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.

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