Featured Artist: Will Hornyak

Storyteller Will Hornyak.

Storyteller Will Hornyak, 2004 Sunburst Artist of the Year, has been a staple on our artist roster since 1996, and is this week’s featured artist. Hailing from San Carlos, CA, Will now makes his way in the world teaching through Young Audiences and others, performing at events, and sharing his talents with festival and groups including the Portland Storyteller’s Guild. You can catch some of Will’s spooky stories — just in time for Halloween — this Friday and Saturday at Stonehenge Studios.

What is your art practice outside of teaching? I relate strongly to the wandering, itinerant Irish storytellers known as “shanachies.” They were keepers of the old stories, but they were masters of the craft who adapted those stories to suit any occasion. They threaded their way across the landscape, stitching together as they did town and countryside, public house and private hearth. I am an omnivore of traditional stories and am inspired by everything from Mexican folk-tales and Greek myths to Native American legends and Russian fairy-tales. I am half Hungarian and half Irish and have recently developed a number of Irish myths into hour-long performances for adults during the Samhain (Halloween) and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. I love how stories and storytelling can open the door to work in schools and churches, prisons and pubs and beyond.

Will performing at Chehalem Elementary.

How does Oregon inspire your art making? I love to fish, hunt, camp and wander through Oregon and I am always inspired and rejuvenated by the endless variety of landscape, water and weather. I recently worked at Maryhill Museum (near the Dalles) for a few days and camped on the Deschutes River during my stay. It was the best of both worlds: nature and culture right at hand. I live in Milwaukie, Oregon and I believe that the Portland area is a fertile place for any kind of storyteller, no matter what your medium might be. People here are willing to share, collaborate and be generous with their time and work. I live 8 blocks from a boat ramp on the Willamette River where I can drop a canoe in the water and enjoy an hour of two or paddling. I am so grateful for the good fortune of living in a city and a state with so many cultural riches and natural wonders.

If you could be any animal, what would you be? Being just one would be tough. I’d have to shape-shift from bear to wolf, to wild duck to salmon to hog!

The arm raising excitement of stories.

What is one of your earliest art memories? A make-shift little theatre troupe came to my Catholic grade school when I was in 7th grade. We had never seen a group of actors before. I don’t remember the play, I just remember that the actors were outrageously fun and interesting and enthusiastic people. At lunch time they hung out and played basketball with us. They were adults but they were very at home in an easygoing way with young people. We watched as they packed up their little van with their props and headed off into the sunset. It made an impression on me: I had no idea that kind of life was an option.

What’s the best thing about being a Young Audiences teaching artist? Interacting in a close way with young people is always the highlight. Watching students take delight in hearing and telling stories, finding their voice, making magic with words and gestures is so rewarding. Teaching storytelling also helps me better understand the nature of my own creative process. I have to ask myself constantly: How did I decide to tell this story in this manner?

Will Hornyak in action.

Young Audiences has assisted me in being a better storyteller and teacher by providing so many opportunities through workshops and professional development classes. Also, the community of artists and the administrators and staff at Young Audiences provide a sense of home and a quality of connection and camaraderie in what can sometimes feel like a solitary road.

Why is art important to kids? I think we are creative and imaginative by nature and art offers gateways and pathways for the expression of who we are, how we see and think and feel. Storytelling specifically is one of our basic human activities. We come to understand ourselves and create our world through story. Knowing lots of stories means that your imagination is rich with ideas and ways of adapting to the world; of understanding the motivations of many kinds of characters; of sequencing and understanding consequences, and of better knowing how to weave a life of one’s own with a storehouse of stories that provide inspiration and guidance.

Tales from the Wyrd: stories from Will Hornyak.

What teacher or artist was inspirational to you as a kid? I had a coach named Bob Flanagan from ages 6-15 who was passionate and knowledgeable about baseball and loved working with kids. He was the most natural, dedicated, toughest and loving person I knew. He was a big Irishman wish a big voice and a great sense of humor. He brought out the best in me and I owe so much of my own love of teaching to him.

Who is your art hero now? The Irish folklorist and storyteller Edie Lenihan; storyteller and writer Michael Meade. Both Edie and Michael are steeped in the lore and understanding of the deepest roots of their art form, but they can communicate it with such eloquence, ease and humor to a wide variety of audiences. Michael Meade works with returning Veterans, at-risk youth, prison populations and runs a non-profit foundation called Mosaic Voices. He uses mythic stories to help people find themselves in their process of healing and understanding.

If you weren’t an artist, what would you be? Probably some kind of teacher/carpenter. I would have to balance the head work with something physical. Carpentry has always been a way for me to get some distance from the performing while still being creative in a physical way. Maybe teaching English and Shop at a high school or middle school would be a possibility.

If you can’t make it to Will’s show this weekend, watch and listen to Under A Celtic Moon recorded at the Liberty Theater. [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXGLYmEbzwc?rel=0]

Thanks Will!

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