Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Interview with Ginette Mohr

Ginette Mohr is thrilled to be part of such an exciting festival. She has been writing and performing professionally for over ten years. Her newest piece, Fish Face, garnered critical acclaim and won the Cultch Theatre Award at the Vancouver Fringe Festival. This winter Ginette will continue to develop Fish Face, while co-creating The Belle of Winnipeg (Keystone Theatre) and The Children's Museum (The Quickening).

Who is one of your favourite storytellers?

My grandfather. He can spin an everyday event into an adventure. I love that faraway look he gets when he talks about his days as a switchman on the CN Rail.

What will you be telling at FOOL?

Fish Face. It's the story of a young woman’s struggle to be free from the past and uncover her heart’s desire. To gain the freedom to reveal her wish, Rose, an orphaned fisherman’s daughter, must journey into a fantastical underwater universe to battle a giant squid and confront her deepest fears. The characters she encounters unravel the secrets of her past and call on her to save their world from tyranny and darkness.

Tell us about some of your influences.

Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Charlie Chaplin, John Stewart, Tim Freeman and my mother make me laugh. Steven King's 'On Writing' left a big impression on me - I love what he says - "Life isn't a support-system for art. It's the other way around."

Why do we need oral traditions when we have television, radio, internet?

Oral traditions are a great way to bond, open up conversations, and enhance language and memory skills. Stories delight, thrill and touch a community. They’re often a you-had-to-be-there experience.

What is your favourite book?

Usually the last thing I’ve read. I'm currently researching Edgar Allan Poe for a gig on Halloween. "The Tell-Tale Heart" is genius. I didn't sleep much last night.

What inspires you?

Music, chocolate, fresh air, the mountains, children, festivals, visual art, theatre and film.

Advice for aspiring teller of tales, word artists, and web weavers?

Seek out artists who share your passion.



Friday, October 16, 2009

Interview with Guest Artist Ivan Coyote

Photo by James Loewen

Ivan Coyote was born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. An award-winning author of five collections of short stories, one novel, two CD’s, four short films and a renowned performer, Ivan’s first love is live storytelling, and over the last fifteen years she has become an audience favourite at music, poetry, spoken word and writer's festivals from Anchorage to Amsterdam. The Globe and Mail called Ivan "a natural-born storyteller" and Ottawa X Press said "Coyote is to CanLit what k.d. lang is to country music: a beautifully odd fixture." Toronto Star praises Coyote’s “talent for sketching the bizarre in the everyday”, and Quill’s Magazine says Ivan has a “distinctive and persuasive voice, a flawless sense of pacing, and an impeccable sense of story.” Ivan’s column, Loose End has appeared monthly in Xtra West magazine since 2001. Her first novel, Bow Grip, was released in the fall of 2006, and was awarded the Relit award for best fiction and named by the American Library Association as a Stonewall honor book in literature. Ivan recently completed an eight-month writer in residence at Carleton University in Ottawa, and is hard at work on her second novel. Her fifth collection of stories, The Slow Fix, was released in September, and has been nominated for a Lambda award.

Visit Ivan's website at www.ivanecoyote.com

Tell us about your with with story? Have you always been a storyteller?

I come from a huge Irish family, born and raised in the Yukon. I learned storytelling around my grandmother's kitchen table from my relatives, who are master storytellers disguised as mechanics, carpenters, car salesmen, telephone operators and little old ladies.

What is one of your favourite storytellers/spoken word/story artists?
Sherman Alexie. Tom Waits. Sam Shepard. Richard Van Camp.

What will you be telling at FOOL?
I haven't decided everything I will be telling yet. I usually have to see what the audience is like first, what the other tellers have to say, what is happening in the world on or around those days. That said, I have a couple of new ones chomping at the bit a little.

Tell us about some of your influences.

I am influenced by many singer songwriters who pay attention to story and language and the pacing of lyrics, such as Veda Hille, k-os, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, and that list could go on for a long time. Playwrights have also been creeping in to my conscious writing mind these days. Sam Shepard. Writers like John Irving, Tom Spanbauer, Thompson Highway, Sherman Alexie, some poets too. And then there are the filmmakers. I guess I am moved by the myriad of ways a good story can be told.

Why do you think story is important in this day and age?

