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/

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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

Countrywide tales!

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Recently, my friend Di Schulze asked me if I would go down and do a House Concert, in Bambra, in her wonderful home, at Countrywide Cottages. When I said yes, Di immediately applied her amazing entrepreneurial spirit to organizing the event and rallying the local community.

What had been one afternoon of storytelling quickly became two afternoons, September 5th and 6th and then shows at two local primary schools were added. In addition, Di had local businesses donate wonderful prizes of local olives, wines, jams and massages for a raffle. By the end of the weekend we had raised close to $2000, in support of my upcoming trip to Ireland, where I will be performing and undertaking research for my storytelling practice. What a result!

Having grown up around Geelong and spent many weekends in Deans Marsh, as a teenager, I really enjoyed returning to this beautiful, green part of the world.

I arrived to a warm welcome, which was extended across my stay. Soon there were cuppas, in the warmth of the fire and final planning for a big weekend of storytelling.

Di had some calico and suggested we paint a sign saying ‘Stories’ to hang on the fence. I volunteered jumping on a sewing machine and ‘whipping up something’ that would endure all weathers, thinking that this would take no time at all. I began on the Thursday night, but of course, it took more than one session to get it done. Do you ever imagine you will ‘just whip something up’ and then remember when you are well into it that things take time?

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On Friday morning, it was off to Birregurra Primary School for a show for the whole school. Principal Sue Dodds welcomed me warmly and the children were a delightful audience, very willing to contribute sound effects when necessary and full of questions when I was finished. It is the first time I have performed with a cow in the room. I love cows and was very impressed by this life sized cow that had been artfully painted by the students.

 

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After a quick bite of lunch in Birre, I drove across to Deans Marsh Primary School to set up for the afternoon show. Two delightful young students proudly took me on a tour, showing me the best climbing tree, their chickens and lush vegetable garden, the brick pile that would one day make a shed and the special animal carvings at the front of the school. The cow at Deans Marsh was unfortunately in the hallway, so she missed the show, but I did say hello to her afterwards. After their lunch, the children all came in and the show began. They were also a wonderful audience and made an incredible flock of seagulls for me, in one of the stories. There were questions after the show and then the Principal, Murray Surkitt, gave out awards to students who had been working very hard and achieving great personal results. Their school captain, Will, shook my hand firmly and thanked me for coming on behalf of the students. He is an impressive young leader.

On the morning of my first show at Countrywide Cottages, a lamb was born right across from the house, before breakfast. It was lovely to watch the ewe, a first time mother, tend to her lamb and bond with it. I took this as a great blessing on the day!

There was a lot of setting up to be done and Di and Stu got on a roll bright and early. Stu and I hung flags along the drive, to mark the gate from the road and make a festive avenue for the audience to arrive through, topping it off with my ‘Stories’ banner. Di had spent hours making festive bunting that we hung around the stage and the afternoon tea outside. Our mutual friends, Joan and John, arrived from Melbourne and gave a great help with final preparations. While I was limbering up, everyone else was flat out with the final set up.

The house was warm and welcoming, there was food and wine aplenty, the guests arrived and settled in for an afternoon of stories. The next day, we did it all again. In one of the question times it was great to hear one of the locals, Andrew, a natural storyteller, recount the tale of the “Bambra Lights.” One of the great perks of storytelling is that people share their stories with you – and this one was a ripper – super spooky!

By the end of these events I was full of admiration for this community, their welcome, their strong networks and all the lively things that they have going on. House Concerts are a great way to share stories, because you really get to meet people and the intimacy of the event has a powerful effect on the stories, the listeners and also me, as the teller.

 

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I would like to thank the following people for their generous donations:

Haidee Benning, Moksha Project, Winchelsea

Brett and Christine Smith, Otway Escapes

Dinny Goonan, Dinny Goonan Wines, Bambra

Leanne, Gentle Annie Berry Gardens and Farmhouse, Pennyroyal

Mike and Katrine, Pennyroyal Raspberry Farm & Cidery, Murroon

Birregurra Arts Group

Judy and Andrew, Old Lorne Road Olives

Jan and Peter Grieg, Gosling Creek Winery

Amy, Otway Fields, Gerangamete

With all the treats on offer, good old fashioned hospitality and the beautiful countryside to enjoy, I highly recommend a Spring or Summer jaunt along the Otway Harvest Trail!

 

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My heartfelt thanks go to Di and Stu for the huge amount of time, thought, effort and creativity that went into making the weekend happen and for welcoming me so warmly into their home. It feels like the very best send-off for my trip to Ireland!

