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Why Tell Tall Tales?

At ETC, we've used American Tall Tales for the basis of many programs and classes over the years, including the Tuckahoe Elementary Main Stage Residency, "Tuckahoe Tall Tales", that premiers tonight.

We asked Teaching Artists Katie McCreary & Molly Kaufman, both of whom have worked on Main Stage Residencies based on them, why American Tall Tales are such a great source for theatrical work.

ETC: Why do we consistently use American Tall Tales for our Main Stage Residencies?

Molly Kaufman: These are very old stories and were probably often told around a campfire. They were passed down from generation to generation, getting taller and taller. These stories are meant to be told out loud! It is brought to life by whoever tells it. It also makes me wonder where the story started in the first place, and what we do now have to say about them in 2022.

Katie McCreary: So many reasons! For one, they are FUN - there’s something so meant for the stage with these larger than life characters and stories told over and over again. They represent one of the oldest, and very American, forms of storytelling. They were originally meant to be TOLD, and that’s what we do onstage! Also, they fulfill multiple Virginia English Standards of Learning for the grades involved and often show up in suggested library support materials, etc. - and ETC loves to support classroom curriculum!

ETC: What's your favorite Tall Tale & why?

MK: My favourite Tall Tale is the story of when Pecos Bill meets Slue Foot Sue and wants to marry her. He sees her riding a huge catfish down the river, and was smitten. What an entrance Slue Foot Sue has.

KM: I 100% love Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind (Crockett) - both before and after she marries Davy Crockett. She’s one I never heard of growing up and the whole story is fun, silly, and empowering. She is easily the strongest and toughest of them all!!

ETC: Which character from a Tall Tale is your favorite & why?

MK: My favourite character from a Tall Tale has to be Pecos Bill. In some ways, I look at him as a Western Superhero. He does a lot of really fantastical things, as well as some strange things.

KM: I absolutely love John Henry. Primarily because he’s not just a character - he really did exist. Born an enslaved person who goes on to secure employment for his fellow railroad workers?! Incredible!!

ETC: Why do you personally like American Tall Tales as the base for original plays? What part of these stories do you relate to the most?

MK: I think that they are a great example of storytelling and how stories can change depending on who tells it. It can get taller and taller. I liked hearing what everyone thought of the two characters (Sally Ann and Pecos Bill) and what we had to say about these stories in 2022.

KM: I love the outsized ideas of everything - that’s so often how students think on their own and giving them a world to create in that is open to big, fun, silly, exaggerated ideas is awesome.

ETC: Which Tall Tale do you really wish was 100% true?

MK: Riding a cyclone, 100 percent.

KM: I mean, John Henry is nearly true…but if I’m choosing just one part of one tall tale, I’d go with Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox creating the Grand Canyon by just playing tug-of-war.


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