Published: Thursday, April 12, 2007
By K. Shawn Edgar
In order to hear her father, Raul, tell a story about the man pictured on its label, Claudia Osorio was willing to swallow cod-liver oil. She says her father knows "the persuasive super powers of a new tale," and how they can transform "true life into never-ending fables."
Raul was "The Storyteller" when Osorio was a child in their large, boisterous yet happy family. As a teenager she began making money telling stories, and Osorio's father encouraged her to pursue the art he loved. Now she is a persuasive and imaginative teller of stories in her own right. Influenced deeply by her father's tale of "John Scott the brave Basque fisherman" she went on to earn a degree in dramatic literature and theater from a university in Mexico City.
But it was the mixed-bag of talented people in her family -- ranging from cooks and singers, to teachers, doctors and pianists -- who helped her achieve a career in professional storytelling. Along the way her grandmother gave Osorio, who was trying to gain greater attention from an audience, a key piece of advice, "Stand tall so they can see you; speak loud so they can hear you; and be brief so they applaud you."
Growing up in the villages near Cuernavaca, Mexico exposed Osorio to a strong oral tradition and to the natural flowering beauty of a place known as The City of Eternal Spring. The beauty and the resonant voices have remained with her, informing the tales she tells. "It was a magical place full of artists," said Osorio. "Just like Ashland [Oregon], I can totally relate to the theater people. We're like the same people."
Osorio's performances combine puppetry -- inspired by European and Canadian puppeteers on tour in Mexico City; who made their puppets come to life from ping-pong balls -- and improvisation, which she brought forward from her time as an actress, to create magically unique styles and meanings.
She explains that if an audience knows you, they have probably heard your stories. The challenge then is adding surprises, and letting each story live and grow in a way that even the oldest and dearest friend will not expect. This is the essence of spring.
Communication is the prime incentive. It keeps Osorio coming back to professional telling, again and again. That and humor are most important to her. Most of her stories are told in Spanish. So how does she capture non-Hispanic audience members? She has found a persuasive super power of her own: Her stories can cross the language barrier.
"Sometimes I see people coming in the back; they don't speak Spanish," Osorio explained. "They start coming to the front, but acting like they are not interested. So I try to catch their attention. Not translate for them, just catch their attention, like throwing in a handkerchief to make them part of the action. When they get engaged, we don't need to speak the same language. We connect without words."