Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Saskatoon Storytelling

Friday night is storytelling night in Saskatoon. Or at least the 3rd Friday of every month. That is when storytellers gather for an informal session that usually runs about two and a half hours. The core, the driving force, behind the group (we call ourselves the Saskatoon Storytellers Guild) are a small group of half-a-dozen or so professional tellers who have been involved for a long time.  Many of us are members of the Storytellers of Canada, Conteurs duCanada. Chris Lindgren keeps the books and runs the group email list. Other regulars who tell in libraries and schools are Kathy Bennett, Judith Benninger, Russ Frith, Bonnie Logan, and Garry Tisdale. Balladeer Paddy Tutty brings her dulcimer and contributes. Sometimes other professionals also manage to be in the city on the right day. Last week it was Kevin Mackenzie from Regina who joined us. Occasionally teller, musician and actor Joseph Naytowhow is in the city and drops by, much to the delight of all. The there are a few who might be classed as semi-professional. Wayne and Shirley Handley probably fit this bill as do I. There is woodwork to do, grand children to visit, fish to catch and writing to finish, or maybe start. 

Then there are the more-or-less regulars who come out to enjoy an evening of stories and share experiences. We are usually a group of about twenty who gather at 7.30 of an evening. Our venue of late has been the Unitarian Centre on 2nd street, which is a friendly spot with comfortable chairs.

Each time we meet one of us acts as “host.” This is not an arduous task as it just means that the host has to choose a theme for the evening and make sure that the tea and coffee supplies arrive at the same time as the people. 
Here Kevin and Christine share a moment during the break. The coffee and tea supplies are at the back.  Those who can do so bring some sort of goodies, for the break. Home-made muffins, oatmeal cookies, some sort of chocolate delight. It’s all good.

Last week Rhonda was our host. She chose an open-ended theme of birds or flight and as usual the theme stories were the first to be told in the story circle as brief anecdotes. In storytelling tradition some sort of object is passed around the circle and is held by the teller. It shows who has the floor. It is often a stick, but can be a hat or a stone. That’s up to the host. Rhonda chose to use a sculpture of a small duck—probably a teal.

Highly appropriate, and here she is at the right of the circle starting the proceedings off.

All nineteen of us gave a short account of some sort of bird, or near-bird encounter. It was fun to listen to the variety of stories that emerged. We had naturally had stories from Canada, but also from Kenya, Ecuador and France. The Canadian ones included accounts of humming birds in Tofino, LBJs (unidentified Little Brown Jobs) south of Moose Jaw, a successful killdeer nest on a driveway and the disadvantages of winning a duckling in a raffle. For those who have never had such luck, it is definitely a two-edged sword. 
As teller Bonnie put it, a duckling’s output is somehow greater than its intake, which can be a disadvantage if the pet is sitting on your head. The wooden teal in Bonnie’s hands is definitely not the pet one.

Rob told us how he and his family went birding at North America’s oldest bird sanctuary at Last Mountain Lake but instead watched as 1900 head of cattle crossed the road, mustered by just three cowboys. It took a long time and not much bird watching occurred. We heard about an escaped budgie that eventually came back, and a blue and gold macaw that cleaned its handler’s ears near the Arc de Triomphe. Kevin must have thought he was at a liar’s contest. His anecdote started out as being more-or-less believable, but soon morphed into a fantasmagoric account of a swan’s broken wing, surgery, a famous film star, a sauna bath and an unusual tissue transplant for the patient with the wing of a rare Central American duck. Of course he has to wring the duck’s neck to steal the wing. He had us all in stitches.

The session after the break is always for prepared stories that can be on any theme. They always range across the full gamut and at least one is likely to involve the third son of an impoverished family succeeding when his brothers have failed. In this case it was not only the third son but he had to complete three seemingly impossible tasks. Of course he got the girl–what else would you expect?  There were folk tales, a Maasai animal story, stories from a time before time and stories with a moral.

A typical storytelling evening, and a good time was had by all. We don’t know if everyone will live happily ever after.

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