I think story is important in every day and age.
Why do we need oral traditions when we have television, radio, internet?

For a lot of reasons. One that I have been thinking about a lot lately is that many of the ways we currently communicate (facebook twitter, skype, the internet in general) are not as accessible to people say, 60 years and older. This means we are cutting our elders out of the communication loop. They are not speaking to us as much and we are not listening. Think about the implications of this, on our histories, our inheritance of memory.

What inspires you?

life. people. how complicated and messy both are. How we are all so different and yet can have so much in common and not even know it.

How do you create your stories?

I drag them out of my head kicking and screaming using a combination of boiling hot water and verbal threats. Then I air dry them.

Advice for aspiring teller of tales, word artists, and web weavers?

Tell tales, make art from words and weave webs. As much as you can. Do not measure your success in financial terms. Do not take artistic advice from your brother the bank manager. Get up every day and jump off the terror cliff that is the artist's life. Stay away from hard drugs. Notice everything. Take notes. Repeat.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Interview with Tongues Wagging - Glenna Janzen and Carol Leigh Wehking

Tongues Wagging Productions ~ Storytelling is two storytellers: Carol Leigh Wehkingand Glenna Janzen – working together. Their performances include individual voice stories and stories told in tandem. Their tandem telling takes two voices and weaves them together into a unique and vibrant performance.

Who are your favourite storytellers/spoken word/story artists?

Jess Smith: look her up when you’re in Scotland!

Liz Weir: look her up when you’re in Ireland!

Peter Chand: look him up when you’re in the UK!

Hugh Lupton: see above.

Jan Blake: see above.

What will you be telling at FOOL?

We’ll be telling our two-voice adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.

Tell us about some of your influences.

Carol Leigh: Bonnie Beardsley my Theatre professor when I was an undergraduate; my family – my grandparents, my parents and my children

Glenna: My dad told us stories, and he always began, “when Uncle Herman and I were little girls like you and Lorraine…” – His playfulness has been a big influence. I’ve also been influenced by the stories of Mennonite wanderers and prisoners and immigrants – in my own family and others.

Why do you think story is important in this day and age?

Storytelling has always been important in every day and age because it’s able to speak to each person’s condition. – You don’t have to be able to read or even to speak to enjoy an oral story. And, of course, stories contain all the wisdom, as well as all the folly, of the world. We especially need our oral traditions when we have television, radio and internet because they are interactive and creative arts – creative on the part of the teller, and creative on the part of the listener, since stories invite and even depend upon the listeners’ participation.

What is your favourite book?

Here are some from Glenna: the Arthur Ransome Swallows and Amazons series; The Lizard Cage by Karen Connolly; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Here are some from Carol Leigh: Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda; The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill; the children’s books of E. Nesbitt.

What inspires you?


How do you create your stories?

We draw on many sources, including folktale, myth, history, family stories and experiences, literary stories, and our own imagination. Then we work like hell!

Advice for aspiring teller of tales, word artists, and web weavers?

As the Portuguese proverb says, First you listen, then you talk. – And in between, you work like hell!

Your favourite shops/restaurants/places to visit in Toronto?

Ten Thousand Villages on Bloor Street; Mount Everest Restaurant on Bloor Street; Laila on Bloor Street; Textile Museum; Bata Shoe Museum; The Music Garden on the waterfront.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Interview with Celia McBride

Celia McBride has been telling stories for over a decade as an award-winning writer/performer in theatre and film. Her work has reached audiences all across Canada as well as in Europe and the United States. She is the Co-Artistic Director of Sour Brides Theatre (www.sourbrides.com), a company based in her hometown of Whitehorse, Yukon, and an Inspiring Coach (www.celiamcbride.com). Celia is a member of the Playwrights’ Guild of Canada and a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada.

Tell us about your work with story? Have you always been a storyteller?

I have always been a storyteller but I didn't actually realize this until last spring when I was traveling on the Storytelling Road Festival in the NWT with the Northern Arts and Culture Centre.

I'm new to the "formal" art of storytelling and so I kind of felt like an emerging storyteller among a whole gang of established tellers. As the week went on and I got the chance to tell in a number of different places and experiment with style and form I realized that all the work I do as a theatre and film artist, the speaking I do, the workshop facilitation... all of it is storytelling and I am a Natural Born Storyteller. It was a pretty profound moment.

