Personal yarns, folk tales and story poetry for the Sustainability Age

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Introduction –

Veteran storytellers offer some tips on how to get started in storytelling:

• “Read, read, read,” says Frank McGarvey, co-chairman of the Storytellers of Central Ohio. “If you find a story that strikes your fancy, make it your own.”

Even with a personal tale, the homework helps.

• “Your voice, body language and facial expression are at least as important as the words themselves,” professional storyteller Lyn Ford says. “In some cases, they are more important because your narrative becomes a kind of conversation.”

McGarvey suggests practicing the “performance” in front of a mirror – or even on video.

• “Don’t memorize it,” McGarvey says. “You’re a storyteller, not a story reciter. The story will generally be a little bit different each time you tell it because you’re telling it to a different audience.”
Ford recommends creating a “basic outline” with a clear start and finish: “You can riff on your ideas in between.”

• “Don’t be afraid to get up there,” says Ryan Hoke, organizer of “Speak Easy” at Wild Goose Creative. “People should value their stories. Some people think the things that have happened to them aren’t interesting, but, put in this context, they can be riveting.”

The last word from Ford: “Take a chance.”

* * * * * * *

With the lights dimmed, the crowd hushed and anticipation building, the first storyteller of the evening rose from her seat to approach the lonely microphone.

“I’m nervous,” acknowledged Joyce Iezzi, an Alexandria resident, 56, who had driven 30 miles to take part in “Speak Easy,” a monthly storytelling event at Wild Goose Creative in Columbus.

Audience members nodded and smiled.

Iezzi, who was attending the intimate gathering for the first time, then began her true tale about a long night spent at a sleep-study center.

The more listeners laughed, the more Iezzi seemed to relax.
Although stories are told by people every day, the experience onstage is decidedly different.

“You have to have guts,” said Iezzi, who was followed by 13 other brave souls – most in their 20s and 30s.

“The first time is the most terrifying, but I think that’s part of the fun of life – trying new things.”

Live storytelling isn’t new, of course.

Yet the popularity of groups such as the Moth – an inspiration for Speak Easy that was founded during the late 1990s in New York – has helped raise the profile of the age-old art at a time when entertainment is found everywhere from iPods to smart phones.
“There’s a lot of it (live storytelling) going on around the country right now,” said Ryan Hoke, 29, of the Clintonville neighborhood, who organizes Speak Easy in collaboration with the Storytellers of Central Ohio, formed in 1989.

“In a world of Facebook and Twitter, we have a lot of virtual relationships. I think there is something very appealing about being in the same room with people and engaging with someone telling a story from their life.

“There’s no way to replicate that virtually.”

Since it started at Wild Goose in January, Speak Easy has attracted about 40 to 50 people a month – a full house at the long and narrow space on Summit Street.

Anyone can sign up to speak, although the lineup is usually limited to about a dozen “tellers.” Stories typically last five to 10 minutes and fit a monthly theme. (Iezzi’s tale, for example, was a story about “life after dark.”)

The 44-member Storytellers of Central Ohio, meanwhile, hopes to attract a crowd of more than 100 listeners to its annual “Tellabration,” a program of live storytelling planned for tonight at the Ohio Historical Center.

Similar events will take place this weekend at more than 400 sites on every continent except Antarctica, according to the National Storytelling Network, which has about 1,500 members worldwide.
The Columbus program will feature storytellers spinning personal yarns, folk tales and “story poetry.”

“It’s probably the oldest art, and, as an art, it’s something that you do over and over again to perfect,” said Frank McGarvey, 72, of Columbus, who will perform at Tellabration.

“Many storytellers will work on just one type of story. One might do myths, for example. I know one who focuses on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Others tell tales based on their personal experiences.
“It has to suit you.”

Columbus resident Lyn Ford has been a professional storyteller for almost 20 years – an unexpected career that developed out of telling stories to her children at bedtime or in the kitchen while cooking dinner.

A frequent traveler whose skills have taken her to cities nationwide, Ford, 59, will be around Tellabration festivities in Minnesota, where she is presenting at a storytelling conference.

“I’m an itinerant storyteller: I travel to tell,” said Ford, whose stories are rooted mostly in her family’s “Afri-lachian” traditions.

“In my mind, a good storyteller makes you part of the story. There’s an empathy that comes from that, and that’s something we really need these days.”

The feeling is better accomplished, Ford said, during live storytelling.
“One woman said she listened to my recorded stories but ‘missed some adjectives’ until she saw my face.”

Still, modern technology can’t be ignored. Although storytellers tout the importance of a physical setting, podcasts and videos offer another avenue to reach audiences.

Ford’s work, for example, can be found at storytelling sites such as and through the iPhone application Tales2Go.

The Moth, a nonprofit group that conducts storytelling events, offers a podcast that is downloaded more than 1million times a month.

Wild Goose Creative is also exploring the possibility of a Speak Easy podcast.

“The live event can’t be replicated,” Hoke said, “but I bought an iPod just so I could load it up with stories.”

Source – Nick Chordas

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