November 15th, 2009

storyteller doll

Lower Brandywine and Bill Harley closer to home

I pretty much collapsed early Friday evening, which meant it was not too hard to get up early Saturday morning to drive up to Wilmington, Delaware for the Lower Brandywine Storytelling Festival. I still managed to get out of the house about a half hour later than I'd intended to, which meant I missed the very beginning of Willy Claflin's workshop on fracturing fairy tales. I heard enough to get the gist of his approach, which amounts to keeping the plot and substituting the characters.

But I was in plenty of time for the performances. There were two morning olios - one with Ed Stivender and Willy Claflin and one with Bil Lepp and Kim Weitkamp. I thought Bil was in particularly fine form with his piece about James Fenimore Cooper and inflatable Easter bunnies. The other olio was right after lunch and featured Bill Harley and Andy Offutt Irwin. Andy was the one teller on the program I had never heard before. His style was a bit frenetic and somewhat hard for me to follow, frankly.

Each of the tellers then had a one hour featured performance. I was pleased that Ed debuted a new story, but 2 p.m. is a low energy time of day and I admit to having dozed in the middle of it. I thought Kim did an excellent job, especially with a very sweet story about her mother. Andy lost me again, probably because he is from Georgia and I admit to needing subtitles when I get south of about Richmond.

Eight year old Olivia Merryman told three cute little stories. Then came the open mike, which I led off. This festival is fairly focused on personal stories, so I told "Thank You, Miss Tammy," which went over well. There were a fair number of people who told, only one of whom (a high school boy) seemed uncomfortable. My theory is that if you're going to make a fool of yourself, you should at least do so confidently.

The evening session started off with Willy telling a long complicated story sort of about goats. He then did an intergalactic version of Lady Ragnell (which fit in nicely with his morning workshop) and a couple of little Maynard Moose stories. (He'd done "Pegamoose" in the afternoon. The evening had "The Wolf Who Cried Sheep" and "The Grasshopper and the Ants." I may have strained my laugh muscles.) Then came Bill Harley with a tale about Motown, which made me go around singing "Build Me Up Buttercup" for a few hours. Bil Lepp has really grown on me, but I admit I liked the digressions in his story about a scout camp and what happened to a supply of canned tuna there better than the main thread of the story.

All in all, it was an awesome line-up and well worth driving up to Delaware. Especially since the festival is free.

I stayed up that way last night and drove home early this morning. In the afternoon, I went over to Jammin' Java to see Bill Harley do his family show. He did do a couple of the songs he'd done at Lower Brandywine and a lot of other material. I was particularly entertained by a story about a girl who really did have a monster living under her bed. By the way, I had a minor epiphany during his show. See, there were some parents participating just fine. But there were others who were talking with their friends and not trying to get their kids to sing along or even to pay attention. I realized that those very same children will grow up some day. And when they grow up, they will go to baseball games and they will sit during the seventh inning stretch instead of getting up and singing along to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" as is right and proper. If only children were taught properly to sing along at a young age, we could halt this decline of social capital. Robert Putnam was wrong. The problem is not that we aren't joining bowling leagues. It's that we aren't singing along.

Sing to halt the decline of Western civilization.