Odysseus has arrived. He leaves Calypso’s Isle, the bed of the goddess, and now he’s shipwrecked in a stormy night, swims for his life, crawls ashore on a river bank exhausted. This is a classic opening: the stranger arrives. Then comes the contrast: sunny morning early, Nausicaa the beautiful princess sets off for the shore to do the washing at the river mouth − clothes spread out to dry. Then the beach games begin.
“So the gallant Odysseus crept out from under the bushes, after breaking off with his great hand a leafy bough from the thicket to conceal his naked manhood. Then he advanced on them like a mountain lion who sallies out, defying wind and rain in the pride of his power, with fire in his eyes, to hunt the oxen or the sheep … Begrimed with salt he made a gruesome sight and one look at him sent them scuttling in every direction. Alcinous’ daughter was the only one to stand firm.”
Odysseus is brought to the palace of Alcinous, King of the Phaeacians, and given hospitality. But of course everyone is agog to know the identity of the stranger. In response to their questions Odysseus simply speaks of his most recent journey to Calypso’s Isle and the shipwreck. So the customs of hospitality go on with the mystery unresolved. There is storytelling accompanied by the lyre, the lay of Achilles, then games in which Odysseus participates − and then the royal bard Demodocus accompanies the dancers while singing a ballad about the love of Aries god of war and Aphrodite god of love, a traditional mythological tale known to all. Then, as Homer reveals, come gifts and feasting.
“Welcome to historic Jonesborough, the oldest town in Tennessee. We’re the little town with the big story. We’ve been entertaining guests for almost 225 years, and we’ve enjoyed every minute of it. We’ve had some very special visitors and residents. Andy Jackson opened his law practice in Jonesborough, and became a judge. As President, he spent time at our Chester Inn on his way back to the Hermitage in Nashville, and President James K. Polk spent time here too. Of course, President Andrew Johnson was our neighbor in Greeneville and spent a lot of time politicking in Jonesborough as well. The truth is however, everyone is special to us!” This is the way major Kelly Wolfe welcomes everyone to this small city, not even 6000 population, in the heart of the southern Appalachian Mountains.
“Jonesborough is the storytelling capital of the world”, they tell us. And the newspaper Los Angeles Times states “What New Orleans is to jazz… Jonesborough is to storytelling.” In Jonesborough is located The International Storytelling Center. The National Storytelling Festival, started over 40 years ago, it was the first celebration dedicated solely to the art of storytelling. A national storytelling revival followed, and now there are hundreds of storytelling events all over the nation. With the completion of the new International Storytelling Center in 2002, there are storytelling events and activities going on all the time.
But, how did it all begin?
Two things you need to know about me: I do not tell stories only to entertain or share my Latin American culture; I tell stories to renegotiate grounds with the audience, to exchange ideas about the world. Second, I believe that when a storyteller likes a story the story should like them back. In other words, if both do not fall in love the story will only serve to entertain (hopefully).The tale will be another story told by another storyteller. When the storyteller believes and understands the story it can become a meaningful version of the past that is sharing its light in the present.Although, it may appear that telling stories is quite simple, the tricky part is performing a story that has nothing to do with you. In other words, if the storyteller fails at delivering the originally meaning of the story and takes liberty in shaping it according to their personal beliefs, they might be contributing to distort the originally message or even worse reinforcing a cultural stereotype.
I recall a story slam where we had to bring a myth or legend from an assigned part of the world. One of the contestants brought a South American myth and this storyteller could not be more different from the average Latin person. The version of a Peruvian Myth delivered was quite entertaining. We laughed a lot, but the storyteller stereotyped the main character by portraying her as a woman of dubious reputation. To do that with the Greek gods is one thing, but with a tale of a culture that still exists and is still discriminated against is another. For instance, many Native North Americans do not like at all when the white man tells their stories, and I can understand why. Usually their stories are performed out of their original context and instead of bringing understanding on a culture it obscures it. Now I honestly do not have a problem with telling stories from other cultures, as long as the storyteller takes the time to research about it, drop their own cultural perspective, and make a sincere effort to empathize with the culture through the story.
Antonio Sacre interviewed by Sonia Carmona
Antonio Sacre, born in Boston to a Cuban father and Irish- American mother, is an internationally touring bilingual storyteller, author, and solo performance artist, based in Los Angeles. He earned a BA in English from Boston College and an MA in Theater Arts from Northwestern University. He has performed at the National Book Festival at the Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center, the National Storytelling Festival, and museums, schools, libraries, and festivals internationally. Called “a charismatic, empathetic presence” by Chicago Tribune, his stories have appeared in numerous magazines, journals, and on National Public Radio.
His storytelling recordings have won numerous awards, including the American Library Association’s Notable Recipient Award, the Parent's Choice Gold and Silver Awards, and the National Association of Parenting Publications Gold Award. He was awarded an Ethnic and Folk Arts Fellowship from the Illinois Arts Council.
As a solo performer, Sacre has performed in festivals and theaters in New York City, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Chicago, where he performed under the tutelage and mentorship of Jenny Magnus. At The New York City International Fringe Theater Festival, Sacre was awarded a Best in Fringe Festival award for Excellence in acting, and a Best in Fringe Festival Award for Excellence in Solo Performance. At the United Solo Theater Festival off-Broadway, he twice won the United Solo Award for Best Storyteller, in 2011 and 2012.
Oral narration can become a significant vector for the re-establishment of democracy for three main reasons:
1.- DUE TO ITS CONTENT, as stories speak about the human condition:
Traditional stories cover all issues connected with the individual as a member of society. They also deal with huge questions regarding existence in matters relating to the key to the mystery of life, but without the blunt, realist explanations. Through symbolism they connect dreams and poetry through a truly emancipated link, from both the point of view of freedom of imagination, and in an understanding of a person's psychological development mechanisms. Optimism is obligatory: Children can change their destinies by learning what is good for them and what they should avoid.
Whether we are storytellers or listeners, we can and should develop a vision of the world based on solidarity, courage, and a view to the future. In this way an approach to the story can come about for the individual based on their own reading in an enjoyable, emotional way. As the grioti from Mali, Hampâté Bâ said: Stories entertain the children; adults can relax after a day's work and the grey-haired ones can philosophize. In other words, stories can unite the three parts which live together within us, the affective, the playful, and the cognitive.