Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tie me Kangaroo Down Sport

I promised a recording of The Giant Who Had No heart in His Body this week, but I started a new class at UCSD, so it's gotta wait a bit. Maybe I'll just record it on my phone - I think this phone shoots video.

This week I've been listening to a lot of Australian bush music. It's great stuff, like a crossbreed of cowboy songs and sea chanteys played by a jug band. What's not to love?

I've started playing a few of my favorites and added about a dozen or so to my song book. They sound particularly good on my fluke, and I'm always looking for a reason to play my fluke more.

I will definitely bring them out at campfire in the near future.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Talking Trees

Yesterday I was at UCSD for a class. I got there a little early so I went to the eucalyptus grove to practice some stories. The eucalyptus grove at UCSD is one of my favorite places in the world, not only is it a fantastic stand of eukes that just screams "wander through me" but two of the trees were cut down, covered in lead sheets and had speakers embedded in them so that they play music and tell stories. The talking trees give the whole place an "enchanted forest" feel. I wonder, if I threaten to cut one down if it will grant me three wishes?

My plan was to pace through the trees and work on The Giant who had no Heart in his Body to get a sense of timing and work out some details.

There are two things that initially drew me to this story.
The first is the character of the prince. In each of my source documents he has a different name but I call him Prince Bootes after the constellation. He's a fierce warrior, an honest gentleman, he has the resources of a prince, but because he's seventh in line for the throne so he's not bound by the responsibility of rulership, and he rides a wolf instead of a horse. He's a great character who I intend to use again and again, like the Paper Bag Cowboy and the Queen of all of the Fishes of all of the World.
The second is a scene that doesn't actually exist in any of my source material - the chase scene. I imagine that, since the giant has the ability to turn people to stone, the area outside of his lair is a kind of octopus' garden of petrified people, and I imagine him using these people as ballistic weaponry against the enemies who escape his gaze.
In all the sources Prince Bootes seeks out the giant's heart without the giant knowing. Presumably this is because if the giant knew he would turn Bootes to stone. But I like a process (more on this in an upcoming post), the giant just can't turn someone to stone, he has to "fix his gaze upon them" and the grass around them crackles and turns gray, the bushes turn gray and their leaves fall tinkling to the ground like flint shards, the horses shriek as their legs become fixed to the ground and finally the giant's enemies are petrified with a look of horror frozen on their faces. I like that because it makes the giant's gaze escapable. And, if you escape the giant's gaze, and you're headed for where he keeps his heart hidden, he hurls his prior victims at you - and that makes for some pretty intense action.

But here's the thing, you have this fantastic action climax, but there's a long ramp up, and in practicing the whole thing I wonder if it's too much to drag people through to get to the big pay off.

The last big performance piece I built was King Kong. King Kong is ninety minutes in the telling. It takes about twenty minutes to get  that train out of the station but once it's going it's a runaway locomotive - explosions, dinosaurs, machines guns and dive-bombing aeroplanes, right up to the end (there's only about 90 seconds of denouement) when I collapse exhausted upon the stage.

In the Giant, the telling is about thirty minutes long and the action is compressed into the last ten minutes or so (still working on the timing), not only is that a slow start, but it's also relatively complicated. The first twenty minutes spans a year and a half and the entire length of Scotland, introduces twenty or so characters, contains a story within the story that flashes back ten years, and one of the main characters is suffering from depression, which really moves things along.

It still needs a lot of work so maybe I can punch things up. I've scheduled some recording time next week so I'll try and have it running by then to collect opinions.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The reality of living in the Land of the Giants

A while back I posted on the storytell list about taking classic tales and turning them into scary stories by cranking up the realism.

That post (see text below) covers a lot of what I consider to be important in storytelling - texture.

Probably like a lot of storytellers, some stories I freestyle, making up jokes on the fly and throwing in funny voices etc.. but some stories I develop into rich performance pieces.

While I dig freestyling a piece, I absolutely love spending months crafting out every little detail and developing a rich world in which the story takes place.

In my Jack and the Beanstalk, the giant is 35 feet tall. This is an important number. I chose 35 feet because it's how tall I am to a Barbie doll. This provides a significant frame of reference. In the piece I'm working on now, the Giant Who had no Heart in his Body, the giant is "merely" 15 feet tall.

What possible difference does this make? Let me tell you:

To a 35 foot tall giant you're the size of a Barbie. He picks you up lightly, with one hand, you're little more than an animal to him and he reacts accordingly. But besides his interactions with other characters, his size colors his interactions with the rest of the world - to him a wine barrel is a drinking glass, and a bushel of melons is like a bowl of M&Ms, he just tips them back and pours them into his mouth. This difference in size gets reflected when items pass between characters - when he tips the bowl of melons into his mouth, they fall lightly onto his tongue, but the ones that slip past the corners of his mouth rain down upon normal-sized folk as if they were dropped from a four-story building - and a melon dropped from a four story building could kill you.

On the other hand, a 15 foot tall giant, while still terribly frightening, is completely different. A 15 foot tall giant is small enough to be taken down by a couple of humans, so he has that fear to deal with. To a 15 foot tall giant you weigh about the equivalent of about 50 pounds, which is a great deal of weight, so he has to exert a great effort to pick you up and crush you, not to mention the fact that your struggling is actually effective. To him a watermelon is like a grapefruit, it's still an deadly weapon, but it has to be thrown to be effective.

