Building community one story at a time
Would you like to share a seven-minute story about yourself with a big group of people? On Saturday the Nome Arts Council presented “Tales from Around the Woodstove,” an event where seven people shared stories about themselves and brought everybody in the room a little closer together.
About five years ago the Nome Arts Council’s Laureli Ivanoff created the event for Nome storytellers. The stories would be seven minutes long, they had to be true, and they had to be about the person telling the story. Now the show is held once a year. This year Laureli was busy elsewhere so Brodie Kimmel stepped in to run it. She asked two friends who are Arctic Entries story coaches if they could travel to Nome and help with a workshop and with the show. Eva Gardner and Colby Bleicher agreed to come.
Anchorage’s Arctic Entries is a story telling organization which hosts monthly shows in the Performing Arts Center, a venue which seats 700. They began in smallish Cyrano’s Theatre with 100 seats and soon outgrew it.
“We get members of the community ranging from kids in high school to teachers, to doctors to scientists and they tell stories about their everyday lives,” said Colby Bleicher. “One of the rules, guidelines that our stories have to follow is that they are ideally seven minutes long and they have to be true and they have to be about the story teller themselves.”
“A story can describe a big moment of change in a person’s life,” said Bleicher. Asked how the seven-minute length came about she replied, “It’s the perfect length for a story. It’s long enough to get you invested but not long enough to get you bored.”
The workshop held in the Nome Elementary School commons attracted around 25 people, many of them kids. They broke up into groups of four of five and talked over their ideas for stories they could tell.
The story coaches played a pair of stories, which had been told at one of the Anchorage shows. Both served as an example of the power of the seven minute spoken word package.
At the performance Saturday evening seven Nome storytellers sat on the little stage and Bleicher introduced them after a round of live music. Then the story telling began.
Nome musher Kirsten Bey told a tale of mushing the Yukon Quest sled dog race on February 12, 2001. She became disoriented and was unsure of which direction the trail went, so she ended up completing the 75-mile-leg of the race 18 hours over her expected time. For the story telling she wore the same clothes she wore in the race that day and also brought a trail stake from the end of the stage.
Devin Tatro told a captivating story of how she first arrived in Anchorage with slim resources and how things went from bad to worse after a bicycle accident and the ensuing misfortunes, which followed. But it all turned out fine in the end.
Nome-grown John Handeland talked about Nome’s history and being absorbed by old historical documents of all kinds. He had letters his parents had sent back and forth when his dad was in Nome and his mother still in Norway. He spoke about how his father brought his mother to Nome and she was shocked that he would bring her to such a place. He told of a miners’ cabin left exactly as if the miners were coming back any day.
Chandre Szafran told a tale of how her essential self was gradually eroded away living on the road system and how the same was restored by returning home to Nome more often, and especially going to the spot near Council where her grandfather was born, keeping with the theme of “A story of loss and finding.”
Rick Anderson told a story about him volunteering to be a checker at the Safety roadhouse for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race. When a musher failed to appear he hitched up his dogs and headed out on the trail to search. Near Solomon he lost his dogs. The rest of the tale involves his walk to the nearest cabin and how he finally found his dogs.
Asked about the problem of fictitious stories Bleicher answered that they get far-fetched stories pitched to them and are generally skeptical. But an unbelievable story which the teller insists is true and has the credibility to sell will be heard.
How old is story telling? Perhaps as old as the campfire?
“I think that as long as there have been humans there have been stories being told,” said Bleicher. “I think it’s one of the most powerful ways that human beings can express themselves and share pieces of themselves with others. And pass on over generations the things that make us ourselves.”
Those who attended the show Saturday evening heard some great tales and now know a little bit more about their Nome neighbors.