 

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Investigating the Wise Women and Seanchaí of Ireland.

Peig Sayes - Irish seanachie.
Peig Sayes – Irish seanachie.

 

Being in Ireland will be a great opportunity to do some research on Irish stories and Irish storytellers – the seanchaí and wise women, keepers of the oral tradition.

I must look up Peig Sayer’s writing and folk stories, as I have only dipped into a few, in a collection I bought when I was last on the West Coast of Ireland, in 2008. Peig lived on the beautiful, rugged and challenging Blasket Islands, off the coast of Kerry, Ireland. She made a great contribution to Irish folklore, but did not write her stories down, as she was a keeper of the oral tradition.

These storytellers and their stories fascinate me. There are many stories I tell that I have never written down or recorded, but nothing like what these men and women would have committed to memory! So much culture, tradition, knowledge of place and people was kept for generations in these stories.

There is a great article about Peig Sayers here:

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/in-praise-of-peig-sayers-by-sara-baume-1.2124500

The Countdown Is On!

Excitement is growing!

It’s only 40 days until I fly to Ireland to begin my storyteller’s tour.

There is so much to do before I take off and I have several lists on the go, trying to make sure that I have done all I need to do before take-off, as well as setting up my itinerary as much as I can, without shutting down the spirit of adventure!

All this began with a simple question, “Might you be in Ireland this November?” This was followed by an invitation to be a guest storyteller at Sneem Storytelling Festival. From this several other concerts have sprouted and many opportunities for study and research. Best of all there are so many wonderful people to meet, many of whom I have been talking to online from this side of the planet for several years. A couple of them have written books I have devoured. I can’t wait to meet them all in person!

I think the road to Sneem Storytelling Festival might just be lined with cups of tea and a few pints of Guinness.

A House Concert: A wonderful place to tell & hear stories.

Niki na Meadhra @ Newport House Concert, August, 2015.
Niki na Meadhra @ Newport House Concert, August, 2015.

In a few short weeks, I will again have the luxury of telling stories at a House Concert.

This time my hosts will be Di and Stuart from Countrywide Cottages, Bambra. They have been very busy letting the local community know that I will be heading down from the Big Smoke to tell a yarn or two. From all I have heard from Di, it sounds like I will be made very welcome by some generous country hospitality.

Telling stories at a House Concert is very intimate and makes me think of days gone by, before television and the internet, when people often gathered in pubs, or homes, around a fire to hear a story. For the audience, the cosy comfort of being in someone’s home adds to the magic unfolding, by giving them a relaxing environment to let go of the wider world and tune in to the world of the stories. For me, as a storyteller, it feels very personal and immediate to be able to see the face of each listener and to ask direct questions or simply engage them with a raised eyebrow. Everything is magnified in such close quarters. Something large and full of energy seems even larger, but at the same time the smallest, subtlest thing can be gently shared and still clearly seen.

This particular concert is a fund-raiser for my upcoming trip to tell stories in Ireland. So, the program will be bursting with ancient tales from Ireland, woven together with stories of my own Irish ancestors.

Having done several House Concerts now, I’m very much looking forward to this one! Do get in contact if you are interested in hosting one yourself.

Image: Niki na Meadhra telling stories with Clare Coburn, at Enchanted Evening, in the Bishop’s Parlour at Abbotsford Convent. Photo c. Charlie Sublet.

Preparing for storytelling in Ireland.

It’s 40 days now until I fly to Ireland – and I couldn’t be more excited!

I’ve been invited to tell stories, in Kerry, at Sneem Storytelling Festival, and will also be performing in Cork and Waterford.

My last visit to Ireland, in 2008, had a powerful impact on me as a person, an artist and especially as a storyteller. It was my first time in the land of my Irish ancestors and I totally fell in love with the place and its people. As I traveled I collected many tales and came home with a swag of myths and legends to look up and research in more depth. The mysterious and powerful crone, Cailleach Bheara, who I was introduced to in the small town of Eyeries, in West Cork, has been the central figure of much of my storytelling and art making ever since. Many audiences here in Melbourne have enjoyed her stories. On this trip I will be doing a course investigating her further, led by Dr. Sharon Blackie, in a circle of creative women who are just as fascinated with her tradition as I am.

Last time, it seemed some of the Good Folk, or perhaps a Guardian Angel, led me around the country-side creating all kinds of adventures and introducing me to an array of wonderful people. I could not tell you how many times I thought I was lost, but was helped all long by friendly people wherever I went.

I do hope the Good Folk will come along this time – a little faerie magic offers protection and ensures the craic will be very, very good!