The week of August 9-13, 2011, Eth-Noh-Tec, along with Dr. Hannah Harvey and Joseph Sobol of the storytelling program at Eastern Tennessee State University presented a week-long intensive titled “Global Storytelling Institute.” Originally it was inspired by the groundwork of Florida storyteller Anne Scroggie who recommended a course be created and curated the team of presenters based accompanied Dr. Sobol on a storytelling exchange in Bhutan several years ago. In addition, Dr. Harvey, who has a doctorate in Performance Studies and who has researched, wrote and performed co-created community-based, performance narrative projects based on the experiences of coal-mining communities in Virginia was also part of the team. Eth-Noh-Tec, was brought in having produced intercultural and international community dialogue through their projects in Singapore, India, and China as well as their experience with Asian American communities.

Citing real time experiences with the Nu Wa Rising projects in Asia, Eth-Noh-Tec shared a deconstruction of “how to and how not to” create international storytelling projects. One of the key pillars of the presentation circled around the conversation about mutually beneficial projects. All too often, international projects, even well intended storytelling projects focus on how the visitor (often the Westerner) would derive great benefit from the host (often the storytelling community of the host country) where as the host community does not experience an equal benefit. Eth-Noh-Tec wanted to encourage projects that not only did “least harm” but actually added value to the host community.

One of the first steps in this project design was to open awareness of the student’s cultural biases, points of view, and cultural stereotypes and assumptions. Other topics of discussion prompted by Dr. Harvey included issues of how storytelling exchanges are effected by cultural differences between gender, body language and symbols, and power relations.

Storytelling Across Borders

Using the stories gathered by Eth-Noh-Tec from the Chinese storytelling village of Gengcun, the students were asked to engage in an inquiry and self-reflection, and be open to inspiration, the last of which would prompt a performance in a public setting. The inquiry would be as such: What questions would you want to ask the Chinese teller that would help you deepen your understanding of his/ her culture in relation to that story? What else would you need to learn in order to tell that story with cultural sensitivity and ‘response-ability?’ Are there any stories, memoirs or anecdotes from your own life (own culture) that could be performed in ‘response’ to this traditional Chinese story? After hearing the traditional Chinese stories the students then set to work on writing, creating and rehearsing their story responses in preparation for a series of live concerts.

Performance at the Umoja Festival

Joel Richards, from Providence RI who heard the story of the ‘Monkey Solves the Case’ (told by Chinese villager Huo Guo Guo). As this tale fostered the message of ‘doing the right thing’ it prompted a tale from his own Christian heritage, the ‘Tale of Job.”

Sandy Westin (Johnson City, TN), upon hearing the story ‘Father” (told by Zhang Cai Cai), a story of a unlikely conflict, with unlikely competitors, fighting a false battle—inspired her to recount a story from the First Nation Iroquois of two young boys who although in youth were fierce competitors outgrew their animosity of each other to the point of forgetting what their original (and ancient) argument was even all about.

Joseph Trimble (Montgomery, AL), while taking in the story of ‘Who is Most Powerful?’ (told by Jin Rui Ji) was reminded of the value of being resourceful. This theme inspired the telling of a contemporary story about the legendary Civil Rights figure, Rosa Parks who, as a child, used her resourcefulness and courage to win the county pie-baking contest.

Several of these performances along with cameo video interviews will be brought back to the Chinese village of Gengcun. There, the messages and storytelling inspirations will be sent back to the village, adding to the cultural bridge between East and West.

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