Cullen Vance, storyteller and musician extraordinaire performs at the Oregon Country Fair and talks with us about what inspires him, his mentor Mark Lewis, and his family. Hear the audience participation as he tells stories by Shel Silverstein and Lewis Carroll. Storytelling as an art and a life path!
Cullen Vance, Storyteller
Transcript by Jade Rainsong
“I found out a couple years ago. My life purpose. My life purpose is to give permission to people.”
Karen: “It’s Saturday and we’re at the youth stage at the Oregon Country Fair 2017 getting ready to hear Cullen Vance who’s coming up next. Cullen is a musician in the community and he’s actually going to be doing some storytelling today for the kids. He’s got his mandolin with him. So I think we’re in for a treat with storytelling and music.
Cullen: “Hello everyone. If you never see another show, you’ll never see this one. My name is Cullen Vance, I’m a professional storyteller and so for the next 30 minutes or so I will do some professional storytelling. How does that sound?
Karen: “Have you done a lot of storytelling for kids before?
Cullen: “I mean, yeah, it’s kind of my job. Now, I make about half my money with music and half my money with storytelling which is like thank you to the whole universe for something like that.”
Cullen: “There are many types of storytellers. There are epic storytellers there are scary storytellers there are a romantic storytellers. I am none of those things, I’m so sorry to tell you. I am what they call a silly storyteller. Yeah, that’s the right reaction. I’m a silly storyteller, which is why I’m on the youth stage.
That’s exactly why. Now, I have to tell you… a lot of these stories have varying degrees of silliness. This first one is probably a 6 on the silly scale. This story has two characters. The first character is a bagpipe. Bagpipe- Scottish instrument. Some people say they are very beautiful, many people say that… (laughter)
The second character in this story is a turtle. Now this is not like your normal everyday turtle. Usually turtles are quite introverted, they keep themselves. They take their time going places. They carry their houses on their back, right. Now, this turtle is a Scottish loud-mouthed walking turtle. It’s up on two limbs.
They’re actually quite brash and they don’t usually think things all the way through. So those are our two characters.
Karen: “So tell me a little bit about your personal story… I see your son walking around here close by there.
Cullen: “Oh, that’s my baby boy. He’s gonna want to say hi …want to say hi real quick?
Cullen’s Son: “Hi. My name is Brendan. Can I have that microphone?”
Cullen: “It’s been an incredible journey. I met my wife in college and shortly thereafter was one of those whirlwind events. We graduated college, got married, had a kid just all in the same year like somehow it all just happened all at once and and we decided that we were living in Central Valley California, which at the current moment is impossible to make it as an artist there, especially performing artist.
And so we looked across the board and we didn’t know where to where to move and then we had one friend this one friend our friend Meg’s who lived up here and she’s like coming to visit and check out Oregon and we’re like Oregon kind of cool. And we went up and visit and we were like trees and rivers, seasons? You know like these are all new concepts because we living in Turlock. Turlock, California. There aren’t trees.”
Karen: “Oh, sure. I’ve heard of Turlock.”
Cullen: “Absolutely. Yeah, so we moved up here and it life has never been the same. I’ve only been in Eugene for we’re about to hit our fourth year in Eugene something like the scene the art scene the creative scene. This is home. This is home.”
Cullen: “Are we ready? Are we ready? Bathroom line? Are we ready? This is the turtle the turtle the turtle and the bagpipe by Shel Silverstein.
It was nine o’clock at midnight at a quarter after 3:00, when a turtle met a bagpipe on the shore side by the sea. And the turtle said ‘My dearie, may I sit with you? I’m weary.’ And the bagpipe didn’t say no. Say didn’t say no…
Crowd: “Didn’t say no.”
Cullen: “Remember that. Said the turtle to the bagpipe ‘I’ve walked this lonely shore. I have talked with waves and pebbles, but I’ve never loved before. Will you marry me today, dear? Is it no, you’re going to say, dear?’ And the bagpipe didn’t say no.
Said the turtle to the bagpipe, ‘Please, excuse me if I stare, but you have the flattest skin my dear and you have the strangest hair. If I beg you pretty please love, can I give you just one squeeze love?’ and the bagpipe didn’t say no. Said the turtle to the bagpipe ‘Ah, you love me then confess. Let me whisper in your dainty ear and hold ya to me chest. So he cuddled her, and so lovingly he squeezed her and the bagpipe said (HONK).
Said the turtle to the bagpipe ‘Did you honk? Or bray? Or nay for (honk) when your kissed is such a heartless thing to say! Is it that I have offended, is it that our love is ended?’ And the bagpipe didn’t say no. Said the turtle to the bagpipe ‘Shall I leave you darling wife? Shall I waddle up to woedom? Shall I crawl out of your life? Shall I move, depart and go dear? Oh, I beg you, I beg you tell me no dear!’
And the bagpipe didn’t say no. So the turtle crept off crying and never return no more and left the bagpipe lying on that smooth and sandy shore. And some night when the tide is low there just walk up and say ‘hello there’ and politely ask the bagpipe of the stories really so and I assure you darling children the bagpipe won’t say no.”
Cullen: “It’s impossible to talk about my origin story without bringing up Mark and for the people at home Mark Lewis, two-time Emmy award-winning storyteller.”
Karen: “I knew Mark, he was a friend of mine too.”
