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A Wail of a Tale

[whitespace] Erica Lann-Clark
Stories, Me?: Erica Lann-Clark weaves stories of Jewish folklore on Thursday at Kuumbwa.

Storyteller Erica Lann-Clark talks about Jewish folklore and her upcoming show with folk musician Mark Levy

By Sarah Phelan

WHEN ERICA LANN-CLARK first started telling stories professionally 10 years ago, she thought it was just about telling a good tale. She soon found out otherwise. As she explains, "Performance art is not about your experience up there on the stage, doing your thing. It's about the audience's reaction."

With this tenet in mind, Lann-Clark developed a memorable and likable stage persona, one to which audiences easily relate. Today she has the house's attention from the minute she walks on to the stage, face aglow, as if some irrepressible imp has temporarily taken over her body.

This is not to say that her tales are lightweight. Born in Vienna on the eve of the Holocaust, this fireball of an entertainer has endured her share of suffering. Lann-Clark subscribes to the belief that "art is private pain made public." Yet when she comes onstage, it isn't to whine but to deliver stories, stories that sizzle with irreverence, wit and woman power.

Not afraid to go in new directions, Lann-Clark joins forces with folk singer Mark Levy on May 13 to present "Tribal Tales and Wails," a tandem performance that weaves together stories and songs--some funny, some poignant--and all taken from Jewish folklore and culture.

"Mark and I put together this show for two reasons," Lann-Clark explains. "First, the word 'Jewish' has become synonymous with the Holocaust, as if that were the most important thing about the Jewish experience, when in fact Judaism and the Jewish culture are 5,000 years old, for God's sake!"

She pauses, eyes flashing. "And second, because we wanted people to realize the breadth and diversity of this cultural heritage, so that it is not limited, but accessible to everyone."

Although Lann-Clark will tell one original story of Holocaust survival, she is quick to reiterate that Jewish folklore, and not the Holocaust, will be the focus of the evening. "When Jews were thrown out of their homeland, they traveled in small bands to diverse places. Consequently, Jewish folklore is a blending of disparate elements, just as jazz is a blending of the American experience and the African American tradition," she explains.

Lann-Clark, who has performed in cities from New York to Singapore, says she's thrilled to be working with Levy, another top Bay Area performer.

"Mark has been researching, collecting and performing Jewish folk songs for over 25 years," she says. "He has a beautiful baritone and works all over the globe. In this show the music and stories are dating. In the next show we hope they'll be wedded."

She pauses to giggle, then sighs. "There are so many different stories and songs we could share with the audience, but we don't have six hours! Instead, Mark and I will take [the audience] on a tour that includes songs in Yiddish, Ladino and Hebrew, stories from the Ashkenazic, Sephardic and Yemenite Jewish communities, and ends with a story simply titled "Problem Children."

"This tale centers on an encounter between three generations, as well as an original story of Holocaust survival. Set in 20th-century America, it takes us into the post-Holocaust era, where, hopefully, it will strike a universal chord," says Lann-Clark.

And what might that universal chord be?

Lann-Clark gives a dirty, throaty laugh. "There is a Native American storyteller, Johnny Moses," she begins, eyes shining, "who once said that in his tribe each person has their own set of brains--and so each would make whatever they would make of any story ... and I agree with him."

Erica Lann-Clark and Mark Levy present "Tribal Tales and Wails" on May 13 at 7:30pm at Kuumbwa, 320 Cedar St., SC. Tickets cost $10. For info, call 479-1874.

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From the May 12-19, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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