“I’m a Native person who loves science fiction,” says the storyteller, whose favorite author is Ursula Le Guin. Often people mistake indigenous culture and the art of storytelling both to be about pastness and preservation, but Thomason is more interested in looking to what’s next, or even what will never be.
She’s also interested in frontiers, from the Wild West to outer space. In her role as a storyteller, Thomason has worked with some of the nation’s top scientists, including the rocket scientists at NASA.
“Science is very curious about ‘why’ and ‘how,’ and stories ask other questions,” she observes. The future, whether it’s in real life or in the fantasy worlds of fiction, are not in conflict with tradition or indigenous knowledge systems, though people sometimes perceive them to be.
Offering original stories, historical pieces, and folk tales with a futurist bent, Thomason will bring her repertoire of smart and subtle stories to Jonesborough the week before Labor Day. Tuesday to Saturday, Aug. 27-31, she’ll perform afternoon concerts at the International Storytelling Center’s intimate state-of-the-art theater, located on Main Street.
To be sure, some of Thomason’s stories are about the past. She has a collection of stories about Native American boarding schools, for instance, which tried to assimilate Native children into white culture. Her goal is to construct tales that transcend the status of a history lesson.
For Thomason, storytelling is about relationship building, and one of the things she hopes to accomplish is to give listeners a connection with stories that will continue to grow long after they leave her performance.
“The important thing about storytelling to me is the relationship that it has built between the story and the storyteller and the listeners,” she says. “They get that this isn’t TV. This isn’t a movie. They’re actively shaping the story. They’re involved in it. It’s all about relationships. I build a relationship with the listeners, and then introduce them to a story that they get to make their own relationship with.”
For her concert series in Jonesborough, Thomason plans to offer a mix of tales that range from historical to fictional, folksy to more personal. “I never really know what I’m doing until I get a sense of the room and the people there,” she says. “I like to have an open menu. And I often organize Storytelling Live! shows as a buffet.”
All of Thomason’s performances at the International Storytelling Center will begin at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased in advance on ISC’s website, in person, or over the phone. Walk-in seating is available the day of the show, but only until seats sell out. Tickets for all afternoon matinees are $12 for adults, and $11 for seniors, students, and anyone under 18.
Exclusive discounts are available to ticketholders for the evening concert and matinee shows. Ticket stubs will earn a 10% discount on same-day dining at Main Street Café (lunch only), Olde Towne Pancake House, Texas Burritos & More, Krazy Krepes, Jonesborough Barrel House, the Icing on the Cake (lunch only), and the Corner Cup. Additionally, Boone Street Market is offering 10% off prepared meals and 5% off any other purchase.
The premier sponsor of Storytelling Live! is Ballad Health. Additional program funding comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Niswonger Foundation, Eastman Credit Union, the Mooneyhan Family Foundation, and Food City. Media sponsors include News 5-WCYB, FOX Tri-Cities, Tri-Cities CW, Johnson City Press, Kingsport Times-News, Herald & Tribune, and Cumulus Media.
“Storytelling Live!” will run its regular programming through the end of October before hosting a few seasonal performances through the remainder of the year.
The International Storytelling Center is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information about the series, including the full 2019 lineup, or to purchase tickets and season passes, visit www.storytellingcenter.net or call 800-952-8392.