Monday, July 21, 2014

Poetic Folk Hero: Li Bai

Folk lore legend has it that starry-eyed poet Li Bai tried to kiss the reflection of the moon in the water next to his boat when he fell overboard and drowned. It has been said the poet had a penchant for liquor, which may have played a factor in his demise. He even wrote a poem before his death titled “Alone and Drinking Under the Moon.”

Poets and writers of both fiction and non-fiction tell stories. In one way or other they show us how the world looks, what works and how changes can be made. It is through this literary looking glass that the author’s society can be shared. Readers get to learn about specific traditions, beliefs and more. They come to find out what is considered beautiful and worthy in a particular culture as well as what is considered inappropriate and undesired.

Poems, it can be argued, are among the most metaphoric of literary forms. They are often dependent upon figurative language to convey a message (often a feeling or experience). Chinese poet Li Bai captured the world he lived in with very few words.

He lived during 701 to 263 AD he was given the title Poet Immortal during the Tang Dynasty for his whimsical and bright poetry. At an early age, guided by his mother who was of Turkish descent, he began his journey as a poet along with a study of Taoist discipline and ancient martial arts. He took all three with him on a nomadic trek through China’s natural landscapes in search of inspiration.

Li Bai, also known as Li Po (Bo), is credited with a thousand poems, of which thirty-four in the canonical 18th-century anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems. The poems celebrated the pleasures of friendship, the depth of nature, solitude, and the joys of drinking wine. Admired by many, including a famous Daoist priest, Wu Yun, he was to the Imperial County. There he befriended Emperor’s Ming Huang’s favorite royal consort Yang Guifei while offending the most powerful royal eunuch and, eventually others. He quickly fell out of favor and was exiled. It is believed that he was 62 when he drowned in a lake one night while reaching for the moon.
To read a translation of his work, click here.To learn more about last months folk heroine whom was also a well known author click here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Knights: Men of Honor

Knights were men of repute who were chosen by the monarch or political leader to serve the country. Today’s knighthood is often granted as an honorary title. Historically, however, they were expected to serve in a military capacity and were compensated with land.

During the Renaissance knights became linked with romantic chivalry and gave birth to literary characters like Don Quixote (written by Miguel de Cervantes). Knights, in reality, had to adhere to a code of chivalry. They also had to have excellent equestrian and battle skills.
Such training was costly. Equipment, armor and horses were not cheap. In many cases future knights began their preparations as children. By the age of seven years-old, those supported by well to do families learned fundamental etiquette, including how to be faithful to the monarch.  

Other elements for these men of honor included being schooled in stories about bravery and selflessness. In many cases, the young boy was educated at the castle of a noble. During that process he would serve as a page.
By the age of 14 he would become a squire and his duties would including learning the rules of heraldry.
Here are two famous knights:

Richard the Lionheart of England: Successor of Henry II. After his proclamation, he led a crusade that enhanced his reputation as an excellent military leader.

El Cid: A Castillian Knight. His greatest exploit was conquering the kingdom-city of Valencia from the Moors.

Knights are a central part of today’s Renaissance faires. In full costume, they often accompany Queen Elizabeth as she tours the faire and are prepared at a moment’s notice to defend her honor. 

Renaissance Faires:
Canterbury Renaissance Faire 

Florida Ren-Fest 

Much Ado About Sebastopol 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Congratulations: Marin Shakespeare Company

Marin Shakespeare 

Celebrates its 25th Season!

I recently had a chance to ask Lesley Currier founding Managing Director of Marin Shakespeare Company to tell me a little bit about her role as casting director for this season’s opening production As You Like It.

This pastoral comedy, written by William Shakespeare explores folkloric themes of true love, justice, and the simplicity of country life. Currier noted that when casting lead roles in Shakespeare she looks for actors who convey intelligence, and wit.

 “Shakespeare’s actors spoke directly to their audiences at the Globe and the Blackfriars Theatres, and these roles are written for actors who can connect with an audience.”

