Monday, March 28, 2011

The 10th Anniversary VASA Gathering

March 18-20, 2011

Massanetta Springs Camp and Conference Center
Harrisonburg, VA

The Blue Ridge Mountains were lovely, and the 10th anniversary VASA Gathering was sweet!

A Friday evening concert featuring Lynn Ruehlmann, Donna Will, and Joan and Mac Swift kicked of the event. Lynn shared her experience of adopting her first child. We, the audience, felt her joy and her apprehension, while at the same time learning quite a bit about stage managing an opera. Donna made us laugh as she told a personal story involving a practical joke on a Volkswagen bug’s puzzled owner. Joan and Mac did what they do better than anyone else: perform a Jack tale in tandem.

Following the Friday concert, Megan Hicks did a special performance of her story The Book of Joe Bob, which paid tribute to those whose lives have been disrupted by natural disasters.

Saturday morning began bright and early with a keynote by Michael Reno Harrell. He made several points that hit home with me. Like most others, I had bought into the myth that the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee began in 1972 with 20 people gathered around some haystacks and a wagon. Not so, according to Harrell. Bill Monroe kicked off the festival in a gymnasium filled with 500 people. The wagon, featuring Ray Hicks, appeared the next day and our story began. I found it ironic that our own history was a story. Dramatic license, as always in the storytelling realm, ruled.

Other points in Harrell’s keynote:

The average age of a person attending the National Storytelling Festival in 2010 was fifty-five. The average age of a person attending the festival twenty years ago was also fifty-five. I found this comforting. I had thought that our audience was getting older and that there was no new blood coming in. The truth of the matter, it seems, is that people don’t really have time to spend an entire weekend at a festival until the kids are grown.

The distinction between storytellers and comedians: Comedians tell funny stories; Storytellers tell stories funny. I thought that was a good analogy, though I prefer stories of a serious nature.

Regarding the current bankrupt status of the International Storytelling Center, storytelling will win because those of us who love it will take care of it.

Harrell’s keynote was followed by his workshop on using humor in stories. Did you know that, according to Mark Twain, the humorous story is American? Quotes from other famous men on humor:

“Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the innards are destroyed.” E.B White

“Humor is emotional chaos to remember in tranquility.” Thurber

Saturday afternoon was filled by two workshops and an alternative space. I heard good things about Ellouise Schoettler’s workshop Putting Flesh on Old Bones, a lesson in how to mine stories from genealogy. Susanna Holstein’s ballad workshop was also well received. I did not get to attend either workshop because I was performing stories from my show Shattered Silence, which was well received. I did catch the tail end of Susanna’s workshop and got to hear her beautiful voice sing a few of those enchanting ballads.

Saturday night’s concert was Aces! Ralph Chatham opened with a haunting version of the Kelpie Bride. Geraldine Buckley followed with two hilarious stories, one about the first time she went to prison (you had to be there!) and another about being bored in paradise.

The end of the evening belonged to Michael Reno Harrell, and he OWNED the stage. I loved his story about the time he was the recipient of one Christmas miracle while initiating another.

Story swaps were held throughout the weekend. I am not a night owl, so I missed the Friday and Saturday night swaps, but I did get to attend two hours of swaps on Sunday morning. As usual, several stories that I will cherish were told in the swaps. I will never forget Dr. Mwizenge Tembo’s story of his brother visiting from Kenya. His brother was so excited about the things that he learned in the United States that he could not wait to get home and bring some of the technology to his people. As a result of what he learned here and took home, including ways to make water more accessible for his people, he became a leader in his village.

The weekend ended at noon with puns, bouncing around like rubber balls. The cool thing about a small conference is that by the end of the weekend, you have heard each person attending tell at least once. By the end of the weekend we were a family. I cannot wait to get together again.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Shattered Silence

A Performance Showcase to be presented at the 10th Annual VASA Gathering

Massanetta Springs Camp and Conference Center, 712 Massanetta Springs Road, Harrisonburg,Virginia 22801
March 19, 2011

1:10 p.m.

I am the child of two parents who were abused as children. When I say abused, I do not mean that they were spanked. My mother literally went to bed at night not knowing if she would live to see another day.

When my grandfather, my mother’s father and abuser, passed away, my mother refused to attend his funeral. On the day he was buried, I went to my parents’ apartment after work. I found my mother sitting in her bedroom rocking in the dark.

I sat down on the bed beside her, and by the light of the moon, I could see that her face was streaked with tears. I took her hands in mine and said softly, “Mama, he was a sick, sick man. But in own way, he did love you.

