Sunday, August 19, 2012

Anne E Stewart: Montreal Masterclass with Jan Andrews and Jennifer Cayley 2012

pic: masterclass participants

Montreal Masterclass
Just back from attending a Masterclass for storytellers presented by that inimitable pair Jan Andrews and Jennifer Cayley. Wow

10 of us arrived to the heat filled room of Le Brebouf College, Montreal, one of the few private schools in Canada. Sadly no air-con or fans. It was in the high 30's most of the time.

Quick meet and greet and then all lay on yoga mates and the beautiful calming voice of Jennifer put us in focused relax mode and the authoritative voice of Jan invited us to travel with Odysseus on our storytelling Journey

Voice warm ups. "I am Odysseus." "Louder", "Feel it". "I am Odysseus." 

We were introduced to the three areas of technique we were going to focus on in the coming days

Voice Range, Energy Levels and Physicality. 
This focus was to be Interspersed with each of the ten storytellers having the opportunity to present part a the story they'd bought to work on, In my case it was Scheherazade, 
We did exercises with piano to find our voice range, to stretch it,  experiment , be aware. 

We used our bodies to feel the energy, watched other people ebb and flow through the various stage of heightened and lowered energy levels. Then someone was up again to work on their story and incorporate what they'd learnt and felt in the exercises.
Jan and Jennifer had the uncanny knack of  knowing the exact spot in the story to focus on. It was amazing to watch the tellers bring their story to the class and question their motivations, emotions  and understanding then see the shift in their  re-telling, it was very intense work.

I certainly felt the effect of it in my first storytelling job back after the adventure
It was St Peter's, Epping, last Thursday the grade 5's were all learning to be storytellers. Storytelling in the first hour, then workshops to explain some of the tricks of the trade. Missed the young girls looking for me and I them, so eventually arrived in the library right on nine and everyone was seated ready for me to go.
Took of my coat, had a sip of water and then a little banter, a trick or two and onto my first longer story. 

I started with The Seal Mother,  and as I looked out on the audience, I pulled myself up to my full 5'6' (old money) and I felt Jennifer Cayley with her hand in the pit of my back and Jan Andrews standing to my right and remember them saying "now try it again". The lesson; slow down, be calm, in control and totally present in the story.

The exact moment of understanding had come in the masterclass when I was working on Schererazade. The girls asked me to re-tell the part where the Grand Vizier is offering his daughter as bride to Shariar, the Sultan.
Jennifer hand on my back, Jan to the side 
A few words, "this means her death, how does he feel?"

I was there, each word, slow, sparing. I felt I was really there at the interchange between Sultan and Vizier. 

Likewise with the grade 5's I was there. I was having so much fun that I thought I finish with a classic ghost story and show them the powerful effect of the pause. I am such a devil, The Dare, the boy with the knife in the graveyard that dies of fright. I set it in the town of Ballan just down the road from me.

By the time I had him at the gateway to the graveyard, slowly, slowly,......... searching for a particular headstone, they were putty.



That darned old possum jumped out of tree and he screamed.
Not stretching the truth but every bottom in the room including the teachers rose from the floor or chair it was sitting on. I think my best 'scare' count ever.

I definitely feel  re-energised awareness in my storytelling after attending the Masterclass. 

Then on to, the bilingual Contes Courants/ Story Streams Conference of The Storytellers of Canada.

Interesting to see the two languages work side by side as well separate workshops, meetings and performances in either English or French. The first night story slam was heaps of fun, then onto the business.

My favourite stories were Bob Barton telling Jamaican, James Berry's Mongoose and the Hen story. Powerful stuff.

Then Jan Gregory and her personal story of her dad and an elusive baby, it was breathtaking.
Through Robert Seven Crows (pictured) I heard of the 11 nations of Quebec and came to the wonderful metaphor of stories like flowers and unfold to reveal more as you grow into them . He took me to life in the Canadian Wilderness and it was wonderful.

I Met so many great storytellers and told them all about us, thank you Regional Arts Victoria and the Stewart and May Foundations

Anne E Stewart

pic: Anne and Hans Christian Anderson in Central Park New York.