Q: Actors and actresses must bring a piece of themselves to the characters who reflect back to us our secrets, hopes, and desires.  Have you had any surprises in casting for this production?

A: We called in Debi Durst to read for the Nurse in ROMEO AND JULIET, knowing that she is a professional comedian, and she absolutely surprised us by how well she read the dark, sad parts of the Nurse, like when she discovers Juliet’s dead body.  Occasionally we are surprised by an actor who seems so absolutely perfect for a role like Braedyn Youngberg who we had never met before, and who we cast as William in As You Like It this summer.  The actor we cast as Orlando, Teddy Spencer, is also playing the role of Tybalt in ROMEO AND JULIET.  We didn’t even have him read for Tybalt, as we have limited time at our auditions and we are casting three plays in rep, and we just trusted that he's a good actor, so it was a wonderful surprise to hear how great he is as Tyblalt, a haughty troublemaker, and the opposite of Orlando, a love-besotted sweetheart.

Q: What are the responsibilities of a casting director?

A: A casting director’s job is to line up actors for auditions, organize callbacks, and negotiate contracts.  To line up actors, we hold open auditions each year, and we also attend regional auditions, from which we invite some actors to come read for us.  We also invite a significant number of actors each year to skip our general auditions and come directly to our callbacks, where actors read scenes from the plays we are casting, rather than perform monologues. Occasionally, with actors we know well and have worked with extensively, we will make casting offers without a formal audition.  Organizing callbacks means preparing “sides,” scenes and speeches for actors to read, getting those sides to the actors so they can work on them in advance, and coming up with a schedule that allows the director to see actors together when necessary.  For example, when casting ROMEO AND JULIET, it’s a good idea to read the actors together to see whether they seem like a good match in terms of energy, age, and other chemistry.  Negotiating contracts with actors is the job either of the casting director or producer; at our theatre, I am both.

Q: How does your own acting experience inform your casting choices? 

A: Having been an actor, you gain a deeper respect for what an actor goes through and how fragile the process can be.  

Other productions this summer include Romeo and Juliet and Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband.

About Lesley Currier:  Recipient of Princeton University’s Frances LeMoyne Page Award for Theatre, her acting career includes the Ukiah Players, Ashland's Oregon Shakespeare Festival and elsewhere. She initiated the New American Comedy Festival and founded the Marin Shakespeare Company with Robert Currier in 1989. An actor, director and playwright, her original adaptation of "A Thousand and One Arabian Nights", which she directed, was nominated for "Best Overall Production of 2002" by the Bay Area Critics Circle and she was nominated as "Best Director 2009" for "Twelfth Night, or All You Need Is Love" which she adapted with Robert Currier.

She is also the founder of Shakespeare at San Quentin, which gives inmates opportunities to study and perform Shakespeare and is past President of the Shakespeare Theatre Association of America.

As You Like It runs Friday-Sundays, July 5-August 10.

Cost “Pay As You Like It” - Admission donations of any amount will be accepted at the door for this production.

Tickets: click here.

Where: Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, 890 Belle Avenue, Dominican University of California, San Rafael, Calif. 94901.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fambul Tok

Today’s Living Folk Heroines   

Folk heroines are everywhere. Most of the time they aren’t noticed until after they have died. Sometimes, though we are lucky enough to recognize them in our midst before it is too late to celebrate their good work. Here is a woman – actually, an organization of women (and men) – who teach others how to respond to unbearable violence in a way that betters humanity. Imagine that! Want to meet some of these amazing women? One of them, Michaela Ashwood, head of the Peace Mothers group that is giving war-torn Serra Leone a second breath of air, will be in attendance at the Fambul Tok Benefit Screening in Sonoma County on July 8.

Ashwood is at the heart of Serra Leone’s postwar reconciliation. She and others works with women to help them heal. The work they do gives voice to unmentionable experiences and that process empowers them to heal their community. I hope you can attend this benefit screening, 7-9 pm, July 8 at the Rialto Cinemas Sonoma County in Sebastopol. It is a benefit for Collaborative Families, a Sonoma County organization that provides parents with collaborative professional guidance and neutral decision-support necessary to make informed child-centered decisions, reach non-adversarial mutually beneficial out-of-court family law agreements, access vocational support and microfinance resources and achieve sustainable family income.

