Tips and Programs
The European Scene
Framed (Said the Story)
frame 1. To construct by putting together the various parts of
2. To formulate or conceive 3. To put into words 4. To provide with
a frame; enclose or encircle 5. To rig evidence or events so as
to incriminate falsely 6. A basic or skeletal structure designed
to give shape or support 7. A single exposure on a roll of motion-picture
Aren't Words Wonderful!
In a sense it could also be a way of organizing ones
repertory, especially when it may run into several hundred stories.
An elementary memory technique of sorts. I am someone who cherishes
and collects good, workable frame stories because once youve
got your story or stories down, it is a way of highlighting them
in relation to each other, different as they may be. It is also
a kind of research into how one links different story atmospheres
Boccacios Il Decameron is another example.
This time the external influence is the plague. Sojourners relate
tales often bawdier in nature than Chaucer or the Bagdadian minstrels.
But that might be a point of discussion. Italo Calvino, Italian
fantasy writer and compiler of Italian folktales, wrote a short
novel entitled Il Castello dei Destini Incrociati or, literally,
The Castle of Crossed Destinies. With obvious reference to
Bocaccio, fleeing the plague, travelers spend a night telling their
stories. There is an important difference: each makeshift teller
must draw a tarot card (Calvino was inspired by the beautiful gold
embossed Visconti tarot deck) and, using the image represented,
fit his or her story to it. Others who tell must integrate their
story to the cards that have already been drawn. Illustrations of
the cards appear in the margins of certain editions of this book.
You might even consider Edgar Lee Masters Spoon
River Anthology a kind of frame story, as Masters poems
turn out to be inscriptions of tombstones in a cemetery. Im
sure you could add other traditional examples. For instance, the
Panchatantra of ancient India and the later Arab version that pits
two jackals in the telling of tales. This eventually came down to
Aesop and LaFontaine.
Lesser Known Frame Stories and Those You Can Create
This is a wonderful frame story that includes six
others. They all have to do with the concept of serendipity, the
quality of happening upon advantages when you are looking for something
else. Basically, the Princes help a king who, in his wrath, has
banished the woman he loves. They instruct him to visit seven castles
and listen to seven stories. In this way he will find his beloved.
As it turns out the storyteller has heard the stories from the banished
princess herself. The king finds her and they are married. And so
When this program is asked of me, I have taken the
frame story and, when necessary, replaced the stories with ones
from my repertory.
I first performed this program in a prison hospital,
each time for an audience of one prisoner and one prison guard.
I wandered through the prison hospital in festive costume, from
cell to cell, like a peddler. It was, for me, a remarkable experience.
I could really develop this story form.
What I try to do now is use my own personal repertory
of stories and choose ones that will aid the king in finding his
lovera story of life, a story of death, one of magic, a riddle
story, etc. I involve the audience directly with the story and exchange
words with them and use colored scarves that correspond to each
castle. I have also developed a version that I tell at restaurants
and weddings. Between each generally short story we have a different
dish to eat. I have also hosted an entire evening of storytellers.
I recounted the frame story. When the king was to listen to a story,
I presented a different storyteller. In the consummate version it
would have to be seven storytellers on seven different evenings
with a banquet at each venue and an audience to travel from place
to place. It would almost be a festival in itself.
This is why frame stories interest me. There are many
ways of organizing ones repertory or an evening of stories
with very different contents. You could tell a story for each of
the seasons or each day of the week. You could use a deck of cards
and shuffle out a story about a heart, a spade, a diamond or a club.
You could tell a story for each planet etc., etc. These are pretty
straight forward ways of linking tales and themes together.
In the same vein, I do a young peoples performance
I call "Stories from the Sandmans Sack". The Sandman
is actually a sandgirl. After telling her story, we follow the travels
of the sandgirl as she sprinkles her magical grains of sand over
the entire world. Each country she comes to provides another story.
Another personal example is one I call "The Rainbow
Beast". It is based on an Australian Aboriginal story about
the rainbow serpent who lays seven eggs. In my version, each egg
hatches and out comes a myth about the rainbow from a different
part of the world.
You can find reference to this myth in Anne Pellowskis
The Story Vine, which mentions another technique for the frame story.
In Zaire, Anne Pellowski explains, the storyteller might wear a
necklace of objects. The listener picks out an object, pays, and
the teller tells the tale that goes along with it. This is a way
of carrying a part of ones repertory literally around your
I had been searching for and finally found Giambatista
Basiles "Lo Cunto de li Cunti" or "The Tale
of Tales". It is half the Il Decameron in lengthsome
fifty tales. They include some of the classics we take to be typically
European. The Italy of the 17th and 18th centuries, with ports on
the Mediterranean, was an incredible cultural matrix of east and
"The Tale of Tales" is as scatological as
it is poetical. Princess Zoza has a malediction cast upon her by
an old woman. After a journey of seven years she will have to fill
a vase with her own tears to awaken a prince who will become her
husband. She finally arrives, but is mysteriously overtaken by fatigue
and sleep before she can cry the final tears to fill the vase. A
slave who knows of the legend is passing by. She finishes the task
and the prince falls in love with her instead and they marry.
The rest of the story tells how Zoza tricks her usurper,
who is now pregnant by the prince, into asking her husband, Tadeo,
to have the best storytellers come and satisfy her yearning for
stories brought on by her pregnancy. For five nights ten old, ugly
women come and tell stories. Their stories are as beautiful as they
are hideous. On the final night the tenth teller is taken ill. A
mysterious, disguised teller takes her place. When it is her turn
she relates the story of a slave who steals the husband of another.
Of course, I dont tell fifty stories (each of
the ten old hags tells one story each night for five nights). I
choose a story or two chosen from each evening. So, this is another
frame story that works well and allows me to place the stories of
my liking within the larger picture.
Your Own Creations
I have taken one of the stories I tell and, at key
moments, inserted five others. Now there is the frame story of the
riddle within which is a story that is a frame to five others. At
the end, all must be told and resolved.
This is something that anyone can do with any story
with a bit of reflection and playfulness. Lets use "Little
Red Riding Hood" as an example. Imagine the moment that Little
Red goes off. Her mother is alone and we dont know much about
her. This might be a moment for the mother to receive a visit from
someone who tells her a story. Then we pick up the original story
line again when Little Red meets the wolf. Before she starts off
again, perhaps she remembers a story about another wolf that you
Once Little Red and her grandmother are in the wolfs
paunch, Granny might have a story to tell. You could finish up with
a last story from the mouth of the woodcutter.
Now, I dont suggest that any story could be
stuffed as full as a turkey with any old tale. I am convinced that,
if you think about it, you have many stories that present possibilities
of birthing other stories. In this way you can work your repertory
or create a program for an evening. You can discover a lot about
the stories and ways of juxtaposing them rather than just saying
"Well, heres a story, and then there is this other one
I know, and now this one..."
A Last Example
I obtained permission from Mr. Hayes to keep just
the outline of the frame story and include strange and mysterious
stories of my own to tattoo the audience with.
Coming Full Round
published in WIP Summer 1997
Why I Hate Lady Ragnell Alan Irvine's article and the rebuttal it engendered.