Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Environmental Storytelling
Tellers on a Limb. The new inside out.
by Antonio Rochas and Christina Claesson
Antonio: Once upon a time, (two years ago) on a land far far away from here (Austria), I met a Swedish teller,Christina Claesson, who tells stories from beneath trees.
I loved to climb trees in Brazil when I was a kid. I have had the opportunity to tell from beneath a tree, but nothing like this: Christina climbs trees with mountain climbing gear, sets up her living quarters in the canopy and descends like a circus artist and tells stories. After the show is over, she climbs up with great elegance and spends the night in the canopy. She becomes a tree-dwelling creature. I was hooked. Christina enjoyed my blend of mime and spoken word and she invited me to create a new show with her.At the moment we are calling it Tellers on a Limb.
Christina: All my life I have dreamt of sleeping in trees. It was a poetic fantasy until I moved to the countryside, became a land owner and found a practical need to climb trees to cut down branches. I joined a weekend course in tree-climbing with mountain gear and finally the fantasiesbecame a concrete possibility.
That summer I was hired to make an artistic event at the yearly Malmö Festival. I developed various kinds of hammocks to sleep in and then spent three nights in the top of an old oak in a park in the center of the city. I told stories (on the ground) to a huge audience. I met an exceptional interest. People’s faces expressed disbelief, wonder, laughter – and poetic fantasies. Parents brought their kids, pointing up into the canopy: Look! The lady sleeps up there! And I was on several front pages.
Though nobody said so overtly, I suspect a part of the sensation came from the fact that my hair is white and that I was a granny.
Antonio: Trees are organic and grow in each and every way. Even if the trunk seems to be straight, it is just anillusion. Then we harvest wood and turn everything straight. We build things with 90 degree angles, boxes and squares.

We make tables, houses, boxes, all sorts of things, and they are mostly square. Then if we look deeper we realize that people who are closer to nature usually build with round shapes. The Teepee of Native Americans is round, as is the similar ‘kåta’ of the Nordic ‘saami.’ The fire pit is usually a rounded shape. The Igloo is round. Several native structures in South America and Africa are round buildings. But the so-called modern human is all about that 90 degree angle.
People usually listen to stories in a box (a theater) with a teller standing in a square (the stage). But architects now begin to create structures that are green and have more of an organic feeling to it. Why not storytelling? So that is why this is the new ‘inside out.’
Christina: Realizing that I was probably the only tree-climbing storyteller in the world, I wanted to develop the art. I received a grant from the Swedish State Arts Council, and went to Oregon in the USA, to be taught by Master Climber Tim Kovar ( I learned some advanced tree-climbing techniques with both single and double ropes. I realized that the climbing I had practiced so far was putting my life in danger. I learned safety for myself and for the tree.
But how should I develop the artistic concept?
I am originally a writer and an intellectual, and do not have any training as an actor. My telling all comes from my words, inventingmy own stories. But here, my words were not enough. I needed a powerful and explicit body language to make the climbing not only a physical deed but an artistic expression as well. I had to learn mime! I thought of Antonio, and sent him an email. Within 48 hours he had already booked his flight.
Antonio: For me, this production comes full circle. For six years, as a kid in Brazil, I climbed trees several times per week. I played Tarzan; I played King of the Jungle. In one particular tree there was a curved up branch that was my throne. The opportunity to incorporate my work as a teller with trees is just amazing, and brings to me a deep connection to my childhood.
So I found myself flying to Sweden last fall to teach Christina some mime, and to learn from her how to climb trees. We worked for four hours, climbing just to the first branch of a gorgeous oak near her house. I wasintroduced to an array of knots and techniques, and then the climb wasfantastic.
I consider myself to be fit, but by the end of the first day I had muscles aching I never knew existed. Christina is 57 years old, and I am 42, yet she climbed the tree like a squirrel. I told her I needed to work out to keep up with her. She said, "Your workout is here, climbing the tree."
So after four days working on mime in the morning and on tree climbing in the afternoon, I left Sweden with this new excitement in my soul: Tell stories from a tree.
Christina: We say that we are ‘beneath’ the tree when we stand on the ground. But we’re not! We are in it, since the root system underground spreads just as far as the canopy above. On the ground, just as in the canopy, you are embraced by the energy, circulation and nutrition of a live being. This sensation is felt bytellers and listeners alike.
Telling stories in a tree is nothing new. Great storytellers always did: Buddha, Jesus, poets, saints, agitators and lovers throughout history have used the natural accoustics of the natural tree embrace to
Environmental Storytelling tell or listen to stories.
Antonio: This summer Christina is coming to take my workshop at the Celebration Barn and then will stay an extra week to work on the show. We have a booking for it already at a festival in Sweden for 2009. I need to get my gear together, and improve my climbing. We plan to hire Christina’s tree climbing teacher from Oregon, Tim Kovar, to teach us more.
We need to scout and find a tree that is suitable and healthy. Then we must approach it with care not to harm it in any way, shape or form. We will decorate the tree, maybe with swings and platforms, from which we would tell. There would be hammocks on the canopy for us to sleep, food, and a first aid kit. I believe we would leave just for bathroom needs but Christina is working on a secret solution to eventhat problem.
And people would be welcomed to create installations by the tree trunk.
Christina: For my tree event in Malmö I made a white silk skirt for the tree, which spread around the lowest two yards of the trunk, and out on the ground. I investigated my children’s old toy box and installed a flock of teddy bears, tigers, pandas – an entire textile zoo – on the branches. I also installed a ‘tree mail,’ which was an oldzinc bucket tied to a rope. People were invited to put letters, candy, and questions into the bucket. One morning I woke up feeling a tiny vibration in my hammock. Down there was a woman, putting the most delicious breakfast in my bucket: home baked bread, strawberry jam, cheese, grapes, and a thermos of black coffee. She offered her favorite cup, but asked me to preserve it ‘til the evening when she would return to listen to my stories. One night some unknown persons made an installation consisting of pine cones on the ground beside my tree. The cones had hats and flags and carried banners offering advice and support to me: ‘Christina, if you’re gonna fall, fall softly like we do!’
Antonio: The stories would be a combination of folktales and personal anecdotes that would have an environmental feel for them. We dream of touching people’s lives so that when they see a tree or any other living thing, even a rock, they will feel a sense of connection to it. As we breathe the air, drink, and eat, atoms from once-living things come and go, transforming themselves to live within us. This is the great dance of life.
Yes, technology is good and can save lives, and get us closer to another person halfway around the world. Unfortunately, it is taking us farther and farther away from nature, on which wedepend so much in order to have a healthy living.
Christina: But on a story-level, why exactly do we findourselves in the top of a tree? This is how it happened: Antonioand I lived in a house. We had a plant in a pot, a meticulouslypruned ancient bonsai. Wetrimmed it for an exhibition and tried a new nanotechnologic supernutrion. Overnight the tree explodes inan outburst of violent growth. We wake up dangling in the canopy, surrounded bysplintered fragments ofwhat used to be our safe,comfortable home.
This is the second reason why this is a new inside out!
We are desperate, sad and scared. We now have to survive under the tree’s condition, instead of before, when the tree survived under our conditions. To handle the situation we bring our stories, which express nostalgia and hope,anguish and laughter. We cannot go back to the natural. We have to move forward to the natural.
Antonio & Christina: We cannot wait to premier this amazing show. We hope, in the very near future, to be climbing a treenear you!
For more info, please visit Antonio at and Christina at
Environmental Storytelling

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sailing in Montego Bay.

Monday, May 12, 2008

" Be the change you want to see in the world?

"It is not he who has less, but he who wants more who is poor"