[note, I came back to revise the formatting of this post because the blog kept turning it into one big block of text, but I ended up adding a piece in the middle about Anje Robertson]
My previous post on storytelling and the Dutch scene resulted in a flurry of discussion and a great amount of reactions to the comment page of the post, my private e-mail, various Facebook pages and the mailing list of the Dutch Storytelling Foundation. I would very much like to encourage anyone who’s interested in the state of the scene and the discussion to go back to the previous post on February 17th and read the comments. Here I will add and clarify a few things that I wrote and respond to some of the mails and comments.
First of all I have to respond to creating for some people the illusion that I am allergic to the native Dutch over fifties crowd. Ironically, while people were mulling over my previous post and responding here and there I had a dinner with the board of the Mezrab were I lamented the fact that since we moved from our humble little place in the Jordaan to our new center in the East we’ve grown radically in crowds, but have a bit less very young (highschool age) or older (50+) visitors. I told them I would consider it a loss if the only people who would come were of my age, for the same reason that I would close the place down if only Dutch people or only Iranians would attend. Anything in life, but especially an art like storytelling needs diversity. While it’s a bit silly to talk about age in storytellers (I’ve seen students transform to wise old sages when channeling an old storyteller, or old ladies into seductive teenagers) it is true that certain generations have benefits to offer to the community that we would miss if we would let them out. Or to put it differently, where would we be without the arrogance and bravado of our youth or the wisdom and experience of those who’ve seen so much come and go? And more importantly, if we separate the two, how would we pass on the accumulated experiences and knowledge of our art to the next generation? Consider for instance the comment by Tori, who writes:
As you know, I am a huge Mezrab storytelling fan, and it’s gotten better and better as it’s gotten more and more personal. At the same time, when I do hear the (thankfully) rare traditional story now, I am drawn to it and more interested than I was when traditional stories were more dominant.
This was written after our last show this Friday. I can only assume she talks about Anje Robertson, a great storyteller who performed on that night particular night in front of over 100 people who had seen young storytellers talk loudly about (mostly) their own lives. Anje talked in almost a whisper, but the crowd was enchanted. I very much regret not writing in my original post how much I enjoyed Anje’s contribution to the meeting day. At the time I thought it was beside the point I was trying to make, but I should have included it. Another comment is made by Desiree van Keulen (translated to English by myself):
Making a judgement based on a first visit about the whole Dutch storytelling scene can’t be anything but a bad judgement. I’m given a label as a fifty plus Native Dutch, from outside, based on a single meeting and to be frank that kind of behavior infuriates me!When I was six I wasn’t allowed to join playing football with the boys in the neighborhood. I was just a girl, and girls can’t play football, right?
Desiree continues to write about other labels that she has encountered in her life, from not being expected to study because her father was a craftsman to not understanding her family because she was born after the war. All valid points (and again, I do encourage everyone to read the comments in their entirety) however, while I’ve visited the meeting days only once, I’ve heard from other people who’ve gone before share my concern. I’m also not new in the storytelling scene. I’ve been to events all other the Netherlands and I do see certain patterns. It’s ludicrous that a girl isn’t allowed to play football, but it’s also not true that if the girl says she doesn’t like the football in her neighborhood to be a boys only club she hates boys. She’s merely protesting a scene that either consciously locks her out, or hasn’t created an environment girls would care to join.
But also, even if I would base my judgment on only one visit, would that be less valid? Consider the following, the visitors come based on how people have been attracted to the scene in previous months and years. Now, are the type of people I would like to join the existing scene excluded on purpose or do they simply feel the scene isn’t their place? This is easy to answer, the people who run the scene are the kindest and most open people I’ve met in my life. Even in the comment section Gottfrid and Eric, current and previous members of the board of the Dutch Storytelling Foundation, write the following:
“…You are very succesfull in Amsterdam because: a) you have a different, more open concept for your storytelling nights; b) you attract younger people because you are young yourself; c) you attract WND and foreigners because you have roots in more than one culture and d) you like experiments with stories and different kinds of storytelling. This will probably be the basis of your success and we wish you joy with it. … We hope that you will contribute with your fresh ideas and experience with Mezrab to DSF. We may invite you in the future to organize one of the DSF meetings in Utrecht. We will give you and your fellow Mezrab storytellers a one day’s playground for others (yes, all those WND, 50+ you saw) to learn from. Do we have a deal?”
“I agree with Gottfrid. As a former boardmember I know it is the strong wish om DSF to connect all kinds of Storytelling and yes this is a long way to go. MAZRAB is a wonderfull concept and, although reasons for nominations were not mentioned I believe the way you and MAZRAB connect people,music, stories and cultures is one of them. …”
Great, the spirit and need for renewal and experimentation is present, so let’s do it! I’m up for it, I’m sure more than a few Mezrab visitors would like to attend. But why stop at Mezrab? There’s so much happening that’s not considered part of the “scene” that we Dutch storytellers could learn from. Almost each immigrant community has a storytelling representative in the Netherlands from styles that force us to reconsider what we consider a story or how it should be told. There’s also poetry circles to raid for ideas, scores of students graduating from the “kleinkunst” academy, or as Anne van Delft showed us in her amazing festivals so many years ago, present in about any person you meet in the streets. In the spirit of discovery here a link that Belgian storyteller Rob sent in one of his mails. Simply amazing:
Well, there’s still much more to write and discuss about the state of storytelling in the Netherlands and the role each of us can play to make it a more exciting dynamic place. Not only will I do so, but I also encourage you to continue your contribution, both on stage as well as in the comment section.