Saturday, May 07, 2011

I’ve been concentrating on storytelling for the past week or two. We spent the April 29-May 1st weekend in Downs, Kansas at the Kansas Storytelling Festival, which was fun and felt very down-home! That’s a sure-fire combination that appeals to the emotions.

The setting of the festival was simple and rural, but the stages were equipped with sophisticated sound systems, making for an enjoyable listening experience. To add to our pleasure, we found the people of Downs to be very hospitable!

The featured tellers were Andy Offutt-Irwin, Kim Weitkamp and Dino O’Dell. I had heard Andy at the 2007 National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, TN and knew that he would be great, but I had never heard the others and was very pleasantly surprised by their abilities. They were very professional while also making the audience feel as if they’d been living right down the street all our lives. We had a wonderful time and hope to be able to attend again in the future.

The Kansas Storytelling Festival is always the Friday and Saturday of last full weekend of April, so next year’s dates are April 27-28, 2012. The featured teller will be Donald Davis, my all-time favorite storyteller!

The way that we keep that great ‘storytelling’ high going in our consciousness long after we have to leave the storytelling grounds is by purchasing and listening to the audio CDs produced by the tellers. We bought “Itty Bitty Monsters” (by O’Dell who is one of the best children’s performers I’ve seen); “Book Every Saturday for a Funeral” and “Christmas at Southern White Old Lady Hospital” (both by Irwin; very funny – mostly stories featuring ‘Aunt Marguerite’); “Lip Service: an album with lots of whistling” (music performed by Irwin and friends; when I heard his song called ‘Tarry Here” I loved it and bought the CD primarily for the recording of that one song); and “Penny Candy Love: stories for grownups” (by Kim Weitkamp whose stories evoke warm, fuzzy memories and the longing to hear more. She sings and plays guitar well, too).

Because I’m trying to get my storytelling groove back after a few years out of the telling circuit, I’ve also been reading a new book in our library: The Art of Storytelling: Telling Truths through Telling Stories by Amy E. Spaulding. Spaulding deftly describes not only the ‘how-to’ elements, but more importantly she includes why. In fact there is a whole section of the book with the major heading of “Why Bother Learning and Telling Stories”. What a great question!!!

For me the answer to that question is that storytelling provides me with a venue in which I can express my values in a way that allows interaction with an audience. I love to sense the human connection that is provided thru the sharing of stories, whether I am the teller or the listener. And I also love those stories that contain immutable truths. In this age of instant communication and immediate change (of nearly everything), basic truths do still exist and can be expressed in stories that provide a sense of stability and reassurance.

The telling of a story is the giving of a gift. Spaulding writes about the important role of the audience in receiving the gift graciously. They must give full attention – with no cell phones ringing or side conversations. They must give visual cues to the teller to indicate understanding or confusion – or that they can’t hear clearly (hand to the ear). When it comes to audiences, bigger is not always better. Attentive and responsive is best! Many stories are heard best in smaller, more intimate settings.

In 1996 George Gerbner wrote:

For the first time in human history, the storyteller who tells most of the stories to our children, and at the same time to our parents and grandparents is not the church or the school. It is a small group of distant corporations with purposes of their own that have great virtues and great weaknesses. They are the storytellers that in many ways have taken over and given us a world into which our children are born and in which we all live.

Let us not allow these corporations to become the only tellers in our children’s or our friend’s lives. Reach out with your own stories – or the stories you have learned by heart because they have something worthwhile to share!

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At 7:39 PM , Blogger amjense said...

Very nice! We wondered why you were going to told Cathy you'd be there, but not why. I'm glad you had a safe, enjoyable, and inspiring trip!


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