What is one of your favourite storytellers/spoken word/story artists?

Of course, Ivan Coyote. She and I are from the same hometown so when she tells I feel like we're family. I loved listening to Jim Green, who was on the road with us in NWT. He's fantastically funny. Evalyn Parry is a gem, too.

What will you be telling at FOOL?

I'll be telling a stylized piece called The Up. It's an autobiographical story about moving from the Yukon to Toronto when I was a kid and then ending up in Ireland as an adult. It's a bit of a fable in that there's a moral to the story at the end.

Tell us about some of your influences.

Oh, my gosh. How about just my latest? I'm being hugely influenced by the story of Jumping Mouse right now. It's a Native American legend about a mouse who gives away his sight to help a fellow creature and becomes an eagle as a result of his generosity. I aspire to that kind of humility and courage.

Why do you think story is important in this day and age?

We're disconnected from each other, we're disconnected from ourselves. We've lost our connection to a Higher Purpose. We need stories to remember why we're here. To inspire each other and to have faith in goodness.

Why do we need oral traditions when we have television, radio, internet?

TV, Radio and Internet call be a part of the oral tradition. But LIVE telling is so powerful. You can't beat being in the room with the teller.

What is your favourite book?

Right now I'm reading Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig. So it's the favorite of the moment.

What inspires you?

Coincidence, serendipity, being in the flow. Inspiring others. The experience of being present and fearless, feeling connected to everything and everyone. Rare and beautiful moments.

I actually have a business called Inspiring Works (www.celiamcbride.com) and I lead Inspiring Workshops and write an Inspiring Blog (http://cultivateyourcourage.blogspot.com/)! So, needless to say, inspiration is a vital part of who I am.

How do you create your stories?

I listen and record.

Advice for aspiring teller of tales, word artists, and web weavers?

Find out who you really are. Be true to that sense of your self. Telling is a privilege. "It's not about me."

Your favourite shops/restaurants/places to visit in Toronto?

After we left the Yukon, I grew up in Cabbagetown and the Annex so drop me off in either of those neighbourhoods and I'm in love.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Interview with Storyteller Naomi Steinberg

Naomi Steinberg believes strongly in the power of stories to catalyze and support change both personally and globally. She has told stories in places as varied as Jerusalem, Ramallah, Zurich, and Mendocino, California. In her home town of Vancouver, Canada she has produced shows independently as well as with the In the House Festival, Fringe Festival, and Sistahood Celebration, among others. Naomi has also developed storytelling workshops for schools in Vancouver, Morocco, Switzerland and India and for the Cortona Conference in Italy. In her current position as chair of the Vancouver Society of Storytelling, Naomi intends to foster an appreciation of the art in all of its aspects and applications for audiences of allsorts! (www.naomi-eliana.ca)

Tell us about your work with stories? Have you always been a storyteller?

I think I have indeed always been a storyteller. I grew up without a television and can still remember the epic adventures that I created in my head. There were a few re-occuring favorites and they always involved heroic problem solving and disaster avoidance with a whole bunch of animal helpers and great moments of expansive quiet, floating on the ocean.

What will you be telling at FOOL?

I have been asked to share some of the Bedouin stories I was told while on a story collecting journey in Israel and Palestine. Mmmmmmm yum ! I am looking forward to it !

Tell us about some of your influences.
So many ! The international community of people who flowed through my parents' home as I was growing up. Working with a community based, youth driven, public art project - two years of conversation and actions around social justice and arts based empowerment. Being introduced to the quiet centre of my mind and heart through meditation. Having the opportunity to witness, listen to and learn at the feet of so many powerful storytellers (Dan Yashinsky, Laura Simms, Nan Gregory, Melanie Ray, Jean-Pierre Makosso, Abegael Fisher-Lang, Anne Anderson, that old man in Marrakech's central square....) Kitchen table conversations with my Grandma and Zeida.

