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

Friday, June 16, 2017

On the Road with Orpheus

by Gerald Fierst and Luray Gross

Part conversation, part performance, On the Road with Orpheus is a collaborative four-part storytelling fugue created by Gerald Fierst, Luray Gross, Philip Orr and Bill Wood. We improvise on themes of love, loss, music and memory out of personal, traditional, mythic and headline stories. Through several decades, we four have taught and performed as solo artists, but in 2016, we decided to collaborate using the Orpheus myth as a basis for an unconventional theatre piece in which our individual styles blend, accent, and harmonize with each other.

The "Orpheus" artists
Teachers, preachers, and storytellers are all music makers.  The rhythmic patterns of oral storytelling go back to the ancient bardic tradition of singing the tale, and, as we review our process, we realize how much our work in a classroom is similarly an act of improvisation and singing, and how teaching has informed our collaboration with its necessity to remain in the moment and to encourage and inspire.  Improvisational storytelling is something like jazz with a path of clearly defined forms, but with the liberty to change and riff until returning to the given melody.  So, in the classroom, the storyteller supports the curricula with stories that instigate and encourage the students to make connections between the notes of the story and the notes of the lesson – we might call them a-ha! moments – when the story becomes a personal revelation of fact and feeling.

 Our Orpheus piece invites the audience to remember the first song they heard.  Few people give us a title.  Instead, they sing us a song, and, often, others in the audience join in.  The power of music undergirds the story of Orpheus, whose song could conquer monsters, but couldn’t change the inevitability of loss.  Eventually Orpheus’s song became an oracular voice on the Greek island of Lesbos where, during the last two years, thousands of refugees landed, and where today, some 3,000 still await an uncertain future. 

For ourselves and our audiences, traveling on the road with Orpheus has been far less arduous, one without peril and with openings for conversation and reflection.  At times, it has become an a-ha! journey with myth, history, and philosophy becoming a part of our personal and communal story, bringing the inspiration of old stories to the moment and to the discovery of the sublime at the core of our own life’s progress.

Having begun our performance with singing, it felt fitting to end the program by singing together. Phil concludes the program by teaching an original round based on a Rilke poem from The Book of Hours.

God speaks to each of us:
Go to the limits of longing.
God speaks to each of us:
Flare up like a flame.
God speaks to each of us:
Don’t let yourself lose me,
Give me your hand.
Give me your hand.