Details: The documentary and Michaela Ashwood will be at the Rialto Cinemas Sonoma County in Sebastopol on July 8, 7-9 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased from the theater. More info: 707-494-6503.

Monday, June 30, 2014

3 Folklore E- Books

Ghosts, giants, and gods, oh my! These folklore E-books have it all. Power up those E-readers, get comfortable, and dive into these fun folklore books:

Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder
Long before supernatural detectives became popular in television and movies, there was Carnacki,the Ghost-Finder. This E-book is a collection of supernatural detective short stories by author William Hope Hodgson. First published in 1913, the stories center around the "detective of the occult,"  Thomas Carnacki, as he attempts to get the bottom of numerous hauntings and other mysterious paranormal disturbances.

The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths and Legends
Written by Peter Berresford Ellishas, The Mammoth Book of Celtic Myths and Legends is overflowing with tales of gods, goddesses, heroes and heroines. Developed from an early oral storytelling tradition dating back to the dawn of European culture, Ellishas brings some of the oldest and most vibrant of Europe's mythologies to life.

Kate and the Beanstalk
A clever twist on a classic fairy tale, Mary Pope Osborne and Giselle Potter's Kate and the Beanstalk stars a whip-smart girl instead of traditionally lazy, not-so-bright Jack. Giselle Potter's enchanting illustrations bring Kate, the inspiring heroine, to life. You'll cheer on this resourceful, gutsy girl as she outsmarts the famously greedy giant.

Want to find out more about folklore? Click here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

3 Mythical Monsters

Mythic Members of the Animal Kingdom

Stories and characters in mythology continue to stay with us, even in today’s highly digital world. Among them are monsters that are unforgettable.

Basilisk: a reptile considered to be renowned as the king of the serpents. It is believed to possess a magical power that can with just a glimpse cause death to anyone. Measured to be no more than twelve fingers long, it is part of the cobra family and some myths report that its venom strikes its enemies eyes.  

Roc: a massive well-known white bird of prey. It is famed in Arabian sailors’ myths and stories and is believed to have once soared over the China Seas.  So physically strong it is credited with being able to hold an elephant in its talons. It was also to be the driving force responsible for delivering a blessed piece of wood to King Solomon so that he could complete the Temple.

Manticore: s a Persian creature that is known to be comparable to the Egyptian sphinx. It has a head like man with sharp teeth like the shark, and a red lion’s physique. It also had horns and, in some cultures, a dragon tail that could throw people, making them completely or partially immobile.

These creatures had skills and strengths that went beyond those of the natural world. Their extra special characteristics are what made them able to complete certain tasks and help humans accomplish great deeds.

To learn about more mythological creatures, click here.

Monday, June 16, 2014


The History Behind the Lore

Childlore is the folklore or folk culture of children and young people. It includes, for example, rhymes and games played in the school playground or neighborhood park that have been passed from one generation to the next. Other forms include pranks, codes, and songs and many are most often shared orally and learned through repetition.
One of the more common American examples is an urban sidewalk rhyming game:
If you step on a crack you break your mother’s back
If you step on a line you break your father’s spine

Some childlore contains codes that refer to events and activities that were current at the time the code was created. Here are a few examples:
Ring Around The Rosie game. It is believed that this game used words that referenced but did not specifically name the time of the plague that killed so many in England.
Mary, Mary Quite Contrary which is reported to be a criticism of the rule of Queen Mary.
Humpty Dumpty some say referred to King Richard III/
Little Jack Horner was a nursery rhyme said to be about the last monastery in England met its demise.

Childlore, unlike other forms of folklore, is unique because over the centuries it has been very well preserved. Most of the words have remained intact even without children knowing the history behind the lore.