Where Do Stories Come From? (fun vanen nemen zikh di mayses) on Nov. 9 highlights a poem from each of three Yiddish women writers: Ida Maze, Esther Shumiatcher-Hirschbein and Yudika. (Illustration by Cesario Lavery)
This year’s Chutzpah! Festival includes several opportunities for people to participate in the arts being performed. A prime example is Where Do Stories Come From? (fun vanen nemen zikh di mayses), wherein attendees of the Nov. 9 event at the Rothstein Theatre will be able to learn new music inspired by Yiddish poetry and, in the Zack Gallery, on Nov. 7 and/or Nov. 12, participate in a “crankie” workshop.
Where Do Stories Come From?, which is presented by the Chutzpah! Festival and KlezKanada – co-curated by the organizations’ respective artistic directors, Jessica Mann Gutteridge and Avia Moore – includes “new musical and visual settings for three Yiddish poems by celebrated Canadian women writers, selected and translated by Faith Jones, with accompanying visual artwork in the form of ‘crankies’ – a centuries-old art form in which an illustrated scroll, evocative of the Torah, is wound across spools set in a viewing window.”
The artistic directors decided early on to work with the poetry of Canadian women writers who wrote in Yiddish, said Gutteridge, “and there was no more perfect collaborator to work with on selecting the poetry than Vancouver’s own Faith Jones. For the musical work, we drew on the incredibly rich community of KlezKanada’s artists and were lucky that Sarah Larsson was interested in the project – she’s not only a gifted composer with a thorough knowledge of Yiddish music, but is herself a stunning vocalist and music director.
“We also spent a lot of time looking at incredible artworks by Jewish visual artists and ultimately selected Benny Ferdman, Ava Berkson and Cesario Lavery, all of whom bring an interest in Yiddish, diverse styles, and interest in visual storytelling to the project. As part of the project involves community participation, we also ensured that all the artists are skilled at and enjoy working with community of all abilities and ages.”
The idea for the event came after Gutteridge met Moore at a KlezKanada Summer Retreat in 2022.
“When the JCC Association announced they would be funding new community-based projects incorporating live music and storytelling with an emphasis on partnerships,” said Gutteridge, “we realized we had a wonderful opportunity to work together to share our assets – KlezKanada’s immersive creative residency environment and access to brilliant artists with knowledge of Yiddish culture, and the Chutzpah! Festival’s presentation opportunities.
“KlezKanada’s 2023 Summer Retreat theme was Yiddish film and, because it’s a very unplugged environment, had plans to explore the ‘pre-film’ illustrated story technique of crankies,” she continued. “We thought this art form would pair beautifully with the musical work being created, and would offer a very engaging opportunity to the community to participate in creating a multidimensional presentation together.”
Where Do Stories Come From? is supported by the JCC Association’s Making Music Happen program and Chutzpah! Festival’s music programming is supported by AmplifyBC’s Live Music Presentation Fund.
The event’s title comes from one of the three poems highlighted, one by Ida Maze. “It’s a poem that grabbed the entire group immediately and we knew we wanted to work with it,” said Gutteridge. “In the poem, Maze creates a strong visual image of a little house that appears to be abandoned, but as you approach you see that a fire is lit and, in the house, sit a grandfather and a grandmother sharing culture and stories with the children, and the stories are then carried away on the wind. For us, this poem really captured the idea of the project – that intergenerational cultural transmission is the key to how we survive and thrive and, in many ways, is a model for how we hope to see this project unfold. But I think the very notion that we pose this as a question invites everyone who experiences the work to ask themselves where they think stories come from.”
The other poems are by Esther Shumiatcher-Hirschbein and Yudika.
“Faith made a longer list of poems selected for their striking visual imagery and potential musicality and presented them to our full group of artists,” explained Gutteridge. “Right away, we all responded to the Ida Maze work and had to then narrow our choices to two more. We asked the artists to highlight which poems they found particularly inspiring and, as artistic directors, Avia and I also kept an eye on whether the selections were creating an interesting and balanced program in terms of style and theme. It was an enjoyable and smooth process and I think we all enjoyed kicking off the project together in this way.”
As for the workshops, Gutteridge said, “Ava and Cesario will be with us through the week to guide workshop participants through the process of making their own crankies, inspired by prompts from the poetry we will provide. While the crankies being made for the music event will be large scale, a wonderful characteristic of this art form is that it can be made any size using very humble materials like a shoebox or even a matchbox. With our partner the Zack Gallery, the work created in the workshops will be on display in a community exhibition, and our video director Flick Harrison will be on hand to help participants capture their crankies in action. Participants can opt to share their crankies and stories in an online video gallery. We hope we will see intergenerational groups making crankies together!”
During the week, Chutzpah! will also be hosting the return of the Flame, with their evening of storytelling on Nov. 6.
“The Flame’s artistic director, Deb Williams, will teach her remarkable day-long storytelling workshop on Sunday, Nov. 12, ending just before our final crankie workshop and the concert presentation,” said Gutteridge. “We hope that these projects together will inspire community participants to explore their own stories and find new and inspiring ways to tell and share them.”
For tickets to Where Do Stories Come From? and other Chutzpah! events, visit chutzpahfestival.com.