I think of storytelling as an art wedged in between writing and theater. It is embedded with history and based on simplicity. Considering these are all things I adore, I have been fascinated with storytellers ever since moving to the woods of Georgia. I dragged the family to a storytelling festival at the Blue Ridge Arts association a few months ago (which wasn’t very good) and continue to mark off storytelling events at area coffee houses, albeit we have yet to attend. As a writer, I am riveted with the idea of stories being passed on from generation to generation and I have toyed with the idea of learning how to stand up and tell a story orally myself.
So, when we heard a radio announcement that the Campbell Folk Arts School was giving away two tuitions to an upcoming storytelling class (a weeklong intensive) because they are looking for more storytellers in the area, I was thrilled. I’d just taken a class on pottery, and my husband had taken woodcarving at the school, so we didn’t really have another free week to indulge in a new interest, (I fall behind with my MFA work when I play too much) but the opportunity to get a 450 dollar class -one that I lusted for – on the house, was too delectable to pass up. I called and put myself on the list, unaware that my husband had also called to enroll me as a valentines day present. When I told him I was going, he sheepishly explained that he knew I would love it and he had called to enroll me too. Now, I was enrolled twice. Not a big problem, I just dragged him with me as the other “Ginny” in class. He is a good sport. Storytelling wasn’t his primary interest (cause there is no wood in the craft) but he cleared his schedule and accompanied me just to see what it is all about.
We had to miss the orientation day because we had friends visiting from Florida that were not leaving until after Monday, so we arrived on Tuesday. Then, we found that there were only four people registered in the class and the other two had decided to leave. One was sick, the other embarrassed when he discovered that storytelling involves standing up in front of an audience. (Duh!) The teacher was highly qualified with lots of experience as a performer, published recordings and she even has a Masters in storytelling – now who’d ‘a thunk they made one of them darn things – It was an odd circumstance that so few people were registered. Storytelling is usually a popular subject, but several different classes were small or canceled at the Folk School that week – no doubt because of the bad weather and the fact that February is not a big draw in the mountains. Nevertheless, the instructor hoped we’d stay since she been contracted to stay the week, students or not. We were game. So together, my husband, the teacher and I, dove into the art of storytelling.
We learned the folklore and history of the craft, and waded through many stories. By the end of the first day, we were taking turns telling stories, being critiqued and learning the techniques that make a story interesting. My husband and I were both very good, but that is no surprise considering we have theater experience and feel comfortable with public speaking. We selected a few stories to claim as “ours” and practiced them, perfecting them for a performance on Thursday night for the school participants.
It is no surprise that the story that suited me best was a “Jack tale”, original folk tales brought to the mountains by Scots in the 1800’s. (Jack and the Beanstalk is one of them). These are tall tales with lots of exaggeration and humor. They suit my sense of humor and personality. (Its no secret I tend to exaggerate for fun) Mark chose a fairytale, something with a poignant moral, which suits him as well. He is first and always, a teacher.
The second day, we were told to select another story, and I smiled and asked, “Can I try an original story. I would like to see if I can do this with something I’ve written myself.” Of course, this is what I had in mind all along when I thought of learning how to tell a story aloud.
The teacher was pleasantly surprised. Not many people want to do something like that.
Mark said, “It took you long enough. What are you going to do, the Lobster Story?” Damn man, he knows me better than I know myself sometimes.
So I began working on the Lobster Story, figuring out how to tell it orally in under ten minutes. It worked beautifully. The story is embedded with moral and emotional messages. I was so thrilled to have this new way to share something that comes from within.
When we performed, I chose a tall tale and my lobster story. Both went over very well. I was somewhat nervous telling my original story, I guess because it could bomb on two levels. The way I told it could be bad, but the story itself could be bad too. Yikes. But in the end, it was very conducive to this medium of entertainment.
By the time we were through, we had the confidence and skills to do this anywhere and anytime. We have even thought we might offer our services at a few coffee houses nearby one day – we will be able to put together a fun program between us. We joined the Blue Ridge Storytellers Group, and we are now proud members of the National Storyteller’s Association. I even bought us tickets to the annual Storyteller’s festival in Tenn. in October. It is a big four day event. Seven tents are erected and each day the greatest storytellers in the country perform. They even have midnight ghost tales for those willing to stay up. Gotta love it. We will just go for the weekend – don’t want to burn out the family on stories first time out but I am sure the kids will love it. Fall is a wonderful time for new experiences in the mountains.
I have begun collecting old folktales. I am thinking I will try to design an independent study of the art of storytelling for next term for my Creative Writing MFA as my interdisciplinary course. I think Storytelling goes hand in hand with writing, and I’d love an excuse to delve into the history of it more. I can write a paper about the festival, produce my nifty certificate from the seminar, and do some reading. I am guilty of trying to find utility in my every endeavor. This way I can pursue this new interest with conviction. “I HAVE to read this (or go there) cause it is my HOMEWORK.” Yep. That alleviates guilt every time.
In the meantime, I’ve explored something new and enjoyed all the delight that comes with learning I have undiscovered talents. And if nothing more, I am ready to entertain friends around the bonfire or when camping now. I have a wealth of stores to share, some that have been passed down for generations and some that are uniquely mine. Fun!
And the best things is, stories are infinite . . . and now, I have one more reason to dig them out of my soul!