If the man who just shot you was also your only hope for treatment and survival, would you trust him? The two characters in this drama face exactly that problem. An Irishman serving the Union Army and an escaping slave meet, wound each other, and learn each other's stories—whether they survive or not gives us historical background and insights into the larger arena of the Civil War.
Using uncommon perspectives, music, storytelling, and period costuming, this historical piece asks the listener to weigh, consider and eventually to take a stand on the story's outcome. This is one of the more theatrical performances I do, accomplished here with a partner, fellow storyteller Khabir Shareef.
There are a few light-hearted moments in this tale, and many more that are harrowing. This is probably not a show for children younger than fourth grade.
Time: One hour
Rough edges are removed from fine diamonds by skillful jewelers. Folktales are just like that—only their edges were smoothed by untold generations of storytellers whose names we'll never know! The result: cultural treasures for posterity.
If 'Once Upon A Time' stories are what most people think of when they think storytelling, that's ok with me. I loved them as a child. I loved them all over again, later, when I rediscovered them as an adult beginning to explore this profession. The way folktales encapsulate wisdom, enlarge cross-cultural understanding, and of course entertain—has kept me occupied as a teller and listener for close to two decades now.
This show gathers folk tales from around the world, often interwoven with music from a variety of music instruments that I play. Audience participation and programs tailored to countries of study are standard features.
I was commissioned to research, develop, write and perform this piece by the Department of Natural Resources to celebrate Indiana's sesquicentennial (that's 75 years of statehood, for those of you who are as math challenged as I am.). That was back in 1991. After that season of performing the story of Richard Lieber, a German American immigrant and Indianapolis resident who is directly responsible for having created Indiana's park system, I went on to tour this show through the Indiana Humanities program called History Alive!
Today I do this show independently, as a performance that features audience participation in recreating the original auction held to secure the first parcel in the park system (in 1916—do you know what park it was to be? Here's a clue: They lost it to a lumber company at the last moment, but later secured it through Lieber's tireless efforts..)
Along the way a secret is guarded and revealed, an accordian gets played (by yours truly), and a sense of reverence for the healing powers the natural world and wilderness offers to us are conveyed and presented -- as well as the man who made it all possible.
Indiana was settled, basically, because of a failed 'highway system' that none the less brought people in and transported goods out. The 'highways' were made of water-canals—and for a brief span of time they enriched a lucky few, brought opportunity to some and misery to many. The story of how the canals came about, who won, who lost, what the canals' lasting impact was and where they are today, is all wrapped up in this drama. In it I play nearly theatrical parts (while still maintaining a high degree of storytelling)—eight to be exact.
The story is part Canterbury Tales and part Murder on the Orient Express—for a murder mystery occurs midway through it. The audience is involved in solving it. This is the longest piece I do (nearly two hours, with an intermission), and, ideally, it needs a theater setting with at least some minimal lighting requirements. I first performed this in the late 1990s for the Indiana Historical Society as a commissioned piece in conjunction with Storytelling Arts of Indiana (Sharing Hoosier History).
I've been lost in a limestone cave, trapped (whilst swimming underwater) between two giant limestone boulders, climbed limestone precipices and walked through limestone canyons. At some point I wondered: "What is this stuff, anyway?"
This show answers that question and more. Why? It seems most of us don't actually know where we are. I mean fundamentally. It occurred to me that if we all had a better understanding of this place where we live—the mighty forces that shaped it, the eons of time required to do so, the fragility and resilience of what we have—if we knew all this better, we would acquire an attitude of stewardship, respect and humility. Naturally. Couldn't help it.
So I let some of my more dramatic (and admittedly knuckle-headed) experiences co-star along with the elements themselves: Earth, wind, fire and ice. Drums, cymbals, rain sticks and wind, as well as audience participation, complete the story of the majestic forces that have formed our place on Earth.
Learn to capture the stories behind those old family photos before they slip away. I work with well-known photographer Bill Rasdell as together we take you through the steps to:
Bill and I offer this as a multi-visit arts experience so I guess it's closer to being a residency than anything else. We attempt to tailor it to fit sponsor's needs regarding time and funding. It is easily made into an intergenerational project with several final event outcomes to choose from. More details are available upon request.
Bagpipes and fiddles. Leprechauns and drums. The Great Hunger and the passage over—all are contained in this story within a story, as a young boy meets his new neighbors and their unusual music and tales.
Immigration. Every family's story of how they came to America is different. Some were forced to come. Some chose to come. All were difficult. While this story focuses on one family of Irish origin and how it carried its strand of history and tradition forward, it is also a paean to all the families who've come to America and a call to discover, recollect and honor them.
