When I spoke recently with filmmaker and documentarian Ellen Frankenstein, she explained, “Normally we do Sitka Tells Tales live in a small space in Sitka.” But in the Covid-19 environment, this local staple, like so many forms of art and social interaction, has had to adapt.
On Feb. 25th, people will get to experience Sitka Tells Tales through the venue of Raven Radio – either streaming the live performances or listening to them on KCAW 104.7 FM. The stories will also be archived on artchangeinc.org.
“Storytelling is all about listening – you relate, you’re impacted,” says Frankenstein. It seemed almost like a natural to have live storytelling transmitted via radio.
Each person’s story session is limited to 6 minutes. “The process by which people decide how to tell their stories is super-collaborative,” says Frankenstein, as is putting the event together. “Sitka Tells Tales has a history of collaborating with other community organizations and non-profits.”
The storytelling format is flexible. “Some of the past stories have included poetry and even music.”
“We want to draw in people who don’t always get to ‘go to the podium.’ There are usually about five tellers, who work together on their stories before the public event and offer each other feedback. In the past, this pre-work has been by gathering together in a room, but this time is being done over Zoom.” Not ideal, maybe, admits Frankenstein, but still workable.
Tellers and producer alike must have “a tolerance for uncertainty, because you never know what interesting and serendipitous changes might ring in at the final performance.” These last-minute changes can produce results which are “unexpected and sometimes heartbreaking.” She adds, “The stories are not read; they are shared.”
Frankenstein believes listening to each other, laughing and sharing moments of heartbreak together, changes us. People truly are changed by the hearing of other people’s stories.
In a Sitka Tells Tales some years ago, I heard the story of a Sitka woman whom I had known for many years, but I (as I told Ellen) I never felt I knew this woman so well as after I heard her story. It changed my understanding of her forever.
I asked how Frankenstein came up with the theme for each show – like “Foot in Mouth” for this one.
“Sometimes,” she said, “a person will come to me with a story they want to tell, and I will build the theme around that. Other times, the theme comes out of conversations I have.”
Frankenstein is excited about getting the word out and encouraging participation, “not just in Sitka, but in other places as well.” She wants to work with storytellers from communities in Raven’s broadcast range. “It would be good,” she says, “for people in Sitka to hear stories from all around.” The collaboration with Raven may prove a perfect opportunity, a kind of lemonade.
Frankenstein welcomes questions and suggestions for future themes and tellers. And she always welcomes volunteers to make it all happen!