Storytellers

By Pat Nichol


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"Humans are hardwired for narrative."
-Noam Chomsky

Remember as a child when "Once upon a time" was listened to with rapt attention? Wouldn't it be wonderful to carry that same joy of story and rapture of listening to adult lives? For approximately 50 people in the Victoria area, that joy of "Once upon a time" happens monthly at Stories at Fern.

The Victoria Storytellers' Guild meets monthly at 1831 Fern Street and is open to people who would like to listen for a while and maybe share their own story ideas.

According to member Pat Carfra, "You will never find a more supportive audience if you wish to share your stories and dreams." When asked about the definition of a storyteller, Pat thought for a moment, "It is a part of being human; someone has a story and needs the joy of sharing 'guess what just happened to me!' Most people are 'kitchen table tellers.' Think back to your own childhood when around the kitchen table the stories seemed to fly like leaves in the wind."

Pat went on to say that there doesn't have to be an enormous moral built into a story, the point will get across in the most interesting, thoughtful and entertaining way. Remember, jokes are stories, too.

People interested in joining the group can be a listener, rather than a teller. Many members choose to be the audience, as well as tellers. One of the major guidelines: the storyteller's eyes must be visible when telling his or her story. That's the difference between a storyteller and a story reader.

Interestingly, in individual groups, there are many more women storytellers than men.

Storytelling has moved out of the kitchen and into the professional realm. Professional storytellers have generally spinning tales in public for a long time. They are experienced tellers, charge a fee and have an extensive repertoire. They have the ability to change tales and concepts on a dime. For example, if they have been hired to speak to an audience of mostly adults and when they get there find that the audience is mostly children, they know how to change gears quickly and pull out story ideas that are suitable for that audience.

Storytellers have the opportunity to share through outreach programs. For example, sometimes it is sharing and eliciting stories at senior's residences. Storytellers are also involved in Community Living Victoria Festivals and other celebrations. Every storyteller has his or her favourite venue.

The Victoria Story Tellers Guild owes their start to the wonderful Public Library system. Twenty-one years ago, the children's librarian hired two storytellers to travel from Vancouver to deliver a Friday night storytelling concert and an all-day Saturday workshop. Several months later, they welcomed a storyteller from Alberta: May Love May. From these events, they contacted those who had expressed an interest in starting a storytelling group. They set a date, held a gathering in a library room, while an experienced librarian/storyteller led the meeting and lo, the Victoria Storytellers' Guild was formed. Additionally, the library offered free monthly space for the first year.

That was 20 years ago and, in July of this year, the Victoria Storytellers' Guild will host an annual conference, Tides and Tales, while they welcome storytellers from 60 guilds across Canada.

There will be two opportunities for the public to enjoy listening to wonderful stories. On Thursday, July 9 at 7:30 p.m. at Camosun College's Gibson auditorium, the evening will be entitled Ebb and Flow - Island Tales by Island Tellers, featuring, from Victoria, Jennifer Ferris, Peg Hasted, Fay Mogensen, Anne Glover, Mary Holland and, from Nanaimo, Margaret Murphy and Diane Verheil. These storytellers were chosen from a large number of applicants. A fine balance of tales will be presented - some with humour, some with pathos, some about Island history. The website www.storytellersguild.org has a short tale told by Margaret Murphy called "Lizzie's Dream" that will offer a small taste of what attendees can expect. Margaret is the energy behind the Storytellers' Guild in Nanaimo.

The second public concert is Saturday, July 11 at 7:30 p.m. Five storytellers from across Canada will be highlighted. Anita Best from Newfoundland, one of that provinces prominent traditional singers and storytellers. Richard Van Camp from N.W.T. is an author and storyteller, whose latest novel *Blessing Wendy* will be released in September of 2009. Jean-Pierre Makossois, an internationally known actor storyteller and dancer who has performed over 1,000 times worldwide. Nan Gregory from Vancouver is an author of children's books and has represented Canada at storytelling festivals in Japan and New Zealand. Dan Yashinsky from Toronto is the founder of the Toronto Festival of Storytelling. These renowned tellers with national and international reputations will perform Tales at Eventide at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. 680 Courtenay Street, Victoria.

Tickets are $15 for each concert and are available at Ivy's Books and Munro's Books.

Storytelling is how history was once kept alive. The spoken word is no longer solely relied upon to remember the past but what a wonderful way to recapture those special moments.

Every Storyteller has a different take but, for some, it goes deeper than just telling the tale. Stories are valuable tools for healing and for counselling. Points are often made through stories that cannot be said directly. Adults need to listen to the storytellers in their lives with their ears tuned to "Once upon a time."

JUNE 2009 - SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER ISLAND

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