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  • Brandon Spars

Zooming Through Stories!


Yesterday I had the honor of opening for Bil Lepp on Sunday Stories, a weekly event from Six Feet Apart Productions. Needless to say I was pretty star struck, even for the second time around meeting this West Virginia legend. I loved it when Claire Hennessy, the host, introduced Bil with the line that "... he has performed at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro Tennessee seventeen times." Wow, seventeen times. 

It was so awesome that I got to tell first so I could sit back, relax, and listen to Bil tell "his truest story," which was about the high school commencement speech that he gave several years ago. Most of his speech was about working in Kentucky Fried Chicken, and, as Claire's husband, who did the tech for the Zoom broadcast, said, I won't be going back to KFC anytime soon. I was already stuck on the fact that a saucepan full of month-old grease from the fryer is what is used to make the gravy, and then he got to the part of the story where the workers lined up to "punch the lard." Bil then departed from the KFC thread and went into the dynamics of the graduation itself, while I waited to see how he was going to wrap this one up. Then it came. A student from the back of the alphabet shouted at Jake Plumb, or whatever his name was, "Don't punch the lard." That was the punchline. Eventually, that line will make into the Urban Dictionary, I am sure. 


It was generous of Bil to tell at this new event, especially given that it was getting on toward midnight in West Virginia when this was wrapping up. My favorite part of events like this are those moments you share with the tellers after the show. I got to tell Bil that the book he wrote a preface for (Live to Tell Again) received honors from Storytelling World. "Honors for the best preface, right?" He never misses a trick.

I told the story about meeting Irma and getting engaged. To make the story about twelve minutes I had to eliminate a character, Begawasi, who is the one who makes extraordinary puns. However, the plus side was that Irmawati, as a character, gained much more agency, and feels much more present in the story. The truth of the matter is that Begawasi was advising me on how to pursue a relationship in Bali, but I think the story may actually be better in some ways without him.

Another point is that I have been working on blending this story with the Kang Cing Wie legend, so it has been interesting to tell it stripped of the Balinese tale. It has helped me think about the value of combining the personal tale with the Balinese legend, and whether or not there is value in doing so. This will be the topic of the next post (I have already written a bit on this in the previous posts as well).

Finally, I want to comment on Zoom performances. This was actually my fifth, although the first three were for Sonoma Academy, where I am a teacher. So, two for the general public. The first was with Corey Rosen (host of the Bay Area Moth) and BATS Improv. This was fascinating and probably merits a post of its own, but the gist of it is that I told a story and then the improv group "riffed" on themes from the story. I will have to rewatch the YouTube broadcast to review what was done, but my single mention of a crocodile early in the story proved to be all the troupe needed to have a family reunion of crocodile relatives, ending with grandfather crocodile's arrival. 

The performance with Bil Lepp was the second. The benefit of this story was that I didn't have to tell the story to my own face as I have done in some of the previous stories, and I didn't get distracted from the chat comments because it was been transmitted from Zoom to YouTube. The title of this post is "Zooming" through stories, and that is what happens. Without an audience, the stories do go faster because you tell right through any of the reactions that they have. There are pluses and minuses to this. I don't think anyone would trade Zoom tellings for live performances, but... at least I can comfortably lounge on my sofa right up until the moment I have to stand up. I have learned (maybe this is not a good thing, though) that I can press my face right into the camera for some characters (the somewhat perverted idioms of Begawasi was a ripe moment for this). And, if I want, I can have a couple sticky notes on my laptop so that I can land the ending... or whatever. There are, however, downsides to Zoom telling... too many to mention, really. Six Feet Apart Productions is doing a great job with their technology, though, with nice touches such as having applause and curtains between the tellers, and it looks like they're catching on as they have viewers all over the world. This might be part of the future of storytelling!


Zoom Storytellings: BATS Improve "The Gather," April 11, 2020 and "Sunday Night Stories Bil Lepp Special," April 26, 2020

 

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©2019 by Brandon Spars