Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fringe Review: Rachel Teagle Believes in Ghosts

By Robert Subiaga

Rachel Teagle Believes in Ghosts
. I don’t.

You’d think that’d bode badly for my liking her piece. But see, Rachel Teagle is a storyteller. And for that matter, I’m not sure whether she even believes in ghosts herself.

That’s the whole idea people would do well to learn about storytelling and myth. (And by the way the original word mythos simple means “story.”) Stories are crafted to tell a truth, not necessarily to be literally true. So long as someone’s not pulling the wool over our eyes--or admits they might’ve temporarily pulled the wool over our eyes to get us to think--a mythos is immortal.

Storytelling is also an art we’re blessed to see a lot of at the Fringe but too little otherwise. It’s got its quirks if you want to pull it off.

I've been to a lot of open mics in the past decade or so. A LOT of open mics. Poetry open mics, musical open mics, stand-up comic open mics. And do you want to know the most curious thing I noticed? If you want to be appreciated for what you do, go to an open mic that has more than just what you do. And look for the person who does something else to come up and be doing the appreciating. Maybe that's partly from competiteveness. Poets, for example, aren't really there to listen to other poets, they're there to have other poets listen to THEM. (Watch how fast they bolt some time when the list is too full to get them on.) But another big factor is just that too much of the same thing, even when good, even when GREAT, is still just...too much.

The Fringe time slot is one killer advantage to make storytelling work. Instead of using the 90-minute feature as a target, 45 minutes works better. Still, 45 minutes of just doing a "reading" in the same way will cause the audience to tune out, so the best storytellers weave in variety. A variety of sounds and music, a variety of images, even if it's where they move or stand or sit. And a variety of kinds of story, a variety of topics and tones.

The only trick is that this still needs to have one or more connecting threads. Rachel Teagle, in Rachel Teagle Believes in Ghosts, weaves back and forth through a beautiful range of stories types, showing just how much can be connected to the common thread of--surprise!--"ghosts!"

She opens with a Southern belle kind of tale, using the balcony of the Rarig Experimental stage and stalking around in a hoop skirt until she descends below us as if into Hades. It was a chilling, Beloved-like feel that segued into the brighter, modern memoir of her moving to Georgia, and maybe having a ghost in her new home. This meandering yet oddly sensible way she goes traverses her own experiences and classic stories--even her experiences as a girl reading classic stories--from the South to Minnesota to California. She goes back and forth between the present and the past (including the infamous Winchester house supposedly haunted by those killed with the Winchester repeating rifle). And she interweaves the macabre and the funny, the gothic with the modern, and going-along-with-it credulity with genuine skepticism, not giving short shrift to any quality.

Some interpretive dance movement and rotating guest artist near the end are unnecessary--just because they distract from her tales--she's that good.

I still don’t believe in ghosts. But I’m starting to believe in Rachel Teagle!

Rachel Teagle Believes in Ghosts has one more run during the Fringe Festival on Saturday, August 14th at 2:30pm on the U of M's Rarig Xperimental stage. For more info and to purchase tickets click HERE.

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