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January 13, 2010

Greetings to all and a very Happy New Year!!

 Recently, I re-visited a fascinating place in Vancouver with a vast array of aboriginal artifacts and art: the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Once again, I found myself looking up at a huge yellow cedar sculpture, “The Raven and the First Men”. The sculpture depicts the moment in Haida mythology when Raven found the first humans inside a clam shell. I remembered – the first time – walking around and around it, marveling…. I must have spent twenty minutes staring at the confused and fearful little people peering out of that shell and the wonderfully enigmatic expression on Raven’s face. Looking into that face, I think I finally understood the character of the trickster; the shape-shifter. It is all there: the wisdom, fickle pride, greed, mischief, and power in Bill Reid’s magnificent carving.

 It is hard to believe that I have been back in the Pacific Northwest for ten years now. But my five years in Jonesborough, Tennessee are being re-created in a new and exciting way. As many of you know, Jonesborough is the home of the annual National Storytelling Festival. It is also the place where I began as a storyteller. On March 19th, I will premiere a new one woman show called “Playparty: Stories and Songs of Appalachia.” The program, part of the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts (WICA) Family Series, is my way of saying “Thank you” to all those who helped me in those early years. Steve Showell, a wizard with the banjo and fiddle, will provide musical vignettes and the audience will be invited to play games with us, sing along, and share in our re-creation of an older, simpler time. See “Upcoming Events” for more information.

 One of my Christmas gifts was a wonderful new book by Don Stolz, celebrating his sixty-fourth year as owner/director of the Old Log Theater in Excelsior, Minnesota. For ANY theater, that is an incredible achievement, but for a small regional theater with no government or commercial subsidy whatsoever, it’s absolutely amazing.  I spent two memorable summers at the Old Log as a teen: my first experience with professional theater. As Don says in his book, those were the “old days” when we did a show a week for thirteen weeks. Actors worked from “sides” (their lines and a cue line), not scripts; we performed one show at night and rehearsed another during the day. Reading the book brought back a flood of memories – and a realization, once again, that those two summers gave me such a solid foundation in the basics of performing. Many congratulations – and thank you, Don!

 In preparation for a February performance, I re-read one of Willa Cather’s early novels called “O, Pioneers!” The main character, Alexandra Bergstrom, a stolid Swedish immigrant pioneer, is one of those strong but flawed characters I am drawn to. She is a perfect case study for a new workshop I am presenting called “Creating Characters You (and Your Listeners) Can Believe In”. Master storyteller Donald Davis in his workshops talks about the importance of Setting in our stories. While I agree that Setting is important, for me, the most important element in any story is the Characters. In my workshop, I help storytellers and others who use story in their work to create characters that will stick in the memory of their audiences long after they forget where the story took place or what actually happened. See “Venues and Workshops” for more information.

May 2010 bring all of us everything we need… and some of the things we want. Blessings to all

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