I didn't intend to tell stories at the Fulbright International Summer Institute in Pravets, Bulgaria. True, I'm always ready to tell stories, but I didn't go with that idea. I took a couple of puppets, on the chance I might need them, but that's something I do whenever I travel. Hmm, now this sounds like a case of "I just happened to have brought my sheet music..."
On the first evening, a couple of the American students who had heard me introduce myself waved me over to their dinner table. "Would you tell some stories?" I promised a performance outside the next evening. We began to spread the word.
I found a little tower as a backdrop, with a wall for seats. By the end of the performance, there were around 20 listeners. I told a mix of stories, from the old favorite Ghost with the One Black Eye to The Twist-Mouth Family to Blood (a piece of personal fiction with an embedded Bulgarian folktale). It seems this last was the siren song for the mosquitoes, as they chased us inside.
The response to the stories was good, but because many people hadn't heard about the performance, I got more requests. For the second show, I chose Sunday morning at 11.
There were around fifteen listeners. I mixed it up, with the South African folktale Unanana and the Elephant, The Crooked Little Finger by Philippa Pearce, The Portraits (another piece of personal fiction) and Marina, a story I wrote in the voice of a Bulgarian woman in 1986 in NYC. I was nervous about it, anxious that the Bulgarian listeners understand that I tell it with great respect for Bulgaria and Bulgarians.
On Sunday evening, there were new arrivals to FISI. Some of these asked if I would do another performance. I set up a Thursday evening show, after supper, which had another twenty or so listeners. We were indoors, in a lounge a floor above the lobby. It was loud and a little challenging to perform in the space, but fun.
Because there were three listeners who specifically wanted to hear stories for young children, I began with The Gunniwolf, but then shifted gears to the gruesome Bluebeard variant, Mr. Fox. I also told The Great Sharp Scissors by Philippa Pearce and a few others. Some of the University of Michigan undergrads were there, at first doubtful and then completely engaged. Two of them afterwards asked for tips on doing presentations.
I thought that was it. On Friday, people kept apologizing that they hadn't been able to come, as they were finishing projects for the last day of classes. I offered to tell one story at the final party, but there wasn't a good time or place for that. The music was playing and it was time to dance. Afterwards, back at the hotel, I was asked again. I told a short one, The Porcelain Man, a love story by Richard Kennedy.
There were a couple of other times I performed: I went into the Bulgarian class for beginners twice, once with my puppets and once to tell a Bulgarian folktale. I practiced it in advance with Stefka, the teacher, to get the tenses right. (This picture is of that class. The baby showed up for the photo, asking for her "biba," also known as her binky.)
So I didn't intend to perform at FISI and did only in response to requests. All the same, I had a good time sharing the stories in my head.
Thanks to Megan Lueneberg, Kalina Georgieva and Rada Kaneva for pictures.
Disclaimer: This is not an official Fulbright Program publication. The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.