“Like a magpie,” new storytelling venture at Hendrix collects vignettes from underexplored Arkansas communities


The AV Arkansas web site leads with the motto “citizen storytellers,” and it’s simple to really feel cheered by these tales — as the location says, “multimedia documentaries exploring the individuals, locations, and wonders of Arkansas.” A collaboration between Hendrix School college students and professors Maxine Payne and Tyrone Jaeger, AV Arkansas feels just like the warmest of curio outlets with handcrafted objects such because the beguiling portraits of residents of the African-American-founded city of Twin Groves. Or an audio interview with a cancer-ridden bamboo professional. Or a video interview with a farmer/animal lover who, apart from the mobile phone strapped to his hip, seems to be as if he walked out of a Fifteenth-century portray. We talked to Payne and Jaeger about their venture and the worth of tales in our small, sophisticated state.

In your About part on the AV Arkansas web site, you say, “It’s all within the story.” Don’t we now have sufficient tales already? 

Payne: We’ve got an excessive amount of noise for certain. Primarily our function in AVARK is that of academics. I’m of the opinion that probably the greatest classes we now have to show younger college students is listening. It’s not the themes that scream the loudest or bang pots the toughest whose tales want [to be] advised.  

We wish Hendrix college students to put money into the bigger Arkansas neighborhood by the use of listening intently and structuring story in order that it’s related to an viewers. Tales truly do matter, and the retelling of these tales — when they’re genuine and never designed to get likes on a social media platform — may truly make a distinction in how we expertise the world.  

Jaeger: I utterly agree about educating college students to pay attention and to rigorously observe the individuals and locations round them. And whereas there are many tales, I believe our topics are usually Arkansans whose tales are unrepresented.

Do college students arrive to this venture with a well-developed sense of storytelling? Why or why not? 

Payne: Not essentially. A few of the college students have had courses with Ty, some with me, however among the college students haven’t had both of us in school. If they arrive to the venture from our courses, they’ve a minimum of had publicity to multimedia storytelling. With that although, identical to all of us, a few of them have some pure expertise and others not a lot. 

We do quite a lot of collaborative workshopping. So much. The tasks get finessed by the entire crew for an extended whereas beginning in the summertime, persevering with into fall, till we publish them within the spring. That has been the workflow to date.

Jaeger: All of us have some sense of storytelling, whether or not it’s as storytellers or because the recipients or shoppers of tales. And all of us have our preferences for the sorts of tales we wish to inform and listen to. The scholars we’re working with aren’t any exception. Every pupil has various levels of coaching of their coursework or of their lives, and for many of them storytelling — in a single kind or one other — is an actual ardour.

The work AV Arkansas makes requires that they’re first good listeners to others’ tales, however accumulating the fabric is an early step. We then want to contemplate how one can cull what may be many hours’ value of interviews into one thing that can: first, seduce the common listener; second, preserve their curiosity; and third, leaving them with one thing to ponder. Interviewing is difficult work — and positively it takes a particular expertise to conduct interviews — however the messy work is framing and structuring the story in a means that satisfies (and hopefully thrills!) the topic and the listener/viewer. As Maxine says, our crew spends quite a lot of time workshopping. The success of a narrative is determined by good enhancing and revision, which implies coming again to the story repeatedly, and interrogating what makes it tick and how one can maximize for impact.

You name this a multimedia venture and tales on the location are advised by way of photograph essays, brief movies and audio recordsdata. Which comes first, the story or the medium you utilize to inform it?

Jaeger: What comes first — the story or the medium — is a good query. In my very own writing life, the medium at all times comes first. I do know I’m writing a novel, a narrative, flash fiction, or prose poem. With AV Arkansas, it’s been a little bit totally different, and, for higher or worse, we’re considerably of a guerrilla documentary crew, every with our personal abilities and specialties. When the complete crew is within the discipline, we’ll report audio interviews, seize video, and make pictures — all of it — and make choices concerning the medium later. “Bruno, A Love Story” labored a lot this fashion. With the “Sons & Daughters of the Store,” we envisioned making a portrait sequence proper from the beginning.

Foreword to “The Sons & Daughters of the Store”

Arthur Trickett-Wile
Andrew Weber Jr. and Everleigh Jenkins, from “The Sons & Daughters of the Store”

When the scholars had been the story leads, they usually had a clearer thought of the medium they’d use. As an illustration, in each “The 5 Stars of Lowman” and “Southern Pathology,” Julia Kraus knew that she wished to do audio tales with accompanying pictures. We frequently tried to consider what media may greatest inform the topic’s story. Perhaps one other means to consider this course of is that multimedia tasks permit us as artists to embrace the spirit of collage and the interaction between the mediums.

