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Fair & Furious @ Celtic Club, Melbourne, 24/25 February.

A new one-woman show devised and performed by Niki na Meadhra.

“Some academics have declared The Táin misogynistic in its treatment of female characters, but having spent time with them, as a storyteller, I can’t agree – unless my only measure of women is to characterise them as whores or virgins. To me, these women and goddesses are sexually or sensually bold, potent, complex and vivid.” Niki na Meadhra, Storyteller.

Through her energetic, physical, evocative telling of the tales of Medb, Macha, Derdriu, the Morrígan and others, Niki invites her audience to consider their own response the women of the Táin.

Where: The Celtic Club, Brian Boru Room (wheelchair accessible), n=316-320 Queen Street, Melbourne (between Flagstaff and Central stations, and on Circle tramline).

When: Friday 24 Feb. at 8pm and Saturday 25 Feb. at 3pm.

Cost and Bookings: $30 full price; $20 for those with Commonwealth Health cards and students; $15 for school children.  Bring the kids.

To book: Trybooking or phone 03 9898 2900

About Niki na Meadhra:

If you missed Niki’s other show, you must not miss this. She has not long returned from a tour of Ireland, where she has continued to  gather stories, and refine her craft, to great acclaim.  She is a highly experienced and well-trained actornikisepia who also teaches performing arts. Her family connections tie her strongly to Ireland and she loves its mythologies, and communicates its mythology and cosmology with infectious joy.

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A Mantra for Hard Times

When I was 12, I almost drowned in a rip, off Coffs Harbour. Seven of us were caught in the rip and fortunately all survived. My father was with me, a bronze medallion swimmer, but unfortunately unaware of how to deal with a rip. We were rescued by some local boys who were wagging school. Bless them.

The feeling of being under a huge amount of water and not know which way is up has stayed with me all these years. Surfacing and seeing the once close shore far off in the distance remains like a photograph in my memory.

I remember what Dad said to me when we were so far outlorne-sunset-2-april-2016, with no idea of how, or if, we would get back to the beach.

“Swim when you can. Roll over and float on your back when you need to rest.”

Not a bad mantra in difficult times.

My Enchanted Evening Rehearsing With Saray Illuminado

halva-and-teaAs a theatre maker and storyteller of many years, I have attended countless rehearsals – but none quite like last night. My heart is so full of the joy of it this morning that I woke up wondering how I could share it with you.

I was invited by the delightful Nela Trifkovic, to collaborate with Saray Illuminado on an evening of story and music unplugged, at Eagle’s Nest, an intimate venue in Brunswick. Nela described their music as being something like a Balkan take on Portuguese Fado; music of longing, romance and layered rhythmic sensuality. The songs are full of rich imagery and symbol and even if they are not in a language you understand, the music speaks a universal language that is transporting.

This sent me off to do my homework, as a storyteller does, to find stories from the region of Bosnia and Herzegovina that could sit beside this rich Sevdah music.  My detective work took me to stories from Illyrian and Slovenish sources, the Sephardic Jewish tradition and the poetry of the Sufis. Next, I had to choose some stories and begin to learn them.

Finally, the night arrived for my first rehearsal with Saray Illuminado. I left home excited, hoping that I had learned the stories well enough to tell them clearly and check that I was on the right track.

We met in Irine’s beautiful home, where I was warmly welcomed.  Looking around the table, these were all people I had seen perform over many years and admired their musicianship and drank up their music.  Before any rehearsing was to be done, we shared a feast, beautifully spread across the table. The group had not seen each other since before Christmas and it was lovely to be among the warmth of their reconnecting, the sharing of personal stories and much laughter.  It was delicious food, shared on small plates, best eaten with the fingers and washed down with strong coffee and the best halva in Melbourne – apparently you can die from over-eating it.  So the story goes. A little grappa followed to finish the meal. As we ate, I told two of my stories, which were warmly received and added to with comments about their origins and other stories they were related to from a broad array of cultures.

When it came time for the musical rehearsal, the instruments came out right where we had been eating. No-one left the table. Instead, the same circle that had been warmed with friendship and the sharing of food, was woven round with rich rhythms; sighing, thrumming strings from Ernie Gruner and Irine Vela; the sweet cry of the ney from Kelly Dowall; bone shaking bass from Dan Witton – and Nela’s unforgettable voice that seems to call out to your heart and at the same time tell the tales of the ages – all peoples, all lands and all time – with the earthiness of long-lived wisdom.

