Who wouldn’t be curious about a place called The Museum of Everyday Life? And who wouldn’t want to know what that museum’s Chief Operating Philosopher is up to? Well, as it turned out, the woman bearing this title recently visited Minneapolis so I seized the opportunity to find out more.
Last Saturday I witnessed Mild Light, an evening of cantastoria performed by Clare Dolan. Ushered into the In the Heart of the Beast Theatre, I took a seat close to the stage. I was, I confess, hopeful that Dolan could clear up my ignorance surrounding this term “cantastoria.” She managed this with the gusto of a puppeteer, the elocution of a storyteller, and the insight of a philosopher.
But since I am none of these things, I’ll just lift a definition from the Web:
Cantastoria is an Italian word for the ancient performance form of picture-story recitation, which involves sung narration accompanied by reference to painted banners, scrolls, or placards. (Source: Museum of Everyday Life, Performance Department)
“Look. Listen. Observe.”
In a sing-song voice punctuated by gesture and music, Dolan urged the audience to examine the images depicted on a series of hinged canvases. This plea to look—deliberately, intentionally, and consciously look—had me hooked. It struck me what allies we have in puppeteers! As museum educators, my colleagues and I work to enliven and animate the Walker’s collections. And I believe we could learn from puppeteers, artists who expertly imbue still things with life and feeling. The show charged me with energy (and questions) to bring back to the Walker. How can storytelling and theater amplify and enrich a gallery experience? How can multi-sensory experiences make the process of interpreting images more memorable and meaningful? How do cadence, musicality, and body language transform communication and yield an impact markedly different from ordinary speech? I’ll be reflecting on the sensations of that night as I work with my colleagues to make meanings with objects, decipher stories within images, and share this process with our audiences.
What’s next for Dolan? She and her colleague Dave Buchen are organizing and curating Banners an Cranks, a festival of cantastoria performance. Curious to see for yourself right now? I recommend Dolan’s YouTube Channel.