Monday, December 13, 2010

Talking You In news

Photo credit: Lori Ives-Baine, taken Oct. 30, 2010 at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto

Talking You In, the "canta storia" that I wrote with composer/musician Brian Katz has travelled quite a bit this fall. It is the story of a father who tells "emergency" stories to his baby son in the neo-natal intensive care unit. It is a kind of Scheherazade story, where voice and story make an essential link for parents trying to humanize the terrifying environment of the NICU. We performed it at the Barbican in London, England, as part of their Performance Storytelling series (curated by Crick Crack Club). We also did it as a keynote at the National Perinatal Conference, in Washington, DC. And we were delighted to present it at the launch of It Was Midnight On The Ocean - the neo-natal intensive care unit book of rhymes and stories, edited by Celia Barker Lottridge. This booklet was commissioned by the Hospital for Sick Children, in Toronto, as a way to develop their family-centred care approach. It was inspired by the interest of staff and NICU parents in Talking You In, and I was honored to work with Celia, Dr. Jonathan Hellmann (Clinical Chief, NICU), and Jonathan Blumberg (whose Sasha Bella Fund, named in memory of his daughter, provided funding). The launch was a fundraiser for Parent-Child Mother Goose program, which was a partner in the booklet project.

Talking You In continues its journey through the critical care community. In Washington, a woman who works in an NICU and also had had a child born in one commented afterwards that the story allowed her to cry for the first time since her son was born. I asked how old he was, and she answered, "Twenty-one."

If you'd like to listen to a demo of Talking You In (recorded 2 1/2 years ago), please write to and I'll send it to you as a zipped mp3 file.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

My friend Lisa Pijuan-Nomura and I are pleased (and surprised: she and Dave had their baby Max Antonio 5 weeks ago, and then he needed an operation from which, thank goodness, he's recovering well) to announce that the second edition of FOOL - festival of oral literatures is starting soon. This is a celebration of the arts of voice and story, and it brings together storytellers, performance poets, theatre artists, tradition-keepers, and dancers who use narrative. You may remember from last year that FOOL happens in house concerts and at the Artscape Wychwood Barns; this year we've added Alliance Française, the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, Palmerston Library. As we did last year, the first two nights will wind up with an after-party at Terrazza Restaurant, on Harbord just east of Ossington. Our special guests this year include Laura Simms (New York), one of North America's greatest storytellers; Hilary Peach, an incredible performance poet from Gabriola Island; our good friend Alan Shain, spinning poignant hilarity from his wheelchair; Éric Gauthier, a fine young teller from Québec; and we even have a surprise guest: the wonderful Regina Machado, from Sao Paulo, Brazil - founder/director of Boca do Ceu International Storytelling Festival.

For all of the program info and to order tickets (highly recommended due to the intimate size of some of the venues), please visit

I'm doing four things this year as a teller and teacher. On Thursday, Oct. 21, I'm telling with Éric and Regina at Sagatay (Native Men's Residence), on Vaughan Road south of St. Clair. I performed there last year, and the front room is a magical, firelit hall, with a trace of sweetgrass in the air. I'm telling a new story titled Stormfool's Cool Gig, a pretty wild tall tale about a freelance storyteller who gets the best job in the world. I just did it at the Israel Storytelling Festival in Ramat Gan. Lots of fun. Regina will be telling stories from Afro-Brazilian traditions, and Éric brings his surreal Montreal yarns and a great retelling of the story of Ganesh.

On Saturday morning, Oct. 23, I'm hosting Bread and Stories at the Barns from 10 - 12 at farmers' market at the Artscape Wychwood Barns. Some of you know this is a regular gig for me, while I've been working as Storytelling Toronto's Storyteller-in-Residence this year. On Oct. 23 I'll be joined by my friends Celia Lottridge, Adwoa Badoe, Dahlia Eagle-Ellis, and Gurpreet Chana for a morning of stories and music. It's free, and we'd love to have you come out to the market.

That afternoon, from 1 - 3 pm, I'm co-teaching, with photographer Dave Pijuan-Nomura, a workshop titled See So That We May See. This is an exploration of how storytellers can "see" and re-imagine their stories, discovering what lies beyond the text. Dave and I will be asking participants to visualize their stories in a cinematic way. Should be fun and challenging. Bring your mind's eye and your imaginary cameras.

