Monday, September 29, 2008

Sweet Stories in the Pop

Greetings from Deniliquin. Karen and I are having a break from the big smoke and visiting family in country New South Wales.

Not that I've been idle mind you, I've been taking some time to update my website.

In the process, I came across the 'Sweet Stories in the Pop' project I did with Alex McCallum and Karen Tunny and one of the Radio Lollipop Mater Children's Hospital support teams in Brisbane.

It was such a sweet project - telling stories over Radio Lollipop and visiting the wards telling and creating stories with children in the wards.

I just enjoyed reading one of those stories 'Jimmy Makes a Wish'. Hope you'll enjoy its fresh, young innocence as well.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Co-Conspiratorial Audience

I have a confession to make. I am truly, truly sorry but I still have a friend who communicates not by email (sob). He still communicates by letter! I hesitate to reveal his name but I suspect no real harm will come to him so I will, it's, it's - Dennis Murphy.

The other retro habit Dennis has is he stays with people on his puppeteering tours. One of the discussion we had last time he stayed was about his researching into humour and audiences and he promised to send me some of his results. Turns out that was what the letter was. He got the address wrong however and, first of all it went off to 84 Stephens Road, which if it exists at all is the boys' school up the road. Well they returned it to Dennis and Dennis reposted it and we finally got our letter.

One of Dennis's collection of quotes about audiences reminded me of some performer/audience magic that happened this week. The quote is one from Dario Fo, the Italian Nobel Prize winning storyteller, actor, director and exponent of the traditional Italian theatre Commedia Dell'arte. He once said, according to Murphy,

'The public is my co-conspirator. My texts have been shaped and changed by their reactions.'

I have to totally agree with both Dennis and Dario and the little story adventure that I and my audience at the Inala Community Kindy embarked on the other day is a wonderful example. You see, a couple of years back I decided I absolutely had to have a story that celebrated Aussie men in all of their generosity and thoughtfulness so I created a story about 'Grandpa Chris who catches fish to share with all his friends.' I achieved the bit about how retired men make wonderful little contributions to social capital and generally speaking my older audiences really like the idea. My younger audiences get into it and more or less enjoy it but I've always been aware that if most of them had their way they would 'juice it up a bit' with either some adventure or some silliness.

So everytime I dust off Granpa Chris and bring him out for my audiences, I am aware of this tension. Now back to the kindy, this time as Grandpa Chris is out in his tinny singing his song and reeling in another fish, I sense that the audiences need for something crazy has almost reached cicada shrillness - they want Granpa Chris to catch a huge shark. So he does. He gets it back to shore and now what does he do. He puts it on his bicycle and, one of the girls, who obviously had been following this development with interest and in detail, said, "Granpa Chris sat on top of the shark on the bicycle!" Well that's exactly what he had to do and off he went to Grandpa Ted's place riding along on top of the shark.

This upset my 'nice' story quite a bit and gave me quite a bit of improvising work to do to get to a reasonable resolution and still leave the 'warm glow Granpas are all right' feeling. We managed it of course, audiences are very helpful like that. One of the girls, might have been the same one, helped tie up a loose end. She asked, "and what about the sharks head?" I had Grandpa Chris give it to the cat but, really I suppose, she would have been happier if the shark ate the cat.

So telling 'Grandpa Chris' will never be the same. I've conspired with my audience and the text has been reshaped.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

West End Digital Story Spaces Project

Readers of my austories blog might be excused for thinking that I only tell stories to, or with, children - far from it.

Our current project with the West End Community Storytelling Group - West End Digital Story Spaces - is now well underway. We've got the blog 'West End Stories' working well now with both text, maps and podcast entries complimenting each other.

We'll be adding lots more stories of course but, if you could visit the blog and make some supportive comments, our participants, many of whom have a mental illness or an intellectual disability, would appreciate it.

We've been making use of the free services of podomatic for our podcasting recordings and our next step will be to set up both YouTube and MySpace sites to get some video up and running.
If you could visit our westendstories podcast site and 'become a fan' 'join the mailing list' or 'record a comment' that would be great. You can tell your friends we'll be adding lots more podcasts and vodcasts as the project continues.

In the mean time, I thought you might like to have a listen to a story about one of our West End Story Spaces - the old Tristrams Factory that became the West End Markets building.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Special Persons Day and Clean Hands

Two shows today and both were at C&KA Kindergartens with pre-preps. One was back to a centre I hadn't been to for a few years so it was nice to get back there and find most of the same warm, friendly staff were there with a new director. Dinosaurs were big so my 'Baby T-Rex Story' had a good outing. It was good to see the wonderful dinorama that had been created in one of the rooms. One of the sign of the times however was the reqirement to carefully wash my hands with a full on detergent wash outside the kinder to avoid bringing in any peanut residues into the centre.

The other centre was having a 'special persons day' and it was great to be immersed in the really positive family and community feeling of the day again. One grandmother had seen me perform at one of these four other times. We seemed like old friends. 'Grandpa Chris went catching fish', 'Dragon Girl' and a fun filled improvisation set at the beach made up the bill.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Guardian Angels by the Seaside

Spent the morning in the company of Angels today - Prep and Year One students at Guardian Angels Primary in Bay Terrace at Wynnum. They had opted for this week as their Book Week and the library was full of Book Fair so I got to perform in their class rooms.

There was a good energy at the school so we had some fun with stories. Generally I told two and improvised one and usually tried to keep these to stories about the bay and the area and to make sure they were lots of fun. This is when knowing a local area comes in handy. You can easily add specific detail to a setting or, perhaps even better, ask a question that allows your audience to add good detail.

An example of this is the story about year 1 students going on excursion down to the bay. As they walked down the hill they saw a pelican come skidding in across the water to land. Twice the pelican plunged its beak into the water, caught a fish and swallowed it. The third time though it caught a sand shoe full of old bones and a map, a treasure map. Of course the children had to follow the map and when they did the pelican followed them. They went along the foreshore to the old wading pool a favorite spot for all local children. It was nice to be able to ask, "Is there a slippery slide in the middle of the pool now?" and have them show off their local knowledge, "Yes, they built a new one."

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(Here's the wading pool in the middle of its refurbishment.)

They found the treasure at the bottom of the wading pool but when they opened up the treasure chest, it was the pelican that filled its beak and flew off with it.

Another of the local interest points is the mangrove board walk so that had to be in a story as well. Because we were talking about pets (I'd told one of my pet stories 'Socks the Kitten'), the leash free dog exercise area was offered by the children as an important detail.

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I did wonder momentarily whether or not the idea of a T-rex's eyeball hanging in a spider web was a good idea or not, after all, I'd never seen either a Trex or one of its eyes anywhere near the board walk, but who am I to get in the way of a good story idea? Needless to say, Jack was saved from the T-rex and his favourite dog Rover helped. The children did think it was a good idea to tell the story at other schools so I think I might just do that.

From angels by the seaside come very salty stories. So thank you Guardian Angels for asking me to perform as part of your book week celebrations.