of Oz, pretty much because my mom ushers at that theater and I think she was working that night. Good lord, it was bad. It was the kind of show that has like 50-60 people (most of them under legal age) in the cast, spent all their money on costumes and salaries, and then couldn’t pull off the rest of the production value. Literally, THEY HAD NO YELLOW BRICK ROAD TO FOLLOW, WHICH IS IN THE SONG AND EVERYTHING. Like, you couldn’t at least get some paint and butcher paper?! They’d sing “follow the yellow brick road!” and then point at the black empty stage, repeatedly. They had a lot of moments like that, like they couldn’t even manage having the gang steal costumes and sneak in with the Winkies right. It was just freaking sad. What a letdown after seeing the Broadway version last year.

On a better note, I took Mom to see 9 to 5 on our local circular stage. I haven’t been to a circle stage in ages and I’ve never seen one with a musical done on it, so that was interesting. They have changing wall panels on the back walls, and they literally have some scenes staged in the audience and roll out props on ramps onto the stage. Very cool. Oh yeah, and at one point they actually haul Hart up through the ceiling! Also, Dolly Parton narrates on recording. That’s the stage The Book of Mormon is going to be on next year...I’m still undecided if I’m going to pay up for that because tickets open in The Most Expensive Time Of The Year (yay December..not) and I have whopping expensive car stuff to pay off and then buy again on top of that.

I also went to some cool concerts: I saw Bandella-- a band made up of astronauts and astronauts-adjacent folks. It had our local astronaut Steve Robinson, “Space Oddity” guy Chris Hadfield, and Cady Coleman. Micki Pettit, astronaut’s wife, did vocals (husband Don was in the audience, met him briefly when my friend Kara found him), and there was some other legendary astronaut there that I’m forgetting in the audience. They had a slideshow of space photos going on during the whole thing, including showing guitar playing and flute playing in space. They did a few original-ish songs that have been done in space, and “Space Oddity.” And they told some space stories, such as what happens when there’s an emergency and your flute goes floating through the ISS. Or how they just leave a guitar up there all the time in case anyone wants to play. It was fun, and sold out in a town full of science geeks.

I also went to what I’d consider to be the second best concert I’ve ever been to after Cher. However, I get shit for liking this particular artist so I’m not gonna say who. I had great seating and the performer did a wide variety of their works over the years, so that was awesome. I did, however, sit very close to Those Screaming Girls You’d Normally Expect At A Bieber Concert, who stood screaming the whole time to the point of comedy. It’s a good thing I found that sort of shit amusing since this was not a Bieber-esque event. There was also a great post-concert impromptu concert by a street band after, which gave me something to do while I waited for the parking garage to clear out. I did, however, find out that there was all kinds of construction going on in the area that blocked off almost every damn way I had to get home, so I drove around lost for an hour and a half until I found the one way out that wasn’t under construction. I tried avoiding the city at night for the next few months until this damn construction ended, lemme tell ya.

And then there was the Sierra Storytelling Festival in mid-July. Dawn saw something about this at her work--apparently there’s an archive of photos from the event and written documents from the photographer there. (Dawn brought a lot of her copies of these things along and had fun talking to a local librarian in the area.) Anyway, this is a 3-day event up in the mountains held at this little schoolhouse and its outdoor amphitheater and they have something like 6-8 or so professional storytellers there for the weekend, each getting an hour long showcase and several other shorter storytelling opportunities throughout the event. They also had a StorySlam and an amateur hour opportunity for random folks such as myself to do storytelling at, and the event kicked off with a storytelling workshop I attended.

The storytellers were:

* Judith Black, who also did the workshop. She had a variety of stories, from personal stories of things that happened to and around her, to myths and legends, to historical stories. She was definitely one of my top favorites and blew my mind.

* Andy Offutt Irwin, who’s a Southern storyteller that tells things that may or may not (I’m guessing not?) have happened in real life. Since that is the sort of thing we love in my family, I had a great time. (Though I’m sad to report that I bought a CD of his and made Mom listen to it and she was not that into it. What’s wrong with you, Mom?!) Another top favorite of mine. He also did a song that cracks me up called “Crickets in the Kudzu,” as sung by a cheerful grade school teacher lady.

* Kevin Kling seems to specialize in the “weird things happened to me” type of storytelling, so he was another favorite of mine. He’s got some quirks going on due to disability--he got born with one arm shorter than the other and then the other arm lost all feeling in it in a motorcycle accident--so that leads to some stories as well. Another favorite.

* Diane Ferlatte and Muriel Johnson both specialized in folk tales (Muriel also emceed most of the event), as well as incorporating songs, chanting, etc. into their performances. I liked those as well, even if folk tales aren’t always my top thing ever (depends on the story). Still very good.

