Motoko, a storyteller and mime who studied under Tony Montanaro, is a master of many forms. In Jonesborough, she is perhaps best known for the beautiful and haunting ghost stories she tells at the National Storytelling Festival.
More than any other genre, she believes that ghost stories demonstrate the connections across cultures, not just in the way they frighten listeners, but in what they tell us about ourselves.
“These stories are about the suffering that comes from not being able to let go,” she says. “All ghost stories are based on some kind of attachment to the world. In that way, they are similar, but the details might manifest differently. For example, in Japan, we believe that ghosts have no feet.”
It’s a pretty distinctive marker for a ghost story. Footless ghosts serve as a metaphor for being somewhat detached from — or floating through — the physical world, but it’s also a creepy detail that captures the particular poetry of traditional Japanese ghost stories.
Often, Motoko finds the source material for her ghost tales in archival story collections dating back as far as the 16th century. She builds entire worlds of story around a single arresting image she’ll find in that centuries-old literature. Something as simple as a sentence about a doll floating down a river can inspire a haunting original tale set in contemporary times.
Interestingly, what Motoko is additionally famous for her work with children. In addition to traveling to schools across the country to perform, the storyteller once appeared on the popular television show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
Motoko will show both sides of her repertoire during her weeklong residency for Storytelling Live!, the popular seasonal storytelling program curated by the International Storytelling Center. Her residency in downtown Jonesborough will include a full schedule of matinee performances in the Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall in the center’s headquarters in downtown Jonesborough. Concerts will be held at 2 p.m., daily, Aug. 9-13. Tickets are limited, so reservations are highly recommended.
She also plans to share Japanese folk tales and other kids’ stories during her special Saturday morning children’s concert at 10:30 a.m., Aug. 13. Tickets for the children’s concert are $5 for all ages, and all ticket holders will receive coupons for 15 percent off at The Lollipop Shop, a popular Main Street store that sells old-fashioned sweets and toys. Space is limited, so advance purchase is recommended.
Motoko’s other specialties include Rakugo, a form from her native Japan.
“It’s a kind of traditional storytelling that deals with everyday life of people in old times,” she said. “It’s realistic, and at the end there is some kind of punch line that reminds the audience that was all just a story.”
Humor also plays an important role in the performer’s personal stories, which range from her childhood in Osaka to the present day.
“I really like using humor in my stories,” she says. “The humor, to me, is to accept other people’s follies, but also my own follies. Self-righteous people are not funny. Even when a character thinks she’s right, she might be wrong.”
“There is always another point of view,” she added. “To reveal that is what brings out the humor in the situation — that is mostly what I look for.”
Tickets for Motoko’s matinee performances are $12 for adults and $11 for seniors, students and children younger than 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.
A detailed schedule of the 2011 Storytelling Live! season is available at storytellingcenter.net.
The International Storytelling Center is open from 10 a.m. to 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.
For more information about Storytelling Live! or to make a group reservation, call (800) 952-8392 ext. 222 or (423) 913-1276.