Archive for September, 2011

Nu Wa Project Continues

Film Summit

Like the archetypal gathering of “four” heroes found in myths and folk tales the Nu Wa film crew gathered: Doug Banner and Kelvin Saxton (Bellingham WA), Arif Choudhury (Northbrook, IL), and Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo (San Francisco, CA). Each brought their special insight, talent and dedication to add energy to the prolonged efforts of creating a film based on the experiences of Eth-Noh-Tec’s storytelling and cultural exchanges that had gone to China over the many years since 2002.

With over 150 hours of video footage, from shots of the Gengcun traditional storytelling community to the interviews of American storytellers trekking the Great Wall it has been a daunting task to review and log the many hours of video recordings. Now the primary task was to ask ourselves “what is the message we’re trying to convey with the film?” But in order to answer this and lay the foundation for the film’s storyboard we needed to ask ourselves many questions.

What was the original intention of the project? Who’s voice shall ‘tell’ this story? Can the myth of Nu Wa, the Chinese Goddesss who created humans, be used to tell this story? Why is the story of this cultural exchange Americans and Chinese important? Why should we care about this storytelling project?

It became clear that the singular voice that would guide us through the film’s story would be through the personal journey of Nancy Wang. The fact that she grew up in the segregated South in the early 1940’s and spent decades in a personal search and discovery of Asian American identity through the Arts (and storytelling) offered the right vehicle to carry the weight of issues: racism, identity of self, stereotypes, East-West tension and U.S.-China relations.

Fueled with morning coffee and armed with dry erase boards and pens, note pads, stick’em notes, blue masking tape and butcher paper taped to the wall we set about the process of answering these questions to create our storyboard.

At first, the fervor and creative synergy of four people working together with a singular purpose moved our work forward at a rapid pace. But as the week wore on the challenge of creativity leaned into an incline of deeper inquiry: Can this traditional storytelling village survive the rapid social changes of China? How do we convey “hope for the future” without being too polyannish? Could we, as an external cultural group make a sustainable impact that would have long lasting internal effects on the local village level?

As the summit came to a close we came to several important conclusions:

1) We had created at least 80-90% of the basic story

2) We had enough structure to get 70% the story roughed out with images assigned; we also knew that what we lacked in video footage we could make up with photo stills

3) We knew that the storyline would be a fusion of Nancy’s personal search for identity, combined with the collective cultural discoveries of the other Nu Wa Gems (on the trip).

4) the last one third of the film’s story (the lead up to the final statement) would show be a series of deeper questions (possibly unanswerable) that would set up the tension between ‘preservation’ and ‘change’ (i.e. the dilemma facing this traditional village vs modernity).

5) we also believe that the video images themselves would begin unfold it’s message. We agreed we need to be pliable, adaptable, and flexible—and allow our visual/symbolic intuition to work it’s magic into the film.

In addition to this we declared a commitment to regular communications and set dates on the calendar. Assignments and homework were created, each tapping into our various skills. Finally we created a mini-video fundraising pitch, with one of our first goals: raise funds for a much needed film-making software, Final Cut Pro (for Macs). All in all it was an extremely productive summit that will move our efforts to our final destination: a documentary about the Nu Wa storytelling project!

Youth Ambassadorship

This summer a young high school student, Angela Huang from Bellingham, WA wanted to find a community service project as part of her high school graduate requirement. By way of her Chinese language school she heard of film project that involved Chinese-to-English language translation. Eventually she found herself in a meeting with Doug Banner, founder of the Bellingham Storytelling Guild and associate of the Nu Wa Film Project.

November Visit

Once again Eth-Noh-Tec will be conducting a storytelling workshop—but this time with a set of several challenges. 100 high school students (that’s a lot of hormones!) who will learn storytelling techniques to be able to tell stories in Chinese language (we don“t speak the language!), all of taking place in Beijing in the chill of oncoming Winter (brrrrrr!). during a two week residency in November of this year, Eth-Noh-Tec will be working with the International School of Beijing.

This will be the fourth time Eth-Noh-Tec has worked with ISB. In previous visits, ENT curated over a dozen storytellers to presented 33 workshops and teacher in-services, assemblies and community concerts for the families of this prestigious school. Many of the families in these schools have parents working for the foreign service, diplomatic core, and international business community.

Besides offering students storytelling programming, our long range goal is to create cultural inroads and experiences for the students, who surprisingly, rarely do outreach programs into the surrounding Chinese community. In the September 2010, ENT conducted storytelling classes and prepared a small core of a dozen students from ISB to present storytelling of Chinese folk tales to the Gengcun community. It was a great joy to see the young people speaking Chinese and performing storytelling to the audience of storytellers in this traditional community. The older master storytellers were especially pleased as they all feel strongly about passing on the oral tradition to the younger generation.

We are hoping that by bringing ISB students, along with visiting students from the Bellingham Chinese Language School on field-trips to the Gengcun village we can build a strong Storytelling Youth Ambassadorship component to our exchange delegations. In addition, we hope that the participating teachers and the parents will strengthen their understanding of storytelling and the important role it can play in preserving cultural heritage.

