Thursday, February 24, 2011

A city of storytellers

Some of us do it with plays and movies.
Some think songs are the best way to do it, in every style from rock and pop to symphonies. Music is just the starting point for some talented souls who mix in ballet, pantomime, belly dancing, hip hop, tap or even hula hands.
Others prefer poems, books and short stories.
I’ve done it with nothing but a pencil and scrap paper on an isolated lagoon in Jamaica. Now, I do it almost every day with a pen and notebook, or on park benches and hillsides with my new Macbook, or on a keyboard in a shifting series of newsrooms.
I’m doing it right now, in fact.
However we do it, we all tell stories.
And Las Cruces, more than any place I’ve ever lived, is a city of eloquent storytellers.
To paraphase an old line from TV shows and film noir classics, there are thousands of stories in the City of the Crosses and thousands of storytellers to tell them.
When I decided to do a little sidebar for today’s SunLife story on the Jennie Curry Storyfest, it quickly became clear what Jennie had wrought during her century on the planet.
I started with what I thought would be a short list of place where people could hear or tell stories. The list kept growing, beyond the Storytellers of Las Cruces themselves, who share tales regularly at both Coas Books (a good deal, I can attest as a grandmother, which includes free entertainment plus a coupon for kids to choose a free book).
I thought about Dave Edwards Saturday storytelling at the Rio Grande Theatre, plus all the events at the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library. Then I remembered that storytelling, from poems to standup to orginal songs, is a big part of the burgeoning number of open mic events around town.
Author and Border Book Festival founder Denise Chavez has made storytelling an integral part of the festival and related year-round programs.
And that’s only the beginning. Irene Oliver-Lewis, a founder of Court Youth Center and Alma d’arte charter high school for the arts has led a resurgence of interest in oral history project and made a milestone cultural contribution of her own with her award-winning play, “Dichos de mi Madre.”
Tony Award-winning Las Cruces playwright Mark Medoff has brought epic stories twice to Broadway, to many movies (including “Children of a Lesser God,” which garnered an Academy Award for Marlee Matlin and an Oscar nomination for Mark) and is still helping new generations tell their stories through ground-breaking projects like “Another Planet” and at New Mexico State University’s Creative Media Institute, which he helped found.
Ceil and Peter Herman built their own theater —The Black Box — and theater company to tell stories, adding to a burgeoning number of storytellers at the American Southwest Theater Co., the Las Cruces Community Theatre, the Fountain Theatre, and several children’s theater groups.
Bob Diven has become our resident Renaissance storyteller, sharing his stories through original songs, plays, videos and multimedia artworks that range from oil paintings and Sun-News cartoons to weekly chalk renderings during the Las Cruces Farmers and Crafts Market, Saturdays on the Downtown Mall.
Stephen Hansen’s whimsical sculptures tell amusing at-a-glance stories in museums, corporate headquarters and embassies around the world.
Dance, music, theater, literature … visual and performing artists all tell stories in their own way.
Five minutes into my “short” list of Las Cruces storytellers, I realized there’s no way I could list all the storytellers of the Mesilla Valley.
But February For the Love of Arts Month is prime time to come up with a list of your own favorite stories and storytellers. And it’s the perfect season to go out and see and collect some new favorites, and maybe be inspired to share some stories of your own.
That’s my story. And I’m sticking to it.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

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