Once upon a time there were two women who lived together in a small house with a garden at the end of the road in a small town. Some people thought they were witches. But, in fact, they were storytellers, and they were in love.
When local storytellers Jan Andrews and Jennifer Cayley decided to create a joint performance with tales from author Sara Maitland’s A Book of Spells, they realized how much they had in common with the characters in these stories, and they began to make connections with their own twenty-plus year relationship. Consequently, the show transformed itself into something even more personal, with the real-life tales of the storytellers moving through the first story and into the second.
“We had to review our entire lives,” explains Andrews. “It is a show about lesbians, but it is universal. It’s a love story.”
Originally launched at the 2007 National Storytelling Network Fringe Festival in St Louis, the show was reworked to include the autobiographical material in 2008, and is touring Ontario and soon the United Kingdom. Andrews and Cayley make an ephemeral appearance in Ottawa on April 16 at the National Arts Centre’s Fourth Stage.
Told with a modern twist, both stories from A Book of Spells are about witches that perform unexpected favours, such as abortions, for young women in need, thereby helping them discover their own power. With decades worth of storytelling experience, both Andrews and Cayley have refined their craft and have plenty to say about the art of reciting a story.
“Storytelling is about having a direct contact with our listeners. It takes out the vast amounts of description, leaving the audience free to create their own images,” says Andrews. “We are saying to the audience: ‘We trust you. You have a lot to bring.'”
Before they became a couple, the two storytellers knew each other as neighbours: each lived with a husband and family on the same street. As friends, they shared their love of books and ideas and breakfast foods. Later on, they decided to share their lives together.
“We’d been together a long time before anybody asked us how we met. And that’s a common question!” says Andrews.
“People were accepting of our relationship, but they didn’t actually want to hear anything about it,” says Cayley. “We’re neither artistically or politically radical people, but we want these stories to be told.”