A version of this column appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
Taking the stories outside
BAM Column: The Arts Council of Oklahoma City is moving its annual Oklahoma City Storytelling Festival to a big tent in downtown this weekend.
The Arts Council of Oklahoma City is taking its annual celebration of one of the oldest and most universal art forms outside.
The 2011 Oklahoma City Storytelling Festival will spin yarns Friday and Saturday under a huge tent on the arts council’s campus, 400 W California Ave. It’s a familiar site to the thousands of Oklahomans who have sought tasty treats on International Food Row at the council’s annual rite of spring, the Festival of the Arts.
While a few snacks and beverages will be for sale, food for the soul will be on the focus there this weekend, as the downtown festival will bring into the tent four nationally renowned storytellers who will relate their colorful tales, tell late-night ghost stories and perform a children’s matinee in the intimate out-of-doors setting. In addition, the quartet of acclaimed tellers will teach daytime workshops inside the McAlpine Center.
“Storytelling is an art form that everyone uses and they don’t even realize it. Just sitting with their family at night and telling stories at family gatherings, it’s something that everyone does and they don’t really think about it. So to come see professional storytellers and have them teach you and show you how to make your stories come to life to entertain other people is just fascinating and I think very important,” said Christina Foss, the Arts Council of Oklahoma City’s new project director, who is coordinating her first event with the storytelling festival.
“Each teller that we have coming in is so very unique and different in the way that they tell stories, so I think it will be a wonderful combination.”
For nearly three decades, the Arts Council of Oklahoma City produced the WinterTales Storytelling Festival, and in 2009, the organization moved the event to September and renamed it the Oklahoma City Storytelling Festival. All four of this year’s featured tellers are returning favorites, and the quartet will teach workshops from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, then perform their tales starting at 8 p.m. both days.
“It’s really good for preachers or CEOs or anybody who presents (information) in front of large groups of people. It’s actually really cool for them to come in and learn how to tell their stories better,” said Emily Grober Trotter, communications director of the Arts Council of Oklahoma City. “I really enjoy the workshops.”
Donald Davis is famed for his sharing Appalachian mountain lore, ancient Scottish and Welsh fairy tales and true-to-life stories, carrying on his family heritage as traditional
storytellers who have lived on the same Western North Carolina land since 1781. He is a featured teller at the Smithsonian Institute, a guest host for the National Public Radio Program “Good Evening” and a graduate of Duke University Divinity School.
A winner of the National Storytelling Network’s Circle of Excellence Oracle Award, Beth Horner is known for her vivacious stage presence, comic sensibility and warm, energetic style. The Missouri-born, Chicago-based performer has worked for NASA to collect stories from the scientists behind Apollo space missions and has recorded on Live from National Geographic.
A champion of the West Virginia Liars’ contest, Bil Lepp has a reputation as one of the funniest story spinners around, and claims that while his stories may not be completely true, they are always honest. His recordings have received a Parent’s Choice Approved award and National Parenting Publications Awards recognition.
A former Associate Dean of Students at Amherst College in Massachusetts, Onawumi Jean Moss is known for her intelligent, thought-provoking and often musical presentations that inspire inter-generational audiences. The Tennessee native imbues her performances with history, heritage and social sciences.
“This is my favorite event that we do. Once you come, you’re just hooked and you won’t miss it ever again,” Trotter said. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh storytelling, that’s for kids’ or it’s someone up there reading a book. No. It’s live theater plus improv plus comedy plus awesome tales.” that you can relate to or tales that make you scratch your head and think ‘Is this guy lying or is that true?’”
Along with their featured performances Friday and Saturday night, Davis and Horner will spook listeners with late-night ghost stories at 10:30 p.m. Friday, while Lepp and Moss will share child-friendly yarns at the family matinee at 2 p.m. Saturday. All the performances will take place under the big tent.
“It’s going to be a really cool, cozy environment, especially those late-night ghost stories will be perfect in a big tent,” Trotter said. “It’ll be better than sitting in an auditorium, I think.”
The downtown festival made its home in Stage Center until flooding ravaged the historic venue in June 2010. After temporarily relocating to the SandRidge Energy Tower auditorium last year, the event is taking a cue from the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn., with the move outside. After the long, sweltering summer, Foss believes the event’s loyal attendees and volunteers with relish a pair of fall evenings listening to stories.
“I think it will bring a closer sense of community with everyone there and just make it a lot more interactive with the audience,” Foss said. “I think it will bring a really neat feel to the stories, just kind of “The lighting underneath the tent will bring a close, homey environment and create a nice ambiance for the storytellers.” and get everyone just in the mood a little bit better. I think it’s a pretty exciting move.”
Oklahoma City Storytelling Festival
Performances: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, plus late-night ghost stories at 10:30 p.m. Friday and family matinee at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Where: The tent on the Arts Council of Oklahoma City campus, 400 W California Ave.
Workshops: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday inside McAlpine Center.