* Johnny Moses is a Native American folk tale teller--I kind of wish he’d done a bit more about stuff that happened to him, because it sounds like he has things to tell about being a descendant of Chief Seattle and being forced into those shitty boarding schools. He seemed like a nice dude but was in a way my least favorite because his style was...interrupty, I’d say. I liked that he’d tell the tales bilingually--both in whatever language he was speaking and then into English, you’d get that down--but he liked to make the audience say some word or other (he kept changing the word from language to language). He’d say the word means ‘I am listening” and insist that you repeat it A LOT for him to know you were listening and to keep going on with the story. Unfortunately, he’d do this after every sentence and boy, did that throw me the hell out of the story/mood when he did it. After he really got going he’d stop doing that so much, but it was a tic that got on Dawn’s and my nerves a bit. Compare that to Judith Black, who sucked me in so hard during her hourlong set I forgot anything else was going on in the world for like 40 minutes. If you’ve got people in the groove, don’t interrupt them! Just saying!

* They also had a few guest tellers--Tim Ereneta (a Bay Area improv person) and a few others, here and there.

The workshop done by Judith Black was called Techniques of Telling. It was not what I expected--I think I expected more lecture and less “wander around in a group of people doing strange things like in an acting/improv class,” but the latter certainly did happen because she wanted to warm everyone up. We did a bunch of various goofy things, and a good chunk of time was spent on this exercise where we all had to suggest random lines of dialogue, divided them up in half, then wandered off with a partner and had to repeat our lines to each other over and over again in different ways.

For the record, this was the dialogue:
A-B Dialogue
A My waterfall is very beautiful
b. I'm going to the south of Spain in October
A It's awkward for a ninja to be highly ticklish
B Unicorn poop smells like flowers
A The village needs you!
B I died yesterday so I don't have to worry about what I'm wearing
A Trump is the next extraterrestrial
B It was so hot she took her pants off
A Don't worry, be happy
B I sure won't try that again!

And this is what we were supposed to do each different time.
1. just say them as usual
2. whisper the lines
3. yell the lines
4. say them while standing back to back
5. say them while one person is perched/standing up high and the other crouches down low
6. Pantomime--this led me to do what was dubbed the “dainty unicorn poop dance.”
7. Singing it--yay for having taken musical improv so I have practice at this
8. Dancing it--yeah, I can do that.

I don’t remember exactly what the heck it was we were doing at one point, but at some point she was narrating us through some kind of scene about what if we ran into an ex and he was like, a foot tall and what would we do in this situation. I think I was all “getting the heck out of here” or something--I just wrote down that Judith said she’d never forget me for my reaction to this! Now I wonder what the hell I did...

As for actual techniques of telling:
* Technique = lively and interesting.
* If you were entertained and then can’t remember it afterwards-- all technique
* How you say it is as important as what you say
* Infuse words with so much -- vocal palette
* Silence and shouting are different, has proven shades
* Give them time to see the scene in their imagination
* Empower listeners to galvanize their imaginations
* You speak with your face and body without being aware of it
* We interact with the audience all the time.
* As long as you really “see” something, people are interested
* Stay with an image and people will stay with you forever.
* Third level of visualization--creating the entire environment.
* Singing is a different communication modality, changes the listening.
* If you’re singing in a musical, something is too powerful to say so you sing it.
* If you sing at kids to get them to clean up, it works (i.e. Mary Poppins)
* Ask the audience to create images--requires participation
* If you do it in your head, you will close it every time.
* Voice comes from the body.
* “Irony is the driving force of the universe.”
* Once you create a bridge of perception, you can take them anywhere. But you have to start where they are first.

She mentioned that “I work my stories like a dog before I put them on stage.” She also mentioned that she does a story about Mother Jones and was performing it at the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee...where they hate labor unions. Her story was going over poorly, so she had to change her focus onstage in the moment from “foulmouthed labor organizer” to “saver of children.” (Note to self: maybe never go tell stories in Tennessee, they’d think I’m waaaaay too weird, I suspect.)

It was an interesting experience there.

As for the other stories being told there: hey, let’s see if I can remotely figure out what the hell people were talking about just by using the sketchy notes on my phone!

Andy Irwin: I really got a kick out of his stuff and bought the CD of his that had the most of them that I wanted to keep. He tells a lot of stories about his (supposed?) aunt. I’m just gonna paste the text from the festival website because it covers it better than I would:

“Andy is especially known for relating the adventures of his eighty-five-year-old-widowed-newly-minted-physician-aunt, Marguerite Van Camp, a woman who avoids curmudgeonship by keeping her finger on the pulse of the changing world around her as she seeks to grow - even at her advanced age - in the New South.”

I really liked the Marguerite stories. Whether or not she’s real, she sounds like a good time. Andy liked to talk about how she and her friends started “Southern Old White Women’s Hospital,” and how Aunt Marguerite was a nurse before becoming a doctor (on the CD I bought, there’s a story about her doing a stint at a summer camp), and her finding love again after the death of her husband. I would be happy to hear more about Aunt Marguerite.

Possibly my favorite of his was “Generational Revenge,” about how Aunt Marguerite discouraged trumpet playing in her daughter, so naturally her granddaughter Drusilla becomes a big shot trumpet player. Daughter didn’t like living in the South--Drusilla gets scholarship money at the University of Georgia, where her professor tells them all to “protect your armature” (mouth). Then Drusilla goes down to spring break, meets a nice boy from Georgia Tech (gasp!), drinks, and the next thing you know, Drusilla is calling Aunt Marguerite in need of assistance. “Come down here RIGHT NOW,” Marguerite says, and Drusilla says she’s already in the driveway... “She was never so excited to see an infected pierced lip in her life!”