I felt the music in my core, feet tapping and body rocking, until the night drew to a close. Instruments were packed away and we left each to our own homeplace, after warm farewells, and left-overs generously gifted into grateful hands.

What a privilege to be among such people of good heart and outstanding skill! I’m so looking forward to telling stories in their fine company.

There are still some tickets left for February 12th, but I suggest you book soon!

https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=254148

http://www.sarayiluminado.com/

Happy Imbolg/Imbolc/St. Brigid’s Day!

In the old traditions, still very much alive today, an Cailleach, Wise Woman – Crone, descends and the Maiden Goddess rises today in Ireland. Of course, on this side of the globe, the reverse is true…though we will not feel the chilly breath of an Cailleach for some months.

She is our Mother Earth, the soil from which we come, the water in the stream, fire in the hearth, the belly and the breast. She knows that in the midst of life we know many deaths – physical, psychological, spiritual – for she is the one who dies and is reborn eternally. Her flame has been kept alight down through the ages.

 

Happy Imbolg/rising-goddessImbolc/Biddy’s Day/Bride’s Day/St. Brigid’s Day to all those celebrating today – cutting the grasses and weaving the crosses or laying out a shawl to catch the dew – however and wherever you celebrate. May all who cross your threshold know her blessing in 2017 – and always.

 

Painting by Niki na Meadhra

When Time Stood Still

It was a wonderful time we had at Open Studio, Northcote, yesterday afternoon, travelling to Ireland and back via folklore and legend, while the rest of Melbourne jubilantly celebrated a story of a very different kind – as the Western Bulldogs brought home the Cup at the AFL Grand Final.

Open Studio is such an ambient space for telling and listening to stories. Thanks to Tania Bosak for giving me a spot and for her encouragement to come again. This place also has special significance for me, as it is across the road from Northcote Town Hall, where my beloved grandfather, Tom Walsh, served on council for 14 years and was mayor twice. Having imagined performing there many times, when I have attended the fabulous live music events they produce, it was a joy to realise a dream and invite others into the stories there.

My warmest thanks to: Anna and Natasha, who looked after the venue, bar and crepes; Tom Rogers for teching sound; Dayle Walker for Front of House and Paul Gorman for taking photos.

Thanks to all of you who came along for the stories. Many of you have become regulars, but there were also some new faces in the audience and going by the feedback there was something for everyone in the stories served up. It was great to chat to you all after the show and hear how the different stories sparked your interest. I know at least one audience member was heading home to tell the stories to her children. Being an adult audience, it was also great to hear how much these stories still are meaningful and powerful for all ages, which is why I love them and will keep telling them. The lovely Jo Windred particularly liked my telling of an Irish legend developed from a portion of the epic saga of The Táin Bó Cúailnge, or The Cattle Raid of Cooley. She said she felt that ‘time stood still’ and was keen to hear more legends. With pleasure, Jo!

A few people asked about being added to my mailing list for future events and you can contact me at: dracohearth@gmail.com and just put MAILING LIST in the title of the email and I’ll add you for the next mail out.

Thanks again to Open Studio and all those who came to enjoy the stories with me!

 

Thanks to Debbie Rawlings for this photo.

In Memoriam – 11/9/2016

I remember watching TV the morning of 9/11 and being shocked at what unfolded. I’m not sure if it was on the TV or the radio at the same time, that someone announced that if Australia was called to join in a response to this atrocity, that we would send troops and their would be conscription if necessary.

I sat with tears streaming down my face. My son was of an age that he could be conscripted, or close to it and built like a warrior. I wept with rage and silently vowed that they would not have my son. I had loved him and raised him and they would not have him. They would not have him to throw his life, his potential, his blossoming self – to throw like fodder into the gaping mouth of some anonymous war machine. I shuddered and wept and raged.

Suddenly, a door opened in me and I was connected to all women, all mothers, all time – all those who have had a son – or daughter, a husband, a brother, a friend – sent to war and casually slaughtered in the name of something senseless and momentary; anyone who had lost someone, or had them injured, traumatized, changed by the ravages of war. The waste of lives had always been visible and palpable to me, but this intimate feeling of loss and devastation was new; this knowing someone and loving them deeply and having them sacrificed on a foreign altar, when they were just beginning in life.