She looked at me like I was out of my mind! She quickly leaned forward and raised her hand in a fist. I fully expected her to strike me. But then she let out her breath, leaned back against the rocker, and sighed, “I reckon he did. I reckon he almost loved me to death.”

Thus began my journey to try to understand the violent heritage from which I had been spared. Several women who had lived through similar circumstances, and who shall remain nameless, answered my call and took me on journeys that changed my life forever. They had walked through the fire and had come out victorious. Their strength is amazing.

Shattered Silence consists of four stories. In this presentation I will be sharing two of them. Parts of these stories may be offensive. I make no apologies for that. While not graphic, these stories are not pretty. They are not fairy tales. They are real life, and real life can be ugly.

If you take this journey with me, know that no matter how narrow or how long the tunnel, there is a light at the other side. Regardless of how it begins, life can be so sweet!

Shattered Silence is a love letter to my mother, and to all innocents who were robbed of their childhoods by monsters.

The 2011 VASA Gathering Schedule

At Massanetta Springs in Harrisonburg, Virginia

Friday, March 18: All activities in Greenwood

7:30-8:45 Welcome & VASA Tellers Concert: Mack & Joan Swift, Donna Will, Lynn Ruehlmann

9-9:45 Social

9:45-11:00 Midnight Cabaret story swap

Saturday, March 19:
8-breakfast All meals served in dining hall of old hotel

9:10-10:05 Announcements

Keynote: Michael Reno Harrell Greenwood (Gathering room in Lodge)

10:05-10:20 Break

10:20-11:50 Workshop 3: Michael Reno; What Makes a Story Funny?”

12-1:00 Lunch

1:10-2:40 Workshop 1 “Put Flesh on Old Bones” Hastings (small room in Lodge)

Workshop 2 “Turning Singing Tale into Told Tale” Greenwood

Linda Goodman Showcase: “Shattered Silence” Knox (lower level of Stewart)

2:55-4:25 Workshop 1 Hastings
Workshop 2 Greenwood

4:45-5:30 General VASA Meeting w/elections Greenwood

6:00 Dinner

7:30-9:15 Concert: Ralph Chatham, Geraldine Buckley, Michael Reno Harrell

9:15-10 Basket Auction/Social

10:15 until… Story swap Greenwood

Sunday, March 20

8:00 Breakfast

Rest of activities in Greenwood

9-10 Swap

10-10:30 Break

10:30-11:30 Inspirational stories

11:30 Closing with PUNS

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Penny for Your Thoughts

CD Review

Written and performed by Diane Ferlatte, with Erik Pearson. Order by emailing or visit

Reviewed by Linda Goodman

Diane Ferlatte has a rich, silky voice that is full of soul and heart. I could listen to her recite multiplication tables for hours and never feel board. Imagine how pleasant it is to hear her telling stories.

I first heard Diane at the Three Apples Storytelling Festival in Harvard, Massachusetts. I was spellbound by her gentle wisdom, coupled with spurts of energy that had me springing upright in my seat. I have heard her many times since, and she never fails to delight her audience.

Three of the stories on this CD are ones I have not heard before, including Next Town, in which Ferlatte shares a tale about a family road trip from California to Louisiana in the midst of a steaming, hot summer in her childhood. Her wise mother prepares food for the trip, but it disappears much sooner than expected. In the segregated south, when many restaurants refused service to black people, Ferlatte learned that people can hate others without even knowing them.

My Black Day, also new to me, relates an encounter with a French exchange student that leads to a deep friendship. Friendship and love, we learn, transcends cultural barriers. And singing a familiar song, by the way, can make everything all right if we put our problems behind us and concentrate on the music.

You Never Know What the End’s Gonna Be is the story of how the African American Ferlatte and her English husband won over her mother-in-law, who refused to attend their wedding. What was their secret? Patience, persistence, conversation, and two irresistible grandchildren. They included this reluctant grandmother in their lives, despite her resistance, and won her over. This story speaks to the comfort that only a loving family can provide.

I Got Your back begins with an instrumental version of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, morphs into a folktale about an old woman who sacrifices everything to save the people of her village, and ends with a tribute to the late, great J.J Reneaux. Sweet memories…how they linger.

Penny for Your Thoughts, the third story new to me on this CD, shows how two cultures, as well as two generations, can come together if they talk honestly to one another. “The most important person in your life is the one you are with right now,” Ferlatte affirms. Lean on Me is the perfect song to end this series of stories about lessons learned on life’s journey.

Ferlatte’s stories, vocals are songs are well complemented by Erik Pearson’s deep vocals, banjo, guitar, and bass. Together they shine a light on interactions between people who are open to new understandings of old philosophies. Even in this chaotic world, they make peace seem possible.