Payne: For me the story at all times comes first, except you might be utilizing medium as a type of necromancy, which in fact images has roots in.

In my private work, I’ve a topic in thoughts and know going into it what I need the tip product to appear like. It’s totally different working with a gaggle of scholars with various talent units and expertise. It has been an incredible expertise to method these tasks like a magpie, accumulating as a lot info in as many codecs as attainable, after which collaborating with the crew to determine what wants culling and what has to remain, after which the easiest way/mode to characterize the topic.

The pictures within the “Sons and Daughters of the Store” are a lot enjoyable, so evocative. Are you able to speak about getting these pictures?  

Jaeger: After we began the Twin Groves story, “The Sons & Daughters of the Store,” I believed we had been going to be making a narrative about stone mason Silas Owens Sr., who was born and raised in what was then Solomon Grove. However after I first talked to Albessie Thompson, the venture director of the Ozark Foothills African American Historical past Museum, the whole lot modified. Albessie shared with me the fascinating historical past of Twin Groves, a neighborhood based by previously enslaved individuals from the Carolinas and Tennessee, and the way the museum’s mission was to doc that historical past. We noticed a possibility for AV Arkansas to help Albessie by documenting the present and former residents of Twin Groves — that’s, we may doc the present second. Albessie and Mayor Wesley Tyus bought phrase out that we had been doing the venture, and my cellphone was ringing off the hook for every week as individuals scheduled instances to get their portraits made on the Twin Groves Public Library (the Solomon Grove Smith-Hughes constructing constructed by Owens). We inspired them to convey an object that they may be photographed with simply as a method to make the portraits extra lively. It was such a pleasure to get to satisfy all the oldsters from Twin Groves and to listen to them speak about their objects — largely household photos — and their connection to and love of the township.

Arthur Trickett-Wile
Dena and Haywood Owens, from “The Sons & Daughters of the Store”

Payne: I assume one factor I may add to that is that we now have labored arduous with the scholars to ensure they’re making pictures and never taking pictures. (this is applicable to all media we’re utilizing). So, with the Twin Groves portraits, we collaborated with the themes as Ty mentioned, and spent quite a lot of time with the scholars emphasizing and modeling respectful interactions with our topics. The scholars come to know that entry to [a] topic is a present and a real interplay with [a] topic is extra vital than a product. We will’t actually get what we’re on the lookout for with out that. 

I received’t ask which of the tales up on the location are your favourite, however perhaps you possibly can inform me a few of your favourite moments within the work you have got there. 

Jaeger: There have been particular moments engaged on every of those tales. Strolling the grounds of the Bruno Faculty with Royce Jones and listening to him inform tales about his deceased spouse, the artist Helen Phillips Royce. Royce was transferring quickly, and there was this sense that he was leaving a lot behind, at the same time as he regarded ahead to the following stage of his life.

As a author, most of my favourite moments got here as we found the form of every story. In “Bear This in Thoughts,” we labored arduous to succeed in a spot the place we may inform each the tales concerning the cattle and concerning the supernatural. Discovering how these parts had been in dialog turned the important thing. One of many gratifying points of doing this sort of work is that every of the themes begins as a stranger however then you definately uncover a lot about them in a brief time period. After all, what we come to know is barely a small slice of the individual’s life — it’s artifice actually — however from this you form one thing that feels extra full in scope.  

“The 5 Instars of Lowman” was one other enjoyable story to work on and uncover the construction. Larry Lowman is such a very good storyteller — he’s so educated about Arkansas flora and geography, and he shares such vividly detailed anecdotes, whether or not about Arkansas politics or his love of bugs. We had a lot nice tape that we didn’t know how one can lower it down. Dividing the story into 5 elements allowed us to create chunk dimension tales that individuals may hearken to with out feeling like they had been committing themselves to 25 minutes of listening. We had been satisfied (rightly, I hope!) that if we may get individuals to hearken to the primary three minutes, we may get them to pay attention to 5 sections. However once more, it turned a query of how one can form these items to provide the general story a way of form. The best way to steadiness and interview the private tales with the academic or extra didactic info? How will we present these two parts of Larry Lowman — the charismatic character and the sage trainer? Hopefully, the story reveals these strata of Larry’s persona. 

Payne: Helen Phillips was my mentor in undergrad and I had been as much as their place in Bruno a number of instances, even earlier than they bought the property, and had a rental up on the creek. That venture had quite a lot of sentimental attraction to me so I needed to pull again a little bit to make certain I wasn’t being too emotional concerning the path it wanted to go. Ultimately, I believe the crew did a good looking job making a bit about a spot and, in the end, a love story. 

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