Then an announcement came that the earlier announcement about conscription and participation by Australia was irresponsible and premature and there were apologies.

I sighed heavily, but in those minutes I had been changed.

At 19, I had worked as a clerk, for the Australian Defence Force, at Victoria Barracks, for 12 months. The senior men I worked alongside, who had ‘seen action’ told stories about their experiences and talked about the senselessness of war and the need to keep the peace. This made sense to me.

Standing in the shoes of all those who have lost someone to war, on that morning of 9/11 was more than an experience of story that made sense, it was the experience of a story that was personal. This is where empathy is born, when we remember – “There, but for the grace of the gods, go I.”

Today, as images of the slain, the injured and the displaced fill the stories that we share around the globe, I cannot remain detached.

Peace is not a thing, an object, a fact. It is a dynamic web of relationships we must create together every day.

 

 

 

Image: The Ghost of Loss by Niki na Meadhra

 

An Irish Weaving from Tel Aviv

When I was in Northern Ireland last year, I was lucky to stay with storyteller, Liz Weir, who is an inspiration, a mentor and a friend. She introduced me to Guy Goldstein, a visual artist and musician from Tel Aviv, who was doing an Artist Residency, in the Curfew Tower, in Cushendall.

Liz and I chatted with Guy over tea, about his work and he recorded one of Liz’s stories and one of my songs. A couple of days ago, he contacted me to share the work he’d made that included both.

This is what Guy says about his art:

“As both a visual artist and musician, I am fascinated by the transitions between forms – attempts to convert actions from one medium to another, specifically between the visual and sonic. The relationships between sound and image in my work are rarely linear or teleological, and the process of transition between them is crucial, including chance or human mistake involved. I often employ a cyclical logic, in which each form is an impetus for another kind of form, as a means of investigating the mechanics and emotions of perception. In its malleable shapes, the information at the core of each piece gains an essential presence, though it is no longer readable in its original format.”

My song was written in Ireland as a response to a letter from an Irish ancestor, kept in my family since 1871. While I was visiting the place it was written from, I was moved by the realisation that my son, at the time, was the age of my ancestor who had migrated to Australia, all those years before. I suddenly felt a deep empathy for the anguish his parents must have felt, when their only son left them and sent no word for 8 years. They thought he had died. The letter I have is very emotional. It was their first letter to him, after they had received his first letter home, 8 long years later.

Guy has woven my song with sounds of the sea, a community at prayer, shipping bells at other sounds and in doing so has captured the landscape and the longing that lead me to write my song.

My warmest thanks go to Guy – I am so delighted to hear my song re-contextualized like this! It is made new and at the same time made more potently what it originally was intended to be. It reminds me what a joy it is to collaborate with other artists and how that process stimulates further creativity and grows our work.

My song is woven into Track 2: Farewell to Love and Liz’s wonderful story is central to Track 9: End of Story. The whole play list is rich and fascinating and I encourage you to get some good headphones and enjoy it all. It is a sonic window into Guy’s time in Northern Ireland.

Guy is looking to tour this work and I wish him well its ongoing manifestation in the world.

You can listen here:

https://soundcloud.com/guy-goldstein-928476579/sets/memorable-equinox

Embracing all our stories.

If there was ever a time in the world that we needed to tell our stories and at the same time, listen well to the stories of diverse others and find a way to embrace them all – now is that time.

There is room for all our stories and perhaps we need to remember HOW to make room for all the stories. One story does not cancel out another. We need to remember the skills of our ancestor weavers, who could take threads of many colours and weave harmonious fabrics and baskets, to clothe us and to contain all we need.

Thanks Tololwa Mollel and Chris Cavanagh, for your insight and clarity.

Listen here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sL52U7YNYl0

Profound wisdom in Oral Tradition

Through all the many traditional stories I have read from around the world and the places they have taken me, I have developed a deep appreciation for ancient indigenous cultures and how their oral histories are interwoven with their landscapes, the creatures they co-habit with, their communities and the way the make meaning physically, mentally and spiritually in the world.

