Dovie Thomason looks to the future of folklore

Jessica Fischer • Sep 3, 2011 at 12:41 PM

Award-winning storyteller Dovie Thomason is set to begin her weeklong residency for Jonesborough’s popular Storytelling Live! series, which will run Sept. 6-10.Known for her deft retellings of traditional Native American tales, Thomason has built her reputation in the industry steadily over the last 30 years. Lately her work has been revolving around the central question of how storytelling as an art form will change and grow as we progress through the 21st century.“I think of the two icons in storytelling: Ray Hicks and Kathryn Windham,” she says. “Ray told nothing but old folklore; Ray did not talk about Ray Hicks. Kathryn talked about her family and her neighbors, but she didn’t tell old folklore.”Thomason wonders if there’s a way for these two sides of the form to meet in the middle.When the storytelling community began to coalesce in the 1970s, preservation was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. For many, the movement felt like a revival, so many stories were fueled by nostalgia.“There was a lot of emphasis on preservation,” Thomason says. “Preservation is an interesting thing to do. But I guess you get older and you think of legacy. I’m about to be 63. All of my friends are retiring from their normal jobs. And I’m looking at years, probably, of continuing to do this work with any luck. Decades would be fine.“I’m really interested in what stories might look like tomorrow,” she continues. “I think I’ve always been perceived as a traditionalist. My storytelling is really based in old stories. This is at least my second generation of people I’ve been telling these stories to. The stories are moving forward in time. I tell stories differently than my grandmother did. My daughter and grandchildren will receive stories differently than I did. I’m curious about what it’s going to look like.”During her residency, Thomason will host a week’s worth of matinee concerts in downtown Jonesborough. Matinee performances will be offered at 2 p.m., daily in the Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall, an intimate theater in the heart of the International Storytelling Center. Tickets are limited and reservations are highly recommended.Thomason will share some of her new work, which showcases traditional folk characters in a modern setting. “What are the heroes and monsters up to today?” she asks. The answer, she feels, must lie beyond the Twilight franchise and other Hollywood takes on classic characters.“I’m a little sick of these vampires,” she says. “We have other stories. But it says something that vampires and werewolves and stuff like that is huge in film now. But Jack isn’t, you know? Coyote only got a cartoon.”The key, she believes, is in recognizing that all traditions had to start somewhere; at some point, what we now consider a tradition seemed new. Thomason hopes to help establish those future traditions with her unique — and thoroughly modern — take on old folklore.“Did the Grimm brothers record all the stories? Did traditional Native people stop making stories in the 1800s?” she asks. “Did we quit making new narratives and just start writing novels?”The answer is no, she thinks not.Tickets for all performances are $12 for adults and $11 for seniors, students and children under 18. Ticket stubs will save audience members 10 percent on same-day dining at Bistro 105, The Cranberry Thistle, The Dining Room or Main Street Café.The International Storytelling Center is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.Storytelling Live! is sponsored by Mountain States Health Alliance and Phil Bachman Toyota Scion. Media sponsors are News 5-WCYB, FOX Tri-Cities, Tri-Cities CW4, Johnson City Press, Kingsport Times-News and Citadel Broadcasting.A detailed schedule of the 2011 Storytelling Live! season is available at storytellingcenter.net.For more information about Storytelling Live! or to make a group reservation, call (800) 952-8392 ext. 222 or (423) 913-1276.

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