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Monday, July 23, 2012

The Jack Tales and Storytelling... Part 2

Yesterday I introduced you to a brief history of the Jack Tales and how they entered my life. Ever since my exit show in college, for which I created a line of posters for the National Storytelling Festival, I've been fascinated by Jack Tales. In fact, two of my picture books are Jack Tales: Paco and the Giant Chile Plant (based on Jack and the Beanstalk) and Soap, soap, soap (based on, you guessed it, Soap, soap, soap).
     Mine are bilingual, and so the Jack Tales evolve again into a new culture and language. It's the natural evolution of stories and storytelling, and something that I like to demonstrate when I do my school visits.
     I ask children to line up in a row in front of me. Each one is assigned a place along the evolution of Jack Tales, starting in England, traveling across the ocean to America, climbing into the Appalachian mountains, and finally ending up in the Chihuahuan desert where I placed Paco.
     And for all my years of doing this presentation, a thought has been nibbling at my brain... I want to write a non-fiction picture book about the evolution of storytelling via the Jack Tales. (It's a tad bit complicated, so I'm not worried about anybody stealing my idea - which is why I don't mind sharing it with you!) But we've already lost some key people in the story - Ray Hicks (storyteller) and Richard Chase (gatherer of The Jack Tales). Was I too late?
     I emailed Tina Hanlon, Associate Professor of English at Ferrum College, about my idea. Tina has become the documenter of Jack Tales whenever they are published in their various incarnations and had included Paco and the Giant Chile Plant in her records years ago. So we've emailed off and on for years.
     "Oh, I wish you could come up," she said. "The Jack Tale Players are putting on a performance (potentially their last season) and Anne Chase (Richard Chase's daughter) will be here to see it."
     Richard Chase's daughter? (The man who wrote the book I shared with you yesterday, The Jack Tales.) The Jack Tale Players? I had to go.
     I put together an itinerary by leaning on the help of Jack Tale scholars and enthusiasts such as: Lynn Salsi, who has probably written more on The Jack Tales and Ray Hicks than anybody; and Lisa Baldwin, who wrote her thesis on Ted Hicks, Ray Hicks' son, and happens to be an amazing bluegrass musician. Then, my hubbie (Stan) and I hopped in the car and headed for Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia (just up the road from Ferrum College) to see the last performance and meet Anne Chase.
     Are you noticing the circles here? Roanoke is right down the road from Lexington, where my grandparents lived when they gave me The Jack Tales way back in 1975. Rex Stephenson started The Jack Tale Players in 1975 too! Coincidences abound when we talk about the Jack Tales and how they've intersected my life.
     I have to tell you the Jack Tale Players are no slouches. They put on a tight show, which demands a good deal of audience imagination. For instance, two players stand together to create a hearth, or several bob up and down to indicate they are on a ship. It's amazing how easily your imagination accommodates. On top of that, many of them are accomplished musicians. Heck, the lead actress, Emily Rose Tucker, played piano, oboe, and sang. Several are branching out as bluegrass musicians in their own right - check out Cornbread and Butterbeans. The Jack Tale Players were simply amazing and absolutely captivating.
     This was a special performance for Anne as well - especially when they invited her onstage to be the Princess in Hardy Hard Head. (Rex is in the center and Anne on the right.) They also performed "Jack and the Robbers" (one of my faves) and "Ashpet."
     I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and meeting Anne, who turned out to be a fireball of a gal - love her! And since Anne has picked up the storytelling tradition from her father, I had the pleasure of being part of a practice audience for her telling of "Whitebear Whittington" on Tuesday. (Here I am with Anne and Tina during a lunch book signing they set up for me.)
     An unexpected wonderful ended up happening because of all this. Hollins University is home to the "Certificate in Children's Book Illustration" program headed up by one of my heroes, Ruth Sanderson (click her name to see her beautiful work). She's also a bud from my Picture Book Artists Association board. In fact, there was a whole slew of amazing children's book illustrators teaching there. Here I am, from the left, with Ashley Wolff, Wendy Watson, me, Lauren Mills, and Ruth (leaning in the back). Wowsa!!!
     Between them, they have done hundreds of picture books. Even so, Ruth invited me to speak to the students in the program during one of their classes. I was so flattered. (Click to see the image larger - including Tina, Wendy, Lauren, and Ruth's amazing picture book collection - she took the photo.)
     We had a fabulous time eating at Hollywood's, hanging out at Rose Hill (circa about 1907) watching "Willa" - a Davenport Film (a film company begun in... 1975, whose main goal is to save these stories in dramatic adaptations), and generally getting to know each other. I left with lots of new friends who I hope I will get to see again next summer as Ruth has invited me back for another talk.
     Truly, could my trip be any more amazing? Well, yes, considering this was only the first leg of my journey. More on Wednesday...

4 comments:

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

This is all Soooooooo cool!

Donny Bailey Seagraves said...

Great post, E. Looking forward to seeing your book about the Jack Tales!

SiskiyouSue said...

I ran into a copy of The Jack Tales, which were new to me, on a shelf in a classroom where I began teaching in 1975m (!!). I'm really enjoying your story about them. Interestingly, I had an ancestor on that same ship! The world is full of coincidences. Thank you.

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

SiskiyouSue - Can you email me? I'd love to talk to you about that! elizabeth at dulemba dot com. :)

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