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Spotlight on Alumni

Andy Jones, a local actor, storyteller, author and an honorary degree recipient, visited the Faculty of Education on March 10 to promote his new book The Queen of Paradise’s Garden. The traditional folk tale was illustrated by a Slovenian puppeteer and artist Darka Erdelji based in St. John’s and published by Marnie Parsons of Running the Goat publishers in St. John’s. The creative trio promoted not just the book, but storytelling and oral tradition as a valuable teaching tool. After the reading, Mr. Jones talked with our contributor Bojan Fürst.

Where did The Queen of the Paradise’s Garden come from?
We actually got the story right out from Herbert Halpert and John Widdowson’s books called The Folktales of Newfoundland and they collected it in the 1970s from a man named Albert H. Keeping from Grand Bay and he heard it from a man in Sagona Island from the south coast of Newfoundland.

How important is story telling to you?
I just love it so much. I love the effect it has on people. I love the effect it has on me when telling stories. I really started in 1979. I first heard about Jack tales from Anita Best. She is a folklorist. She started getting into the stories and she started telling me about it and as soon as she started telling me the stories I was totally hooked. In 1979 was the first time we dramatized a story. We did Mr. Pius Power Sr.’s story called Jack Ships to the Cat, which we made into Jack Meets the Cat. It was a very successful show and I’ve been at it in some version or the other ever since.

What is a Jack story?
It’s a folktale that Jack is the main character of. We always felt Jack is a quintessential Newfoundland guy in a way because he always seems to be a fairly kindhearted guy and he seems to be a guy who can do anything — he has that ability to, you know, put an arse in a cat as they say. He has great survival instincts and at the end he does well because he kind of figures out the lay of the land.

Telling stories is one thing, retelling them in a written form is quite another. What was that like?
It’s quite different. Today, when I read the story, I added lots of things from the storytelling part of it. It is funny in a way, because this time the book and the storytelling, me telling the story publicly came at the same time. In Peg Bearskin the other book we did it after I told the story many, many times. The great thing about telling the story live is that you are constantly improvising and going off what’s happening in the room at the moment and feeling the audience. [In print version] that’s not there, but it’s so beautiful to see it done. It’s so beautiful to see Darka Eredlji’s interpretations of all those characters because they are very different than my picture of them, but now they have become my picture.

How was acting with puppets different from your regular acting gig?
In many ways it’s very similar, but strange thing about puppets is, and this is nothing new to say, they seem to have al the expressions and all the things you want them to have even though they don’t. Obviously, it’s always the same face and it’s not moving. The great thing is, and that’s something that Darka has taught me, it’s about the audience filling in. Not everything is told to you. Puppets’ faces don’t move, so you in your mind move the faces and the style of the show was very low key. We weren’t necessarily telling everything like Walt Disney sort of wants to tell you everything – you sit back and it happens to you. Whereas if you leave bits out and people have to fill them in mentally, it’s a much deeper experience for the audience.

Any plans for the future?
We have talked about doing another show. And I actually just wrote a new piece — sort of a Jack tale version of the Christmas story: Jack meets Jesus [laughter].