Using my guitar and an Irish drum (bodhran) as accompaniment, I join my friends and mentors in Irish music, Jim and Kate Smith, to bring this story to life. They bring more than 20 years' experience in playing Irish traditional music on bagpipe, flute, penny whistle and fiddle. In Faery Gold their talents are showcased as we weave a compelling story together with beautiful, lively music to form a seamless narrative.
Time: One hour
What prompted this story was a request to assemble a program in honor of the hundredth anniversary of powered flight—that of the Wright Brothers. But flight is an age-old dream made modern. For the occasion I assembled and now tour a story with three separate flight threads: Orville and Wilbur Wright's endeavors; the mythic flight of Daedalus and Icarus; and a personal recollection about my childhood experiences with a neighborhood friend convinced that 10-year-olds could fly, too (and we did!).
This story moves back and forth from History with a capital "H" (the Wrights); to Greek Myth (with Daedalus); to history with a small "h" through personal storytelling with my friend Steve.
Funny, tragic, enlightening—and finally inspiring, Flights of Fancy is as much about how we can all "fly" in any field of endeavor if only we bring as much passion and devotion to our dreams as these devotees brought to theirs.
Time: One hour
Personal and family stories matter. A lot. Properly remembered and preserved they can show us where (and who) we've been. They can serve as guides to the future. They can include and honor our intergenerational family too, both living and dead. Finally, they can also anticipate those to follow. Could we ask for a better way to help keep our daily struggles, triumphs and failures in perspective?
When stories of this type are shared, bonds are formed between teller and listener. Deeper understandings are forged. Marriages, friendships, families and communities all stand to gain. Could we ask for a better way to find common ground?
My first storytelling recording (1988) included a story called "GreenLeaf 14." It was a personal recollection about the elders who populated the countryside near the old farmstead where I lived in college. In later work I focused on five generations of the Sander family in a commissioned story, "Fathers and Sons;" numerous stories about my own childhood; and now, many more stories regarding parenthood and marriage.
The stories in this show trigger a phenomena you've experienced before: Imagine you're asked to tell a joke. You can't. It's not that you're unable—you just can't think of one to tell. Someone else tells a joke instead—and no sooner do they start to tell it than you remember one, too. Or several. It's the same with stories. Once the floodgate opens, the stories emerge.
This program stands alone. Paired with a how-to workshop or my residency offering "Tell It Write," it becomes an ideal way to begin a unit of study on how to collect, create and tell your own stories.
Whether for student assemblies, groups of seniors, families or festivals, Life Is A Story has something for everyone.
Not all escaping slaves knew about the Underground Railroad. Not all Quakers who knew of it approved of it. Such is the case in this, a dramatic tale of two children from very different backgrounds.
Deborah Asante (with whom I've collaborated for many years—see Tapestry) and I wanted to represent unique viewpoints regarding what probably remains the seminal conflict in American history—the issue of slavery. Notes from the Underground is the first of a trilogy of pieces that examines this period. It will be followed by two additional works that track these characters into the Civil War period and after, into Reconstruction.
In Notes we follow the lives of two children and their families forced to reconsider what they believe and how they will respond as they are drawn in to the widening gyre of trouble and their two separate story lines become twined together.
Time: One hour
After more than a decade of performing solo I wanted to add collaboration to the mix—this was the first. Storyteller Deborah Asante and I draw upon our different heritages and styles to create a rich blend of storytelling. A Tapestry show features work in tandem and separately—to express what our ‘threads' look like together and on their own. We draw from folktales from around the world, personal and family stories, woven together with humor, music, rhythm and audience participation.
While it's possible to tailor this program to specific study areas (for school programs), we generally let story choices unfold spontaneously, like a jazz riff, playing off the audience and each other. Expect laughter and philosophy. Expect memorable moments and quirky characters. Expect the unique and the universal. Expect it all in one program!
Time: One hour
Mark Twain said, "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." Tecumseh, Tenskwatawa (The Prophet), and William Henry Harrison. They seemed to typify (in Indiana) Twain's "rhyme"—a pattern of clashing cultures that define a great deal of early American history.
My study of them raised questions:
These questions spurred me to study, write and present this story. First I toured it around Indiana through the Indiana Humanities Council's ‘History Alive' program. Then, through Storytelling Arts of Indiana I presented it onstage at the Indiana Historical Society; currently I offer this show independently, through Storytelling Arts, and via Young Audiences (depending on what the venue consists of.)
The show is 80 to 90 minutes long. Audiences tell me time zips by. Ample audience involvement throughout may be the reason. Or maybe it's the back and forth, episodic nature of the story—or rather, stories. There are two: The history of Harrison/Tecumseh is one; an Abenaki folktale forms the other. The way they intertwine helps explore issues in an historical, as well as a mythical, way.
Fourth grade is a good lower limit for this show. Adult audiences interested in history always find this story a good pick.
Bob Sander, Storyteller | (317) 255-7628 | © 2004