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

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.

What if Red Riding Hood ate the wolf?

Red Eats Wolf

When I drew this picture of Little Red Riding Hood digesting the wolf, I really enjoyed turning the traditional story upside down! It felt rebellious and cathartic. It is important to me that this is an ordinary girl, not a ‘warrior-woman’ type that seems increasingly popular.

Depending on what day of the week it is, the wolf symbolizes many different things for me. Some days it would feel sacrilegious to devour such a potent archetype. Some days I want to light a candle and pay homage to the wolf. It depends on which version of the tale you read and how you read it. The dark archetypes, which sometimes seem to only destroy, also serve us.

On this occasion, eating the wolf felt like an action of consciously digesting fear – beginning the process of breaking it down with the acids in my belly and thereby becoming bigger than it. I always consider fear an ally – when it knows its place. Like fire, fear is a good servant, but a poor boss.

Planning my journey to Ireland has raised all kinds of fear for me. It is a bold adventure that requires courage. It is good to have got to a place where I am digesting this and feeling bigger than my fear. Of course, tomorrow is a new day and I don’t expect that every day I will feel on top of it. But today – I feel bold and brave and the wolf makes a good lunch!

Words and image c. Niki na Meadhra

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!