I have been acknowledged as a professional oral storyteller for almost half my life, however, I have always told stories. Growing up with a disability, stories allowed me to visit places I could only dream about and accomplish things that were permanently beyond my physical capability. I have always had a deep love for folktales and fantasy.Although I broadened my artistic practice to include animation about ten years ago, I see both aspects of my art as storytelling. Some years ago, I started telling stories to my daughter at bedtime featuring a young heroine with whom she strongly identified.The stories included motifs, landscapes and a fluid cast of supporting characters from many folktales.A friend of mine once told me that no matter how many stories we tell, we all have one big story inside us. I realize that within these stories shared with my daughter, my “big story” had slowly been taking shape. In 2018, I was awarded a Research and Create grant to develop this storytelling work, which is called “Tales from the Treehouse Perilous,” after the Castle in Arthurian legend where the Grail resided and the cedar stump treehouse my father made for me as child.
Tales from the Treehouse Perilous” focuses on young Lisa Valiant who finds her last name an embarrassing misnomer. Broadly referencing the Russian story Vasilisa the Brave, Lisa encounters Anansi (often “spun up” into his steampunk alter ego Isambard) as a beleaguered cosmic webmaster, the Green Man as Rob Greenwood, a landscaper with a very ancient take on history who can keep all green life regenerating except his own and Ellen Bird, who escaped Faerie after a thousand years despite her brothers’ failed rescue attempts, but who hasn’t slipped the Elven King’s pursuit. Grandmother Fate, the Morrigan of Celtic tradition, holds their destinies in her capricious hands and knows their weaknesses and secrets.The treehouse is Yggdrasil and to restore it, Lisa has to bring back Nidhogg and all the other dragons, firedrakes, serpents and consuming beasts in the old stories or all the worlds will collapse. No pressure. In this residency, I will create the episode in the story which introduces Mélusine, who transforms into a winged serpent in water, and the Children of Lir, who were placed under an enchantment forcing them to fly ceaselessly over particular bodies of water for hundreds of years while their world faded away. I will tell this episode in my story cycle, as well as more traditional versions of the French and Irish tales and create some mixed media and hopefully painted silk images. I will later adapt these to become part of a painted fabric treehouse performance space for World Storytelling Day, 20 March 2019, when I will perform the entire cycle of stories and release a series of podcast versions. I am interested in the concept of water as both transformation and tether in these stories, as well as in my own lived experience told through them.
My formal training is in Folklore, with a focus on on narrative, ethnography, and oral history. I have been a professional oral storyteller since 1997 and a filmmaker since 2002. My first independent work, Almost Normal: Stories From theWell Within (2003) about women with invisible disabilities, combined video, experimental animation and oral storytelling and was broadcast in Canada in 2004. Since then, I have turned to animation to bring my stories to life. My short films have screened around the world and received several awards. I have a painterly approach to animation regardless of medium, with careful attention to detail, composition and colour. My practice focuses on the combination of digital and handcrafted animation techniques to tell true and truly fantastic stories. I live in Nanaimo, British Columbia by the sea with my husband, daughter and a little black cat. We all love the water — except the cat.