Cullen: “Mark just a huge influence in this community and in the world and it down in California, just so many people that he moved and I was lucky enough to be one of those people. And he was emceeing an event that I had found on Craigslist.
And I was doing my music there and he came up to me afterward. He said ‘I need you to open for me for my next set.’ And it was… that was the start, that was the start of my career. Was that one person recognizing and going ‘I believe in you’.
Karen: “He saw a spark in you, he saw the storyteller spark.”
Cullen: “That I didn’t see in myself, and I was terrified and he’s like ‘No, you’re doing it. You’re just doing it. You’re just going to go go ahead and do it.’ And and then as we knew each other for just for about two years, is all I knew him before he passed away.
Yeah, a lot of time with him. Yeah. We spent a lot of time. Sorry. Yeah, it’s just a lot and especially every time that I do storytelling I can feel him right behind me. And honestly, that’s one of the biggest reasons that I keep doing it… one because it’s a lot of fun. It’s also a lot of work, but also that… he showed me a career path that I didn’t think was on the board. Yeah wasn’t even… that’s not even a pathway or road that you can take. He said, ‘Oh no, I made this road myself go past it toll-free.’ That’s really what it’s all about.
Karen: “That sounds like Mark. He’s so creative.”
Cullen: “I want to do this story to honor Mark. So can we please even if you didn’t know him just in memory of him, and he affected so many people can we please give a big round of applause for Mr. Mark Lewis.
So this one is by Mr. Lewis Carroll. This is what is called a nonsense story. It doesn’t make any sense. So for instance if you were to put it… if you open up the pages and you just read it, this is what it sounds like. Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe? All Mimsy were the borogoves and the mome raths outgrabe.
It doesn’t make any sense. It’s nonsense. At least that’s what Mr. Carroll wanted us to think. So this is…Everyone take a breath. And were going to dive into this nonsense. We’re gonna see if we can make it a little bit more real.
‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe. All mimsy were the borogoves and the mome raths outgrabe. Beware the jabberwock my son.. the jaws that bite.. the claws that catch. Beware the Jubjub bird and shun the frumious bandersnatch… bandersnatch. Bandersnatch..achoo!…. gross… sorry. He took his vorpal sword in hand.
Long time the manxome foe he sought. So rested he by the tum tum tree and stood awhile in thought. As in offish thought he stood, the jabberwock with eyes of flame came whiffling through the tulgey wood and burbled as it came. Say ‘Oh, no.’
Crowd: “Oh, no!”
Cullen: Ah! One two, and through and through his vorpal blade went snicker-snack snicker-snack. He left it dead and with its head he went galumping back.
‘And hast thou slain the jabberwock my son? Oh come to my arms my beamish boy. Oh frabjous day! Callo! Callay!’ He chortled in his joy.
‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the way… all mimsy were the borogoves and the momeraths out grabe.”
Karen: “Thank you for bringing his spirit alive. Watching you just now doing Jabberwocky… I actually could see him in what you were doing. So thank you very much for bringing Mark alive here today… because country fair just you know, the energy here just reminds me so much of his energy, his creativity and his passion, his fire.”
Cullen: “And love and like we’re all family like there’s just no there’s no division…that’s here when the people are going around. You know that when I tell people I’m a professional storyteller. They’re like okay so but what do you really do? Like that’s what I really do. That’s what I really do.”
Karen: “And you found that path. That’s amazing. So what’s your favorite part about storytelling? I know the next act is getting ready to start in a minute.” Tell me real quick. What do you what’s your favorite part about why why do you do it inside?”
Cullen: “Permission. I found out a couple years ago my life purpose. Which is incredibly lucky. That’s a nice thing to know. My life purpose is to give permission to people and I think that in the world that we’re living in not to bring it into the Oregon Country Fair, but it is happening. It’s a lot of darkness, nastiness that’s going on out out in the world. Sometimes I think it gets too easy, especially for kids and really especially for adults. So I guess for everyone to forget how to be silly and it’s not escapism. I’m not coming up here trying to distract you from the world.
I’m trying to show you that it exists within and that it’s all silly. Like if you look at the whole world, even the most serious things and you can still find the absurdism. Just like the absurdism… don’t think about it too much. You’ll get an existential crisis. But but I want to give people permission the same way the first time I saw Mark perform my first thought was ‘That’s a path? That’s an option?’ I had no idea. So all I want to do is get up on stage and play violin and then when people come up and say, oh I would love to play violin. I just look them in the eye and say, yes, you can…. you can… go just start… just do it. It’s not going to sound very good at first just like a didn’t sound very good for me for.”
Karen: “Amazing that you found that that permission is your gift and what you bring to the world and how old are you now?”
Cullen: “How old am I, 24 five, five I think 25.”
Karen: “Wow. Fantastic. What a great path… you’re on it. You’re doing it beautiful family.”
Cullen: “It’s terrifying. I’m not going to lie. Being a freelance artist is, is the scariest thing.”
Karen: “We’re going to be hearing you perform your music in a little bit later. We’re going to get back here tonight.”
Cullen: “Which is a completely different tone. Yeah, same motivation same objective give people permission, but different different tone altogether.”
Karen: “And can you say a few words really quick about your music what you’re going to be doing tonight?”
Cullen: “I’m a live looping electric violinist with hip-hop Celtic and Middle Eastern influences.”
Karen: “Oh man…. serve me up a deep dish of that!”
Cullen: “I’ve never had to say that before. Yeah.”