Storytelling Arts' mission is to preserve, promote and impart the art of storytelling to develop literacy, strengthen communities and nurture the human spirit.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

SAI Blog: August 2013


On Saturday, after storytelling at the Hans Christian Andersen Statue, I took myself to Lincoln Center to see Monkey: Journey to the West. Next week I will give my impressions of the show, but this week I thought I’d give you some background about my interest in the story,  and why I went to see it in the first place.

Jack (fellow SAI teller) and I had the joy and privilege of working with Diane Wolkstein and 23 other storytellers from North America reading, studying and exploring the epic Chinese novel Journey to the West. (We worked with the 4 volume version by Wu Cheg’En and his one volume version, Monkey.)

Diane had been working for years trying to develop an oral retelling of this story and she wanted to see the whole story played out so she planned a marathon telling of the story with 25 storytellers from the US and Canada. The performance took place from Friday night March 18 to Sunday afternoon March 21 2009. In preparation Diane assigned us each multiple chapters which we were to study and pare down to a 10 minute telling. The absolute hardest part was making  the choices of what to include and what to leave out... so much to leave out!

To help us Diane held workshops in which we explored the characters, the essence of the action, the meanings to be found and the language of the text.  We worked on our own selections as well as parts of the whole story. Though most of the work was done on our own, we learned much from our colleagues in these workshops. This knowledge went into our personal tellings.

Diane’s goal was to develop for herself a two hour performance of this story in a clear, concise and entertaining way. Watching her go through the process of developing this piece taught me much about the storytelling choices we make. Having to craft my own 10 minutes was the learning put into practice!

Some of the ‘marathon tellers’ read all 4 volumes, but, probably like most, I read at least huge chunks of the epic novel. And, of course, we all got to see many of the episodes retold by friends and colleagues. The hours spent discussing and analyzing scenes and characters, motivations and symbols, history and sutras led to a deeper understanding of the story. All of this I took to my afternoon journeying with Dear Monkey King at Lincoln Center.

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