Why do you think story is important in this day and age?
I think that the simplicity of storytelling (no technology, no props) is a non-threatening non-coercive vehicle which allows for an experience of universal truth, love, wisdom. The more I hear a diversity of stories, the more I remember that there is no blueprint for a happy life, and I sure don't need to buy in to what mainstream media or advertising companies are telling me. An act of imagination and the courage to share it is an antidote for sterile learning environments, fractured families, apathy and sorrow. Story is the making of the world. Image a good one, tell it into being, gift your heart and breath to the world and the return is instantaneous.

It is important to enhance existing models of cultural cooperation and to foster public awareness and celebration of diversity. As storytellers, we have an exceptional tool for promoting tolerance and understanding, as well as for fostering leadership and communicating vision. As we take charge of our personal narrative, we find the courage to live with hearts and hands wide open - despite the global economic downturn, despite calamitous weather patterns, aging populations, disease and all the most popular horror stories of the nightly news – we continue to tell stories of inspiring personal triumph as well as sharing the profound wisdom of ancient myths and fairytales.

Why do we need oral traditions when we have television, radio, internet?

human to human, heart to heart, breath to breath, heat to heat, presence to presence, instantaneous, scary, vulnerable, willing and reciprocal EXPERIENCE of the storied moment.

How do you create your stories?

I try to open all my sense doors and speak what I discover. I use traditional folk and fairytales as my guide. Perhaps it is because I so much love that little story about how Truth was wandering about the town, but no body would invite her in because she was so stark in her nakedness...when Story saw this, she approached Truth and offered to dress her in a beautiful shining cloak. Since then, people can listen to and feel the Truth much more easily.

Advice for aspiring tellers of tales, word artists, and web weavers?

Go for it ! Find your ground. Stand on it. Be proud.... and as you feel the earth beneath your feet, be humble, open you mouth and.....speak !

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Interview with Co Artistic Director Lisa Pijuan-Nomura

You are a dancer, a visual artist, a monologuist - yet you describe yourself as essentially a storyteller. How does storytelling connect the many artforms that interest you?

LSPN: In all that i do, i seek story. For many years i would tell people that i was dancer/puppeteer/storyteller/visual artist, but it occured to me that the consistent link to all of my work is that it's story based. Whenever i start a new project, it has to have a strong story that can evoke visual images to me, and then i add the words, the movements the sounds. And that is how i am a storyteller.

After animating and producing many performance events over the years, what inspired you to launch FOOL - festival of oral literatures?

LSPN: When i first became active in the Toronto storytelling community, i was in awe of all of it's talent. And yet, i noticed that at many events, i was among one of the youngest tellers/listeners. I started looking around for my generation of storytellers, and found that they looked a bit different. Instead of using a more traditional way of telling like i had seen, some of the artists were singing stories, dancing them and telling them in more contemporary ways. I was interested in getting the two communities together in one room to see what sort of magical ruckus would occur. And so, Dan and I decided that it was a grand time to start FOOL!

Some of FOOL happens in house concerts. Why did you want to explore this way of presenting performances? Is there a new trend to presenting art in intimate settings?

LSPN: I think that in our day and age of computers, ipods, cell phone and all things that go beep, we have lost a connection to others. I feel like people don't look at each other in the eye any more. They are easily distracted in our very noisy world. I am interested in creating new ways of bringing people to stories. A house is a more sacred space, and as a guest, i think that it welcomes a new sort of listening. I wanted to bring new groups of people together so that they can listen in a new way. I think that house concerts are becoming popular again. New trend? I don't think so, i believe it's been happening for many years, but we just didn't know about it!

What happens to you and for you as a listener when you're hearing a great storyteller?

LSPN: It's a strange thing that happens when i hear a great storyteller, and honestly, it's a bit freaky. The best way to describe it is through a story. One night I was at 1001 Friday Nights of Storytelling and a great teller, Ron Evans began to tell a story. As he began to tell his story, time stopped and everything else fell away(just like the famous scene in West Side Story when Tony meets Maria) , and as i watched Ron, his face morphed and he became a young maiden, an old man, a creature, a bird. I thought that i was going crazy, but i looked around, and everyone else was fine. Ron didn't do anything to become those charachters, but it was like they became him. Like i said it was freaky, but it has happened a few times when i hear amazing tellers. Other times, i just sit there with a big grin on my face, like a child, and i often leave feeling energetic, filled with ideas, wanting more!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Interview with Co Artistic Director Dan Yashinsky

For the next few weeks I will be interviewing some of our featured tellers to give you an idea about who will be at the festival! Before we start with the tellers, i thought it would be best to start with Dan Yashinsky, who is my partner in crime, and the co-artistic director of the festival.

