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Off to tell tall tales in Tennessee
An encounter with Bigfoot, searching for lost treasure on Neahkahnie Mountain, repairing fences with frozen rattlesnakes in Eastern Oregon — it's all happened in Clementine Ryder's life.
She stands on stage in a fringe leather jacket and spins tall tales.
"She's representing the Northwest," says Anne Rutherford, a Portland storyteller extraordinaire who'll bring her alter ego, Clementine, to the National Storytelling Festival this weekend in Tennessee.
About 15 years ago, Rutherford bought the fringe leather jacket to complement her character, "I put the jacket on and opened my mouth and I've told stories ever since."
Actually, Rutherford has been a storyteller for the past 20 years, and it's her first invitation to perform in the National Storytelling Festival. She usually performs at storytelling events, schools and venues in the metro area, and she also teaches classes at Portland Community College.
Rutherford was part of the national festival's Exchange Place tryout section a couple years ago, and they invited her to be a new voice in 2018.
"This is my big voice, the Super Bowl of storytelling," says Rutherford, 56. It's a big event in its 46th year at Jonesborough, Tenn., Oct. 5-7, and it's expected to attract more than 10,000 visitors.
"I have an hour set," she adds.
Along with Clementine, Rutherford does "Award-Winning Lies," such as convincing people with her way with words that you can actually use slugs as facial treatment. "And we're all crazy about urban chickens (in Portland), and one story is about a neighborhood chicken that's been elected to office," she says.
A Pennsylvania native, Rutherford moved to Portland in 1983.
Six years later she gave storytelling a go after wanting to be a writer.
"I was doing vocational testing at PCC, and by chance discovered there was storytelling," she says. "I took some classes, rented the basement at the Buddhist Temple and sold tickets. People came. It was crazy.
"I've done my own shows and rented theaters, and now it's getting to the point where I'm getting invited to these festivals."
After Tennessee, she'll do events in New Mexico, California and Arkansas.
"This is my career," Rutherford says. "When I started in 1999 I had another job, but I figured out how to make a living at storytelling — at senior centers, schools, events."
Some might call it a gift for gab or just loquacious. Storytelling is a big deal to the people who love to talk — there are events every month in Portland. In fact, a notable person appearing in Tennessee is Japanese-Korean storyteller Alton Chung from Vancouver, Washington; he grew up with stories, superstitions and magic of the Hawaiian Islands. He's a member of the Portland Storytellers Guild.
Rutherford says storytelling involves "with tall tales having enough truth in them that you take the audience with you. When it takes off to the absurd, they go with you."
The physical performance factors in brain chemistry, she adds.
"There's rhythmic pattern, and tension and release," Rutherford says. "The shape of a story works because the suspense of the story releases a chemical in the listener's brain. And when (the story is) resolved, another chemical releases.
"The biggest thing as a storyteller is, 'What's the point of the story? What's universal, especially when it's about your own life? Why would somebody else care who doesn't know me?' You have to support the point. The gift of the storyteller is the meaning, trying to find the meaning in them."
Props are not used in true storytelling. Adds Rutherford: "Most of the time it's just you, using your voice and body and motions and gestures to create in the listener's mind. That way the listener has their own experience. If I see it clearly in my mind ... the audience sees some version of it. It's really a visual thing. That communicates to the audience."
Rutherford says she and other storytellers do rely on current events and research in the formation of their stories.
But, it's mostly about telling a story.
"You have an element that you want to put in the story and think it's realistic," she says. "So, you find yourself researching the oddest things, like what's interesting ... or like what's in slug?"
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