I don't need to spell these things out to my listeners, but because I know these details I can use them.

Never once do I mention that Abiyoyo is 50 feet tall, but when I pick up a cow and dangle it into my mouth while saying "moooo moooo mooo" a picture is formed in their heads (and they usually whince).
The same thing occurs when my 15 foot giant picks up a person to use as a ballistic weapon - it takes two hands and he grunts and strains to heave it - as if you were throwing a fifty-pound sack of potatoes.

I love this kind of texture, not only does it paint a beautiful picture for the audience but it's a heck of a lot of fun too.

Here's the original post:

Sometimes you can find scary stories in the most unlikely of places.

I love to take classic fairy-tales and either change the setting, or add realistic detail, or both, and make it a truly scary story.

Last year I re-set the pied piper into a southern Louisiana rice farming community with a devious white-suited mayor and a harmonica playing piper, and not only did it go over fantastic, but it's a great scary story.
This year I took Jack and the Beanstalk but instead of re-setting it I cranked up the realism and turned it into an awsome scary story:

Imagine you're carrying a goose under your arm, a goose weighs about 16 pounds, and a golden goose egg weighs about six pounds. Assume, for the sake of argument, that said goose is gestating two eggs. That sets your carrying weight at close to thrity pounds. Imagine running with a thirty-pound sack of potatoes under your arm: your arm is going to get fatugued, it burns and aches, you want to drop your load but you can't, ecause you're being chased. Imagine that load is not an inanimate sack of potatoes, but a living animal, defending itself. A goose has a neck like a snake and will hiss at you, and strike at your eyes, she'll beat at your with her wings, and tear at your side with her talons.
Imagine you're being chased by a giant. We tend to play down the giant as a simple atagonist, but picture it this way - a 35 foot tall giant weighs 25000 pounds, when he chases you the ground shakes with enough violence to knock you off your stride as you run. A 35 foot tall giant has vocal chords 18 inches long, and a lung capacity of 21 cubic feet, when he says "Fe Fi Fo Fum" at a distance of a mile you can feel it in your chest, at close range it's enough to knock you down and blow out
your ear drums.
Realize that said giant is not merely chasing you to further the plot, but he's furious, you've stolen his treasure, his intent is to "grind your bones to make his bread!"
Remember that to a 35 foot tall giant, you're a barbie doll - all he has to do is reach down and squeeze your head like a grape, or lift you up and give you one quick shake and you're bread meal.

You're running as fast as you can, your arm aches, the goose is ripping at your side, pecking your face and eyes so hard that your face is starting to swell, blood is mixing with your sweat and running down your face, into your swollen eyes, you look like a boxer.
As your run through the woods, knowing your life is in jeopardy your tripping over rocks and roots, but the ground is shaking, knocking you off stride, you struggle to your feet, your lungs are on fire but you have to go faster.
Behind you the trees are crashing and cracking, you hear a monster breathing harder and louder - IT'S THE GIANT!! He's getting closer and closer, the trees around you are falling under his feet.
Then he roars so loud that your ears ring in pain: "FE FI FO FUM, I

If that's not scary, well then I just don't know what is.

These are the stories we heard as children, and we never realized just how awful they were: Cannibals living in houses made of ginger bread, stepmothers poisoning their children, and giants who can violently end our lives with a mere flick of the wrist. These are horror stories.
Take some of the stories you already know: Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, and imagine that they're real - imagine just how truly scary they really are.

You'll be surprised.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Why would I want to write about the Summer Reading Program?

When I developed King Kong as a storytelling show, I found that towards to debut I wished that I had documented the process, that telling stories is more than just learning a story and telling it.

When you find a story you really connect with a lot of time and effort goes into making it your own, every little nuance, every aspect.

So, I'll write about my stories, my music, and other stuff, whatever strike smy fancy, but what strikes my fancy the most are my stories and my music, so whatch this space for more.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Land of the Giants

Last year's Summer Reading Program at the local libraries was "Make a Splash". I didn't find very many people who liked the theme, but I did, and I developed a great program around it. But, I didn't get hired to perform it. Of course, last year the budgets were horendous, and I don't know anyone who got hired to do their Summer Reading Show

This year's program is "One World, Many Stories". Which honestly, I think is a little broad, but it's got a lot of potential.

A couple of years ago I thought about doing an CD with giant stories and sea chanteys, called "Land of the Giants". I've got a lot of giants stories, not just giant people but spiders and pumpkins and other giant stuff. The CD hasn't materialized yet, but it's tough to get going on something like this, especially with so few CD sales and no deadline.

So, when I saw this year's program I decided to do "Land of the Giants" for my Summer Reading program in the hopes that someone would book the show, forcing me to practice the material which would go onto my new CD. And, thanks to my friend and fellow storyteller, Cyndy Griffin, the Fletcher Hills library booked "Land of the Giants" for June.

Now, for me a deadline like "June" isn't exactly pressing, but I really want to make the CD and get this show on the road, so I've started tearing into it.

So, here's what I've got so far...

The Goblin Spider
Feegbah, the Giant Pumpkin
The Black Pookah
Jack and the Beanstalk
Waynetta and the Cornstalk
The Giant who had no Heart in his Body