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Folklorist's Turkish 'odyssey' replete with culture, adventure and danger

staff report • Feb 23, 2013 at 6:07 AM

When James Bond ventures into a conflict-riddled locale, is held at gunpoint and escapes with secrets, no one is surprised. But when a storyteller from Boston experiences similar adventures, it’s a tale worth telling.

Diane Edgecomb is known for her evocative adaptations of ancient myths accompanied by Celtic harp or zany tales of insects and other creatures of nature, but in 2001, she embarked on what she called “The Kurdish Story Collection Project,” an international endeavor to document the stories and storytelling traditions of the Kurdish people.

Beginning by recording Kurdish tellers in the United States, then abroad, Edgecomb made numerous trips to villages in the Kurdish region of Turkey, filming and archiving a large complement of tellers. The project resulted in the book, “A Fire in My Heart: Kurdish Folktales,” a collection of more than 150 Kurdish tales and legends, including fairy tales, legends and animal fables.

Edgecomb will bring her personal tales of Turkey and those she gathered from others to East Tennessee State University on Thursday Feb. 28. Her performance of “Forbidden Stories,” the second in a three-part Mary B. Martin School series called “When Worlds Collide,” will be held at 7:30 p.m. in ETSU’s Martha Street Culp Auditorium.

“Diane is a tremendously talented storyteller and a person whose passion has led her into some pretty astonishing cultures, that of the Turkish Kurds in particular, a persecuted minority in the Middle East,” said ETSU storytelling professor Joseph Sobol. “‘Forbidden Stories’ is a folklorist’s odyssey through some very dangerous political and geographic conditions that would make a lesser person shrink. In it, a real-life Indiana Jones meets contemporary folklore.”

The 2012-2013 Mary B. Martin School of the Arts storytelling series evolved because of an idea Sobol shared with School of the Arts director Anita DeAngelis.

“I think it’s really good for us to hear what people are interested in,” DeAngelis said. “Diane’s ‘Forbidden Stories’ is an important example of the arts reflecting on a culture not so familiar to us and hopefully will help us better understand that culture. We anticipate an insightful evening but one that also will be a lot of fun.”

Sobol saw Edgecomb’s “Forbidden” performance at a National Storytelling Conference.

“I was very impressed and moved by it and looked for an opportunity to bring it here,” he said, “so I am grateful to Anita and company for making that happen. It really fits in the series ‘When World Collide,’ which features different storytelling ventures, really risky efforts in cross-cultural endeavors, putting one’s whole self on the line for the sake of the truth behind the story.

“She was held at gunpoint a number of times by Turkish army occupied forces. It’s just very lucky she is still here to tell these stories.”

Edgecomb’s adventurous spirit extends to numerous projects. She is also an experimental theater artist, involved in “alternative theater” for more than 30 years. Recently, she developed a solo work that, her website says, “stretches the boundaries of normal theater, relying on juxtapositions and images to tell the story as opposed to traditional narration.”

Whatever her vehicle, Publishers Weekly calls Edgecomb “a storyteller in the grand tradition … a virtuoso of the spoken word … an entire cast rolled into one.”

She is a three-time Storytelling World Honors award winner and winner of the first National ORACLE award for storytelling excellence in the Northeast as well as a regularly featured teller at storytelling and theater venues throughout the country, including the National Storytelling Festival and the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, where she was Storyteller in Residence in 2012.

Edgecomb has been commissioned to create original stories for World Trade Center Boston’s robotic dinosaur exhibit, and, because of her interest in nature, by the Mass Audubon Society to create an original storytelling piece to celebrate its centennial.

Tickets for “Forbidden Stories” are $5 for all area students, $15 for general admission and $10 for seniors 60 and over. College students need a valid student ID. Group discounts are available for general admission and senior tickets.

To find out more about Edgecomb, visit her website at http://livingmyth.com.

For information about the ETSU Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, call (423) 439-8587 or visit www.etsu.edu/cas/arts. “Like” ETSU Mary B. Martin School of the Arts on Facebook and follow it on Twitter at TheArtsAtETSU.

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