Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Storytellers Unite

Storytellers Unite
Traditional meets unconventional at eVOCative festival

Ashleigh Mattern
The StarPhoenix

Monday, June 16, 2008

Saskatoon is storyteller central this summer as the city plays host to two of the industry's conferences and a festival of oral performance.

Storytellers from across Canada and around the world will be coming to Saskatoon to attend the eVOCative festival and The Oral, the Written and Other Oral Media conference from June 19 to 21, and the Storytellers of Canada annual conference from July 2 to 6.

While the conferences are fine-tuned to the interests of performers and academics working and creating in the field, both conferences have a little something for everyone.

In the case of The Oral, the Written and Other Oral Media, main organizer Susan Gingell has also organized a festival of oral performance to complement the conference. Gingell said it was important to her to bring artists and academics together.

"Too often (artists and academics) operate in isolation from one another," she said. "Perhaps idealistically, I believe that good things can come out of the dialogue between the two groups."

Gingell also wanted to open up the event to the Saskatoon community. There will be two free readings and performances at McNally Robinson: Dub poet d'bi.young.anitafrika will launch her new book, blackness . . . and other rivers . . . between us, on June 18 as a pre-festival warm up, and spoken word and movement artist Catherine Kidd and poet Paul Dutton will be reading on June 19. The conference also includes two free discussions and a storytelling workshop.

The Storytellers of Canada conference also features events open to the public. A concert on July 3 will feature performances from story-singer Norm Walker, storytellers Gary Tisdale, Jim Drake, Vincent Murphy and Paddy Tutty, and a unique performance from American Sign Language storyteller Teresa Fleming.

This will be the first Storytellers of Canada conference to feature a performance from a deaf storyteller. Fleming will tell the story through sign language and have an interpreter.

"We're opening it up to the deaf community," said organizer Kathy Bennett. "You'll get the story through the interpreter, but keep your eye on Theresa."

The second public event is a concert on July 5. With local actor and storyteller Henry Woolf as master of ceremonies, the concert will feature storytellers Ivan Coyote, Lorne Brown, Marie Anne McLean, Judith Poirier and Melanie Ray.

While the conferences differ in focus, they agree that oral traditions are a part of every culture. The eVOCative festival and conference include performers from as far away as Jamaica and Australia, while the Storytellers of Canada conference focuses on a couple of cultures closer to home: Metis and Ukrainian.

Although the eVOCative festival and conference features artists from all over the world, Gingell said she wanted to give aboriginal oral traditions prominence.

"I knew that I wanted a very strong aboriginal component because aboriginal oral traditions are the foundations of this kind of thing and in this space," said Gingell.

The eVOCative event Crow Hop Cafe showcases some of the top aboriginal talent today. Curated by poet and comedian Neal McLeod, the Crow Hop will feature hip hop artist Eekwol, storyteller and singer Joseph Naytowhow, and storytellers Maria Campbell, Kimberly Blaeser and Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm.

Eekwol, known off-stage as Lindsay Knight, is one of the less-traditional performers at eVOCative, but she said she fits right in.

"Originally hip hop was very much all about storytelling," said Knight. "It was all about explaining and defining an experience or a situation that a person was in, and it's a way of expressing through words and poems, and just expressing struggle. I found that hip hop really related to me because my ancestral history is all about oral traditions."

Bennett, who will perform at both the eVOCative festival and the Storytellers conference, said she thinks storytelling is making a comeback.

"(Storytelling) fell off the face of the Earth for a while and it's coming back," said Bennett. "And I think it's wonderful. It's a way of communicating. It's learning how to talk to people again."

The eVOCative festival pass costs from $14 to $18. Single tickets to the Crow Hop Cafe or eVOCative Cabaret cost from $8 to $12. Full conference fees are $125 for the public, and include a festival pass. Festival passes and individual event tickets are available at the Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company, McNally Robinson Booksellers and The Refinery.

The Storytellers of Canada full conference pass costs $180 for non-members, or $75 for a day pass. Tickets to the storytelling concerts are $12 to $20 and are available at 8th Street Books and Comics, McNally Robinson Booksellers, Academy Piano Rebuilders and the U of S Bookstore.
© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2008

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