And on Sunday, Oct. 24, we're doing And The Story Changed Everything, from 5 - 6:30 pm at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre. This session includes Laura Simms, Alan Shain, the great jazz/klezmer/improv guitarist Brian Katz, Regina Machado, and me. Brian and I will be performing Talking You In, the piece we do about a father telling stories to his son in the neo-natal intensive care unit. (If you can't make it on the 24th, we're doing it again at the Hospital for Sick Children on Oct. 30 as part of a fundraiser for Parent-Child Mother Goose Program.)

Besides these events, FOOL is full of great house concerts, a main-stage gala on Saturday night, FOOL en français (at the Alliance Française), and a very funny show on Sunday afternoon (3 -5 pm) at Palmerston Library, which features National Theatre of the World, the greatest improv troupe in Canada.

Hope to see you at some or all of these FOOL sessions!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Performed at The Music Garden with the great mbira virtuous Rainos Mutamba and my all-time guitar wizard friend Brian Katz. We did dilemma stories from around the world. The weather was rainy all day, but cleared just in time for the show. Storytelling magic? The Music Garden, on Queen's Quay just east of Bathurst St., is one of the most wonderful venues for live performance in the city. Our show was the first time they'd presented storytelling. Everyone (most of all us!) was amazed at the big crowd that came out. The photo of me perching on a rock is by my friend Dolores Steinman.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I'll be at Toronto's wonderful Music Garden with two great musicians - Brian Katz, guitarist, and Rainos Mutamba, mbira player - on August 8 at 4 pm. We're doing The King's Feast, a concert of dilemma tales, riddles, jazz, and traditional Zimbabwean music. The show is free - hope to see you there.

Other performance news:
Brian Katz and I are taking Talking You In, our canta storia about a father telling stories to his baby in the neo-natal intensive care unit, to the Barbican (October 15, and to The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, October 16. We are then keynoting with Talking You In at the National Perinatal Association in Washington in early November.

I'll be travelling to the Israel Storytelling Festival September 23 - 30 (with support from the Canada Council for the Arts). I'm doing a talk about the art of storytelling, and a performance of Stormfool's Cool Gig, a new "tall tale" about a freelance storyteller who gets the best gig in the world.

And as of August 6, I'm back in the Storytent at farmers' market at the Artscape Wychwood Barns (601 Christie St., 2 south of St. Clair Avenue West), trading yarns with anyone who drops by from 10 am - 1 pm. Come by and we'll "talk story."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Can a folktale go viral? The Tellery and Center for Digital Storytelling have done our second storytelling video. This is part of the Future Folklore project. The story is based on a traditional legend found in several northern countries. You can read my own version of it in Suddenly They Heard Footsteps - Storytelling for the Twenty-first Century, as part of a longer story titled The Storyteller At Fault. For our Youtube telling, the story is told in the second person present tense. Hope you enjoy it! Jennifer Lafontaine (Director of the Toronto branch of Center for Digital Storytelling) and I had fun finding the location. It's a small park north of Queen Street near Leslie. We were amazed to find the rock with the word "spirit" carved into it - very appropriate for this story.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lost Rivers of Toronto update

My son Nathaniel Zavitz and I are working on a script for a movie titled Lost Rivers of Toronto. It is a triple love story, a comedy, and an exploration of the things about Toronto we love the most. I'll post updates about the development of this film as they happen. It is currently being considered by a producer. Storytelling and film share one artistic imperative: suspense. Natty and I are both passionate about the principle, "Never play an ace when a two will do." As a kid he once commented (about a movie called Finding Forrester), "They left too little unknown." This is still the best criticism I've ever heard, of film, storytelling, or any other artform. Stay tuned to more news about Lost Rivers!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Future Folklore Project on Youtube

I'm working with Jennifer Lafontaine, at the Center for Digital Storytelling, on the Future Folklore Project. It's an experiment to see if folktales can go viral on the web. Our first video - "You're walking on a dark road ..." - has been entered into the Cuentocorto storytelling video contest (wish us luck!). Here's the link: Or just search Future Folklore on Youtube. Instead of doing a presentational approach, with the viewer/listener a spectator of a taped performance, Future Folklore puts folktales into the second person present tense. "You" are the hero of the story. My aim is to shake up the frame a bit, to subvert the distancing forces of camera, screen, geographic isolation. And also to have fun by telling stories in a new way. We'll be launching 10 folktales over the next few months. Who knows? Maybe one of them will get zapped and forwarded around the world.