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People Sometimes Say the Nicest Things

March 23, 2019

It’s been two weeks since the “Village by the Sea Storytelling Festival” made it’s debut at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, but the images and feelings of what happened are still very clear.

We began the evening with a delicious pre-concert dinner for tellers, staff, and volunteers – hosted and prepared by MORE volunteers – a great way to meet one another and relax together before the show.

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As emcee for the evening, my job – especially initially – was to get the audience ready to hear the stories. But when I walked out on the stage for the first time, it was very clear- this audience didn’t need much: they were READY.

 

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The first teller, Allison Cox, warmed us up with a funny, but telling Mexican folktale, “Cucarachita”. It’s about a fetching little cockroach making her first foray out into the world. She batted her eyelashes and greeted all with a “Hola!” – which the audience echoed. But cucarachita met some bad hombres and this tale can be seen as a cautionary tale about the likes of “El Gato” and “El Lobo”. The tale was delightful and full of fun for an audience like ours. But Allison has used it – to very different effect – in groups of abuse and assault survivors.

JohnThe other job of an emcee is to introduce each of the tellers and give subtle clues about the story or stories that he or she will tell. Introducing John Wasko was easy, weaving together information about his major piece on famed Seattle photograper-ethnographer, Edward C Curtis, and the personal story he was to tell about Alki Beach. One audience member said, “We have actually walked on that shoreline and through the storytelling, we could hear the “hiss” and “swish” of gentle waves on the sand.”

Katherine

Katherine Gee Perrone cast a spell over the audience with her quiet but powerful telling of the old Scottish tale, “Tamlin”. In Katherine’s version of this classic tale, Tamlin’s rescuer, Janet, was the real heroine: feisty, defiant, and brave. One line in the story echoed far beyond the theater; a mother in the audience with her two teenage girls wrote, “The line, ‘I don’t like being told what to do!’ is being echoed around our house!” At the end, the applause was warm and generous and Katherine came off the stage radiant with it.

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After the intermission, Eva Abram took the stage with a vibrant African story and then – surprise! – a boisterous tale from the swamps of the bayous near New Orleans, Eva’s childhood home. Eva is a gentle soul, but she easily slipped on the snarky, duplicitous personality of Crocodile in pursuit of a clueless, hysterical Hen and had the audience laughing and responding.

Then Naomi Baltuck took the stage and gave a rousing rendition of her own story, the“Red Riding Hood Rap”. As the audience clapped along, Red “hoofed it to Granny’s House, clippety-clop!”. But –

“When Red got there, she was really grossed out/ To see a fuzz-faced Granny with a big, long snout!”

The story is found in Naomi’s popular book, “Crazy Gibberish” which features “Story Hour Stretches – from a storyteller’s bag of tricks.” My copy is well-worn; I have used it for dozens of presentations with kids – and adults.

Then Naomi’s husband, Thom Garrard, joined her and they finished the evening with a tandem telling of a lively Ukrainian folk tale.

Thom & Naomi

I knew the audience had enjoyed the evening; I could feel it. So could the tellers. And – of course – that made their performances even better. One said, “I am still over the moon at how well it went!” But it was nice to have that feeling echoed later in emails I received.

“I want to let you know it was a wonderful festival…. The stories were great and so were the tellers. The audience was fully engaged and mesmerized.”

“You have given us a new focus for “old stories” and an appreciation for the talent it takes to bring tales, dreams, and visions to life.”

“I was so impressed with the group you gathered and truly feel this should be an annual event.”

Funny you should say that… so do we… and it just may happen.

storytelling in the world

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