Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Notes from the Field: The Gift of Light

Yesterday my first two shows since returning from Argentina had a surreal feel to it. Fighting NOT to say, "Hola!", and explain that I was from the United States, was down right hard. After three weeks of many shows, that little bit of a lead in has come to feel very "in my body". But, though I fought off the urge to talk REALLY, REALLY fast like I always did in Argentina - to demonstrate how fast some of us in the NYC area speak, and to loosen up the crowd - and I told some tales that had been sitting on the shelf while I was in South America, I did turn, in my second show to a story that got a really good work-out during my Buenos Aires time, I call it "The Little Light". In brief, the story concerns a king, who, before he retires, must chose which of his three sons is best suited to take his place. All three are good men, the eldest excels in business, and has the bags of gold to back it up. The second is a talented farmer, who's every seed produces a wonderful bounty. The third is a bit of a dreamer, he tells stories, sings songs, his presence makes people glad that they have met him. All have qualities that would make them a good leader, but which, the king muses, should wear the crown. Finally, the king comes up with a challenge: whichever son can fill up a little room completely - from floor to ceiling, and from wall to wall - that is the one the king will make ruler of the kingdom. The eldest son, though he brings bags and bags of gold, cannot fill the room. The middle son, comes with his crops, but he cannot fill the room either. Finally, the youngest son comes, and from a small pocket, he pulls out a candle, that lights up the entire room - from floor to ceiling, and from wall to wall - and it is he who becomes king. What I love about this story, is that it is one that can be as short as I need it to be, or as long - if I do, what I have soooooooooooooo come to love, and ask the audience it's opinion. During my time in Argentina, I played the role of king, wandering into the audience asking which son I should pick, three or sometimes four times a day. Some audiences were split, calling for the "business man" as much as for the "farmer". Some only wanted, the third son, who I sometimes nicknamed in my telling "the popular guy". Then, right before the youngest son (popular guy) revealed what he had in his pocket to fill the room, I paused and asked the students what they thought. And, that was my favorite part!!! Here are some answers I have heard: flashlight, i-pod, cellphone, music, invitation to a party, balloons, air, nothing, a bomb, a gun (these last two were from the same school - a bit disturbing!), matches, one of those inflatable bouncey castles they have at fairs, glitter, bubbles, a lantern, laughter, love, joy. I have gotten candle right off the bat, and yesterday, at the science camp I was performing at (back here in USA), I got dry ice, and a mini fog machine!! What I also love about this story, is that I can really tailor it to any age, I have told this tale to 8 year olds, all the way up to adults. But, what is most fascinating about this story to me, is the way it came into my life. From time to time, I get "requests" - asking me if I can learn a particular tale for a special event. This is always a tricky affair for me, because, generally, as a teller, I try to only tell stories I LOVE. Since these stories are going to be living in my head, inhabiting my body, I try, much like one tries to only put good food in one's mouth, to only pick tales that touch me in some way, make me laugh, make me think, make me WANT to express it in my own way - plus, as my mother would be happy to tell you, I don't like being told what to do!! So two years ago, when I was approached by a school to tell stores about light for their Winter's Solstice, I was happy to do so - I had some tales I already tell that would fit, and I knew a few others, I have on my list to work on (I don't know if all storytellers do this, but I have this sort of "wish list" of stories, that I am forever working my way down, of stories that I have read and fallen in love with, and want to work up for performance - it's endless, and I LOVE that!!) But, just as I was merrily on my way to type up their contract, the woman who was organizing the event said, "And there's this story, that we REALLY NEED you to tell." She didn't know anything about it, except she thought it was African, and they needed me to tell it last, so that then they would all light candles for a sing-along. I have to admit, that at first glance, I did not fall in love with this tale - but, sometimes, a gig is a gig, and so I worked it up the story, and arrived at the school. The moment I got there, I knew I was in for it. All the elements that I ask not to have nearby if someone asks me to tell at a party, were there in full force - tables of sugary food, right next to where I was to be, balloons, and other (really beautiful, and touchable decorations), music from another room's art fair, low lights, a barely working mike, a room packed with sugared up children, and adults holding baby quiches and wine - OH, OH!!! I got the music turned off, some of the food moved, asked the kids to come forward, and the adults to hang back, and I started. It was no picnic - you can hide cookies, but it they are good - and these were, the scent hangs in the air, so the kids wanted them, and walked across my "stage" to get them, the microphone seemed like it to was ready for winter break, and the voices from every other room in that school seemed to be travelling in my direction. I slogged on, because, frankly, I didn't have a choice. And then, finally, I got to the end, and told the requested story - my contact beamed with joy, as she physically "shushed" everyone living being in the room - so I had blissful silence for this tale. She was anxious to get to the candle lighting, so I did not "extend" the story, I told it simply, and I could feel my heart, begin to turn in the story's direction. As I left, it was the memory of those last minutes, of the word light, and of the glowing candle-lit faces in the room. I put that story away for a long time - I figured it was a "one off" - learned for just that occasion, but then one day, half way through telling one story - it popped into my brain, and it was the next story to pop out of my mouth. This time I had the luxury of being able to inquire as to what the kids thought might be in the youngest sons pocket, and as I saw those hands shoot up, ramrod straight, and the cry of "OOh!! OOOH, I know!!" I began to see the beauty of this tale, and it climbed onto my "A-list". In Argentina, it became a "go-to" story for me. The premise simple enough, that with just a little bit of change in my vocabulary, I could make even the less advanced English speakers (and there were not many) understand the king's dilemma. And, oh, how once the ball got rolling in terms of ideas, it just didn't stop. Seeing the joy in the faces of the kids as they answered, filled me with something one kid suggested - DELIGHT! Yesterday, back home in NYC, I saw the same joyful raising of hands, heard that squeal of excitement that seems to leave our bodies at age 12 or so, and I was so thankful for that crazy gig, that started off with so many challenges but, ultimately, gave me a gift that fills me with LIGHT!!

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