I am really looking forward to reading this new book by Lynn Kelly, "The Memory Code."

http://www.news.com.au/technology/science/archaeology/book-extract-has-australian-researcher-lynne-kelly-discovered-the-secret-to-stonehenge/news-story/9f8acc3c765b9e64151d3bc5bd5c4f0f

Hooray for National Celtic Festival 2016!

Huge thanks to all the good folk who make the National Celtic Festival Australia Official happen every year – crew, volunteers, sponsors, artists, the good people of Portarlington – all lead by the visionary, hard-working, passionate Una McAlinden.

This year’s festival was just brilliant. Artists from all around the world brought their very best to enthusiastic crowds, who sang, listened, laughed, ate, drank, workshopped and danced their way through the weekend. The town – as always turned on the very warmest hospitality, opening its doors for the happy crowd who descended from all over. It was a celebration of Celtic culture, community, family, tradition and the power that music, song and story have to connect us all as a human family and transcend all divisions.

I was lucky to be treated to some of the fine work on offer, but this year I was so busy with my own gigs that I didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked. Despite this, I was delighted to meet many of the artists, make new friends and dream of new collaborations. Meeting fellow storyteller, Irish Joe Lynch, was definitely a highlight, as was being fortuitously billeted with the fabulous singer-songwriter, Teri Young. We had a sing over breakfast and she midwifed one of my half-baked songs into reality. We sang songs at the top of our voices all the way back up the highway to Melbourne in the car. I met the lovely Bernadette Morris, who has got me writing another song, about my ancestor, Kitty McCann, who comes from a place not far from the shores of Lough Neagh, where Bernadette lives. It turns out her own husband is a McCann. The joys of an international festival!

A big thank you especially to Una, for giving me the opportunity to be the ‘woman of the house’ – the ‘bean an ti’ – for the inaugural festival Rambling House. Having experienced Irish rambling houses on my recent trip, I was keen to get one going at the festival and it was warmly received. Thanks to all who brought a story, a poem or a song to share, or spontaneously got caught in the spirit of the gathering and gave us one – especially Jim, Keith, Teri Young, Kathryn Clements and Eric Purdie. I hope the Rambling House becomes a regular event at this festival long into the future.

Thanks to Jim Lawson for your support and encouragement and congratulations on your ever expanding Theatre Program which adds such richness to the festival. It was great to be present at an open rehearsal of Michael Kenny’s new play “The Messenger”, directed by Philip Hardy, of Barnstorm Theatre, Kilkenny. Festival goers enthusiastically took up the opportunity to offer feedback and respond to this powerful new work, which will present a story of the 1916 Uprising for a young audience. They were treated to performances by top Melbourne actors Sarah Kinsella, Russell Fletcher, Christine Keogh, Ben Adams and Jim Lawson.

It was disappointing to be unwell on Sunday and feeling a little under-par for my telling of ‘Cuchulainn’s Boyhood Deeds’, which usually goes off like a cracker, but I was very grateful for the generous understanding of my audience and the care offered by Jane and Mary and the volunteers at St. Andrew’s Ambulance, which helped me through.

After a wobbly night of feeling unwell, I was afraid I might have to withdraw from performing my new work, winding together the story of Cuchulainn’s meeting with the Morrigan and ultimately, his tale of his death. But, the show must go on! It was great to do this story in a big performance space like the Wine Bar and to feel the whole marquis of listeners hush and lean in to the story. I was moved to tears afterward by a man who came and beat his chest in a gesture of respect and offered me his heartfelt thanks for my rendition. Irish born, Michael said my version rang true and commented on what a difficult legend it is to read, but what a joy it is to listen to. Another audience member told me it was “spellbinding” and sent shivers up her spine. She said she’d look for my name first on next year’s program and give it an asterisk. It was a high risk to offer a new work for the first time in this context, but the feedback tells me it was worth effort.

Sometimes ‘the magic’ happens when I am telling a story and it takes over and it feels like I am just a conduit, a watcher at the gate, seeing the story unfold itself, as much as any audience member. It doesn’t always happen, but on Monday it did. Perhaps it was because in my wobbly state I said to my ancestors, “If you want me to tell this story, you better give me a hand.” And so they did.

Heartiest congratulations to all involved in making the festival happen and deepest gratitude for the opportunity to breathe my breath into the words of my ancestors, among such fine and joyous company.