Four Voices… A Story about a Story

Long before I became a storyteller, I was fascinated by fairy tales. As an imaginative child, the characters in the tales were some of my best friends. Their adventures became my adventures, and together we got lost in the woods, fought the dragon, and were swept away by handsome princes. As an adopted child – one who arrived into her family not through pregnancy and pain of childbirth but a miraculous Phone Call – I could make up my own origin stories. I was a fairy changeling, a lost princess, a daughter of gypsies who unlike in the Shel Silverstein poem didn’t buy children, but rather dropped them off on unsuspecting slipper
One of my favorite stories growing up was Cinderella. Awkward and shy, and occasionally suffering the injustices of having to clean my room, do the dishes, or eat my meat, I dreamed of a great transformation, the arrival of a fairy godmother who would wave her magic wand and make everything better. To me, the gossamer gown wasn’t just a pretty dress, it was a coat of confidence. Glass slippers were armor against anyone who would step on my toes, and the tiara glistening on my head, held high, meant that as I walked into the room full of people, they would notice me, and know I was special. Afterwards, of course, I could quietly creep back into my more humble secret identity, listening with bemusement to speculations of the princess from the far off land… I was still, of course, at heart, an introvert, and a person can only take so much Royal Ball.
Fast forward many years, and a new discovery and love of belly dance led me into the world of Scheherazade, and folklore from the Silk Road. One of the first tales I adapted was The Anklet, a Persian story about a young woman, shunned by her sisters, until a Genie presents her with beautiful robes so she can attend a royal banquet. It was a different story, and yet so familiar. I became fascinated by similarities within folklore – archetypes and basic storylines and themes that are rooted not just in our individual cultures, but the very fabric of our human existence.
Fast forward again to this past December – through news events and a disheartening conversation with a friend I became painfully aware of the cultural barriers we face in this modern but no so enlightened age. The problem weighed heavily on my heart – how can I, as an artist, acknowledge diversity while celebrating the core similarities that bring us together, and answer, “Why should I care?”
Now as an artist, I have experienced many incarnations of inspiration. The muse has tapped me lovingly on the shoulder, the little electrician in my head has flipped on a light, a seed of idea, carefully tended, has slowly sprouted in my head and formed into something tangible. This time, inspiration took the form of none of these things. Rather, it was a goon. The Goon of Inspiration burst violently into my head during a particularly relaxing massage and held me at gunpoint until I not only had the beginnings of the idea on paper but submitted it to this year’s Pittsburgh Fringe Festival. The project, “Four Voices, One Story” explores and celebrates cultural similarities and by bringing four different versions of the classic “Cinderella” tale to life, told as one in alternation by women of four different backgrounds. My show submission was first out of the hat in the Mad Hatter draw. It was going to premiere at the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival.
Now I had to find collaborators. This took some bravery. As a distinctively Northern European mud-child dropped blessedly into suburban America by fairies, initiating cross cultural communication sort of feels like showing up at a party that everyone was invited to except me. Again, the Goon of Inspiration waved his automatic as I put together a show description and call for artists and posted it online, bracing myself for some slammed doors and hoping at least a few fellow artists of diverse backgrounds might be interested. I was amazed, honored, and humbled by the shares, tags, and re-postings from various Pittsburgh organizations that I contacted. I had more submissions than I dreamed of, and all of them were really good. Like Cinderella, but with a particularly rough godfather, I had arrived at the ball. Some really hard decisions were faced, the first of which was telling the performer in me that for this premiere the piece would be stronger if I took a step back to focus on the writing and directing. I have to admit, I’m a little star struck by my cast and am really looking forward to working with each of these women.

This is only the beginning of the story. Look for more updates as the process unfolds, and I hope to see you at the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival this April!

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