Tell us about your storytelling background?

I became a storyteller out of necessity. It was the only thing my eight-year-old campers would listen to. This was at a place called Bolton Camp, and we had the poorest kids from Toronto come up for two weeks at a time. They came from pretty rough backgrounds, and spent the days going batshit. But at night, when we settled down on logs around a campfire and the counsellor stood up to tell ghost stories, they became the greatest listeners in the world. That summer I decided I had to learn that particular kind of magic. It was a hard art to learn, especially for me. I was shy, nervous about speaking in public, and had a lousy memory. Also, I didn't know any stories. So I started to hang out with old women. They were retired children's librarians at Toronto Public Library, and I was a twenty-one-year old hippie from California, but it somehow clicked. I served a long apprenticeship. Then, after many years, I realized I had become a "storm fool". These were the wandering storytellers of the north who brought stories to people isolated on traplines. From my Bolton Camp beginnings, I've travelled to Brazil, Singapore, Germany, Israel, Austria, Wales, Ireland, England, Sweden, Holland, the US, and throughout Canada. Such is the way of a modern-day Storm Fool.

Why FOOL? And why right now?

The inspiration to organize a new storytelling celebration happened when I met you! I so much liked what you've done with RED at Lula Lounge, and with your storytelling/spoken word series SPEAK. You showed me that many artists are engaging with oral narrative in a variety of artforms. Dancers, poets, monologuists, puppeteers AND storytellers are working on the same artistic spectrum to explore the power of spoken-aloud stories. F.O.O.L. - festival of oral literatures is a way to honour this ferment and experimentation, bringing avant garde artists alongside people who know and treasure ancient oral traditions. To me, this mix of old and new is a sign of a living, growing art. Also, this year I received a Chalmers Arts Fellowship from Ontario Arts Council. It's given me time to do research, write, rehearse, travel AND organize this festival.

What can we expect at the festival?

Audiences and artists will be coming together in new, intimate, and sometimes surprising ways. I'm really excited to present six house concerts over two nights. Listeners will have a chance to hear some extraordinary storytellers, spoken word artists, dub poets, monologuists, and dancers in the intimacy of the host's living room. Then we have a whole morning at the Wychwood Art Barns, with a program called Bread and Stories. There are so many great stories about food, and you'll be able to do your market-going and hear stories. I think our special guests, Ivan Coyote from Vancouver and Regina Machado from Sao Paulo, are some of the finest storytellers in the world. On Saturday night they'll be at The Loop Centre for Lively Arts and Learning, at the Barns. And I'm especially excited to bring F.O.O.L. down to Kensington. In l978 I started 1,001 Friday Nights of Storytelling in a little cafe on Kensington Avenue. It's great to bring storytelling back to where it started for me.

Your most favourite cafe in Toronto?

That's the hardest question of all. I confess to being a cafe writer. Until Dooney's moved, that was my office away from home. Now I lurk about at Aroma, T-Cafe, I Deal in the market, The Common, and up on Eglinton, at Health Bakery. They have, if you can believe, great caps for $2.50, free WiFi, and a very haimishe (Jewish word: homey feeling) atmosphere.

Welcome to the FOOL blog!

Festival of Oral Literatures is a celebration of the mouth almighty, from storytelling to spoken word. F.O.O.L features experiments in oral narrative, traditional folktelling, collaborative performances, solo word-dancers, and a myth remix.

FOOL welcomes listeners and performers into spaces where the performance of oral stories opens an intimate connection between artist and audience. F.O.O.L. is being co-produced by GirlCanCreate and The Tellery, under the artistic direction of Lisa Pijuan-Nomura and Dan Yashinsky.

It takes place October 22 to October 25, 2009 at various locations in Toronto. F.O.O.L. features a wide range of storytellers, spoken word artists, and performers who use voice, movement, music, and story to create mind-movies for their audiences.

Performances take place in house concerts, at the Artscape Wychwood Barns, and in Kensington Market.

We are currently working on our website and it should be up in the next few days with all of the information!