If you have interests in being a part of the Nu Wa project, as a storytelling delegate, a donor to the youth ambassadorship or film project, or even to submit creative ideas to empower our work, feel free to contact us.

Filed as: Programs, Tours  

Orcas Storyfest in Review

Once again the children chuckled, the adults exalted, and the storytellers cast their magical spell of humor, wisdom, wit and culture upon the ears of their listeners. This year, even with the recession dampening much of the U.S. economy, Eth-Noh-Tec re-calibrated so that our production of the festival, though operating on a shoe-string budget, was still a top-notch cultural experience, both for the guests artists and the local community on Orcas Island.

Welcome Potluck Luncheon

The week started off with a welcome potluck luncheon up on a mountainside forest with several tables full of fresh vegetables, colorful salads, casseroles and desserts (which practically disappeared the instant they hit the table. The storytellers and locals chewed and chatted in the warmth of the Orcas summer (which finally made an appearance that week). The culminating event soiree was a sampler of each of the visiting artists oratorical performance. Doug Banner offered a tale from Scotland of a naughty lass who got her comeuppance. Judith Black shared a personal home coming story about her son, a Marine who survived the onslaught of Falujah, in Iraq. Arif Choudhury gave a slice of life through voice of his childhood, growing up as the only brown-skinned Bangladeshi, Muslim American in the Northshore suburb outside of Chicago. Also Eth-Noh-Tec shared a Hmong Cambodian tale, “Trouble Talk” underscoring a message of humanity’s impact on the environment.

Through the generosity of neighbors and friends, restaurants and small businesses and contribution from the Orcas Library the storytellers experienced Orcas life, as they waived their standard professional fees to gift the islanders with five storytelling programs.

Other Muses Admidst the Myths and Memoirs

This year, Eth-Noh-Tec introduced several other muses into the festival: poetry and music.

The opening public concert at the Senior Center, “Wisdom, Wit and Wily Ways” was launched by the singing group, “the Songbirds.” Such notable and nostalgic songs were both timeless and appropos for the event: “Today,” “Play a Simple Melody,” “Shenandoah,” “Accentuate the Positive.” During the summer, Eth-Noh-Tec enjoys singing with them in their weekly class lead by Eleanor Petersen accompanied by the piano genius of Mary Meyers.

A frightful and delightful mood played on piano haunted the “Ghost Story” night as local musician and composer, Lennon Aldort created dark and foreboding sound-scapes to imbue the evening atmosphere of the supernatural.

Anji Ringzin, with whom Eth-Noh-Tec shared the stage with at last year’s traveling Smithsonian event, “Journey’s That Shape Our Lives” brought to life the stories, anecdotes and poetry of ancient poet philosophers Rumi and Kabir from West and South Asia. Ms. Ringzin’s lyrical and eloquent voice embellished the evening with an almost musical quality to the final concert’s theme of “World Stories.”

A cameo appearance of local storyteller, Antoinette Botsford charmed the young ears during the library concert for families, “Pajama Tales.” Antoinette is a well-known, local teller, well versed in traditional tales spun from her cultural heritage of Canadian-Metis (First Nation).

Stories Make the World Go Round

The culminating concert, “World of Stories” gave a spin of global yarns from family life to folk tale fantasy, from insights into mother-daughter relationships to foibles of a foolish kings. Presented at the Odd Fellows Hall, amidst the constellation of decorative lights and colorful drapery, the storytellers took the audience on journey to the heart. Sometimes the stories told were met with bolts of laughter, other times tears and sighs of endearment. These responses affirmed to the artists that they not only did their job with mastery but also reaffirmed the power of story and compassionate listening.

Eth-Noh-Tec lead the final story, a signature piece “Bird of Happiness” from Tibet with the message of hope and happiness. After the bow of Robert and Nancy, and upon the invitation for all the storytellers to join them in a final bow, the audience leapt to a standing ovation.

We, of course, wish to leap to a standing ovation for all the individuals, organizations, and business that, because of their support through donations, goods, and services made this festival a huge success. We look forward to their participation for years to come.

Big thank to the many volunteers: Sharon Abreu, Lennon Aldort, Robert Austin, Margie Doyle Nita Couchman, Virginia Erhardt, & Judy Dorman, Franke, Marj & Fred, Betsy Greason, Phil Heikinnen, Michael Hurwitz, Anita Holladay, Jan & Bill Madill, Miri Plowman & Gil Becerra, Mary Ann & Chuck Owen, Eric Morris, George Post, John & Charlotte Sumrall, Dr. Dave Shinstrom, Ginni Stern, Linda Thretheway.

If you live on Orcas or are simply visiting, be sure to support the local business you see listed here: The Sounder, La Campesina Project, Black Dog Farms, Blue Moon Paradise, Buck Bay Shellfish Farm, Bullwings, Chimayo, Eclipse Charters, Enzos Café, Funhouse, Home Grown, Island Market, Lambiel Museum, Luna Pasta Rustica, Olga Café.

Filed as: Orcas Storyfest, Programs  

Global Storytelling Institute

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.

Filed as: Programs