Andy also did the Children’s Concert, which featured the aforementioned“Crickets in the Kudzu.” I think it’s the tone of it that amuses me so. And at some point he was telling something about blood and I guess I had some fun reaction because he said to me, “You like that blood part, don’t you? I’m glad you’re here.”
I also have down that he said to a kid, “When you get home, get Mommy’s iPhone, go to the dictionary and look up the word ‘heckle.’”

Unidentified text that’s probably something to do with Andy:
”vegetarian hunter shooting mistletoe”
“y’all haul trailer”

Judith Black:
Judith pretty much blew my tiny mind. She did a variety of stories.

A real life one she told started out by talking about angels--there are avenging and protecting angels. Well, a hometown boy in her town’s protective angel failed him and he died in battle, and then they found out that Fred Phelps and company were going to protest the funeral. That is, until a bunch of Hell’s Angels showed up. That’s awesome.

She had an eerie folk tale about a skeleton of a woman being pulled out of the ocean and coming to live and living (more or less on that word) amiably with the fisherman who fished her out of the drink, until the neighbors got weirded out, and then she figured out how to flesh herself out again. Sounds creepy weird but was actually very sweet. Also, apparently Johnny Moses and I were the only ones who got the joke when she made a reference to pubes.

This was the best story I heard there: it was the (real life, she said, but I haven’t been able to find anything about it except a vague mention of it on her website) story of “Bug Girl” Betina Miller, an entomologist whose parents died when she was a kid in an accident that she survived, so she was raised by her older brother and his wife. She tends to think of people as animals--I forget what animals she likened her relatives to, but it was funny. Anyway, the brother and sister-in-law (Iris) went to Puerto Rico and then came back and Iris got sick...with what turns out to be Zika. And then the pregnant neighbor comes down with Zika a few days later, and the town’s out for blood at Iris--and when they find a tire swing with stagnant water and bugs in it in the backyard, the family is horrified. Betina goes to Puerto Rico to investigate Zika and discovers that timing-wise, there’s no way it could have been Iris who brought the infection in--it was her two-timing husband going to a country with Zika in it. This one blew my tiny little mind--I was pretty much rapt for like 40 minutes before I came up for air.

Muriel Johnson:
I liked this story Muriel did about a girl who goes out into the woods and was picking flowers, which was attracting the interest of a wolf. He liked her singing and he wanted her to sing him to sleep. She was afraid he’d do something, but he’d pass out, she’d run away and drop a flower....he followed her home, just wanting her to sing him to sleep againn!

Diane Ferlatte:
Diane had a very fun one about two women comparing how dumb their husbands were--- one woman convinced her husband he was dead, the other pulled an “Emperor’s New Clothes.” It’s a draw!
There was also a very sad story about a couple that was very resistant to their son wanting to travel the world--so he stays home and dies in the river in an accident. Ouch.
I seem to recall either she or Muriel did a variant on the “three sons are all interested in the same girl, so they go traveling trying to find some special gift and then they end up pooling their gifts to save her life” story. I’ve heard it before but like it.

Kevin Kling:
I have down “Minnesotans all get struck by lightning.”
Also, “I’m the kind of guy who wears sandals with socks because I know it pisses people off.”
And (untagged, but probably still him) “You will never see a more can-do attitude in a can’t-do body than a weiner dog.” Also, when you tell a weiner dog no, they hear “try another way.”

Tim Ereneta:
Tim did an interesting one about a soldier who makes a deal with the devil to not be clean in any way for seven years in exchange for being rich, and how that ah, affects his personal life.

They also had both a Story Slam and an open mic for tellers. I participated in both. The Story Slam is a thing where they come up with a topic that people have to talk about, and the topic was “precipitation.” I ended up talking about my two apartment floods and a car flood, which in retrospect (see October) might not have been the best. But hey, I pulled that out of my ass on the spot when I didn’t have anything much to say about the topic, so I say good for me!

The winner of the Story Slam was a pastor named Mark (who is throwing his own storytelling Auburn in January, I’d probably go except I do not wanna drive to Auburn in January, it’s probably snowing or pouring or some shit). He had on a shirt saying “Storytelling: The Original Social Media.” I should mention that the SSF hands out little hearts made out of fabric to indicate what events you’ve paid to attend over the weekend (I went the entire time, but you can pay to just attend for one day or night or whatever) and he’s not only saved all of his heart, but put them on a sash like a Girl Scout. Adorable. His winning story was about bringing some kind of rain-bringing toy/device thing (which he swung around on stage, but it didn’t rain here--good thing since it was all outdoors) at a Native American gathering and naturally ticking everyone off when he brought on the rain. I seem to recall later he had one story about an old lady reading the instructions on a condom saying “To protect health, put on organ and keep lubricated,” so I think it was sitting on a piano in a jar of water or something?

As for the open mic, I told the story about Meg’s bird, which went over very well! I practiced in the car with Dawn for a few days and timed myself until I had it more or less down and short enough. Go me!

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