19 Aug 2011

Global Storytelling: What is it?!

out-and-about, Personal No Comments

Here’s a joke for you: How many storytellers does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one. Get more than that and they’ll just sit around in the dark swapping stories about all the lightbulbs they changed before.

In all seriousness can storytelling accomplish anything as meaningful as even changing a lightbulb? In an attempt to answer that question I participated in the 2011 Global Storytelling Institute held last week at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, TN. The institute was led by Dr. Hannah Harvey as well as Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo and Nancy Wang of Eth-Noh-Tec. The week centered around three case studies: Dr. Harvey’s ongoing work with a community of coal miners in southwest Virginia, Eth-Noh-Tec’s on-going cultural exchange to the Chinese storytelling village of Gengcun (part of their Nu Wah program), and the Bhutanese cultural exchange trip represented by Dr. Sobol of the ETSU Storytelling program.

It was a week of lively discussions and presentations about ethics and responsibilities of storytelling globally. As part of the institute participants received some stories from storytellers in the village of Gengcun, which is designated as a storytelling village in China, where hundreds of villagers are recognized “master storytellers” being able to tell over a thousand stories. Each institute participant then came up with a response story, either personal or a folktale, to the Gengcun teller’s story they got. These response stories were then crafted into a performance put on as part of Johnson City’s Umoja Festival which (appropriately) celebrates diversity in the region. Our response stories were recorded and will be taken and shown to the Gengcun storytellers later this year when Eth-Noh-Tec returns to China.

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