Sunday, October 12, 2008

Liberian Storyteller

Friday and Saturday were super busy. I was awake on both Thursday and Friday night, stressing out over details of the next day that I was afraid I'd forget. But then *last* night, I actually slept really well, because both days were successes AND most importantly, they are *over.*

Friday morning I had an outreach event at a local elementary school (that was nonetheless a bit of a trick to find, being a charter school in a non-traditional building). This involved transporting some museum materials (both fragile and heavy) that I had organized for this very purpose. Actually, I had a grad class help create this suite of materials several years ago; they did a fantastic job coming up with three different thematic approaches to teaching both kids and the public about this particular society and historical period. We integrated archival docs with artifacts (the former loaded onto the museum webpage and the latter selected from the museum's collections). Of the three outreach programs we developed in this class, the one I trotted out on Friday was particularly relevant to this season of the year. Earlier in the week, I had loaned it to one of the grad students who helped to develop it, so that she could display it at a diversity-awareness event sponsored by her employer. The neat thing about these particular outreach modules is that they are equally adaptable to both adult and juvenile audiences. She had the adults on Tuesday, I had the kids on Friday. They were very cute and smart and engaged with the materials. I organized the entire presentation around a few interactive components and it worked really well, I think. I'll post photos of this gig if and when the teacher sends some my way.

When I finished at the school, I headed over to campus to put the artifacts away and meet the storyteller who was slated to perform yesterday. She wanted to create an ambiance for her performance that evoked a bit of West Africa and was thus planning to bring in some colorful cloth and a couple pieces of traditional African clothing. Before she arrived, I pulled out our mini-stage, a Yoruba carving, a drum and a beautifully carved stool from our permanent collections. She loved them, and once we added her cloth and costumes, the stage was set (well, except for our black leather ottoman [she needed something to sit on while she told stories], which TH and I hauled up there from our house, along with platters and ice buckets, later that night).

On Saturday, we had a full house. For our little gallery space, that's about 45--standing room only for about 5 of us. She is an excellent performer. The audience was rapt, literally. She told three African folktales (2 from West Africa, 1 from South Africa) that involved monkeys and people. They embodied lessons about vanity, humility, honesty etc. that we're all familiar with, but she made them funny and new. Even her own kids (who have heard these many times) were fully engaged in her telling of them. I was waaaaaaay more impressed than I thought I would be. Afterwards, people lingered for a long time to talk with her and enjoy the refreshments. We had quite a spread of sugary stuff--much of which is left over and available in the museum fridge for your snacking pleasure. Anyway, it was a wonderful, if tiring, day. And I am glad it is over.

The storyteller, EM, watches for her sister to arrive before she begins her performance.

Performing "Monkey Come Down."
She had a line of people waiting to thank her personally when she was done.
Posing with her sister. I believe she was also born in Liberia.
A Vietnamese family chatted with her for a long time about how similar the folktales were to some of their traditional stories.
Talking with one of her friends who came to see the performance.

Posing with her kids and her sister's kids, afterwards.

And, with KCD and HL , who stayed behind to help me clean up (for which I thank them very much.) The vacuuming was all mine--its how I decompress from these events and make sure the chocolate bits and cookie crumbs don't get ground too deeply into the rug. But it's mostly about the zoning out...
I plan to have E come back for some other exhibit in the future. BUT, I'm going to find some funds to help sponsor her, because she should be paid for what she does, like any other artist. Right now, she is just trying to build a name for herself locally, and was more than happy to simply be invited, "Let me tell you, Auto Ethnographer, we all got some joy out of this, today," she told me. And I had to agree with her. I was glad MP1 came to see it.

1 comment:

the cheerful pessimist said...

Oooh, cool! I don't suppose anyone taped it?