November 10, 2012 6:44:24 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
The storytellers once went from place to place, gathering villagers in the square, to be transported, inspired, enchanted and challenged. On Nov. 15-18, modern day tellers will visit Columbus, to do the same when the Columbus Arts Council presents the first Possum Town Tales Storytelling Festival.
Where else but through stories can a coyote turn into a duck and fly, or a spider named Ananzi ride a tiger? We can journey from Ethiopia and arrive with whalers in a New England cranberry bog, or laugh through tears as the church-going Inez encounters Appalachian snake handlers.
Good storytellers have the power to captivate listeners, to weave yarns, folk tales, fables and personal life into a tapestry that can pack as much punch as a Sunday sermon. That's what the Arts Council hopes to bring to area audiences.
The festival will feature three prominent, award-winning storytellers -- Sheila Kay Adams of North Carolina, Len Cabral of Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania native Dolores Hydock of Alabama -- as well as homegrown tellers Brenda Pritchett and Edwina Williams.
"At this season of the year especially, we think it's important for families to do things together," said Tina Sweeten, executive director of the CAC. "The festival offers something very unique for adults and children alike."
Developing an audience for professional storytelling in Northeast Mississippi and Northwest Alabama has been a long-held goal for the Arts Council.
"If you've never been to one of the many storytelling festivals around the country, you may not know what a wonderful experience they can be," said Beverly Norris, CAC program manager and a veteran fan of storytellers. "You can be on the edge of your seat one minute and brushing away a tear or laughing so hard it hurts the next."
The popularity of such festivals was celebrated recently in a PBS feature in October on the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn., and in a "CBS Sunday Morning" September segment on storytelling festivals. Listeners are still gathering in the square. Storytelling is alive and well.
At Possum Town Tales, tell a story during Thursday night's Homegrown Storytelling segment, where members of the audience are invited to share their own short story of 10 minutes or less. (Pre-registration is requested.) Or learn how to tell stories at Saturday's storytelling workshop, "Coloring Inside the Lines," with Hydock.
Story events throughout the weekend also include Friday Family Night, Saturday Children's Stories, Saturday Stories for Grown Folks, and Sunday afternoon's special lunch-and-story event for mothers, daughters, sisters and friends.
All events are at the Rosenzweig Arts Center at 501 Main St. in downtown Columbus, or at the Joe Cook Elementary Fine Arts Magnet School auditorium at 2217 Seventh St. N.
Featured story performers represent a variety of styles: traditional tales, personal memoirs, stories with music, theatrical stories and more. Stories will span a wide swath of locales as well.
"The stories I share are from folklore from around the world, as well as some personal tales and poetry," said Cabral. "I'll tell stories about my Cape Verdean heritage and the way Cape Verdeans immigrated to America in the 19th and 20th centuries."
Hydock's performance Sunday will blend storytelling with theater. With "In Her Own Fashion," a lunch-and-story event from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., she'll share the true story of the remarkable Ninette Griffith, fashion coordinator for Loveman's Department Store in the 1950s and 1960s. Be prepared to hear of celebrity hi-jinks, reckless romance and the adventures of an independent woman who followed no one else's pattern.
Hydock will also conduct a beginning storytelling workshop Saturday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
"No experience is necessary, but it would be helpful if people brought along some very short story, no more than three minutes, they'd like to share," Hydock stated. "We'll steal some tips from other storytellers, actors, even painters, to put together some 'colorful' stories. It should be fun!"
Columbus has its own share of story weavers. Brenda Pritchett has been telling tales for more than 35 years. Pritchett, who is listed on the Mississippi Arts Commission's Artist Roster, is featured in Homegrown Storytelling on Thursday at the Rosenzweig Arts Center.
"We'll be telling family stories on opening night, fall stories, stories about raising children," said Pritchett, who holds a master's degree in reading literacy from Mississippi University for Women and has presented national programs and workshops. "I think as a librarian, I've just been inspired to bring the words to life, and I want children to love reading."
Edwina Williams of Columbus, along with Cabral, will perform during Children's Story Time Saturday from 10 a.m.-noon at the Rosenzweig Arts Center. She has shared her beloved characters with Possum Town for many years.
"My cup of tea is being with children; it started out way back when I started visiting schools. One thing led to another," she laughed. Through stories, she added, children can gain attributes like listening skills, self-confidence and manners -- without ever realizing they are learning.
Parents are welcome at Story Time, but children 6 and older may be checked in by 10 a.m. and picked up at noon.
How to go
For schedules, locations and ticket information, visit columbus-arts.org and click on the Possum Town Tales banner. Or contact the CAC at 662-328-2787 or [email protected] A special weekend advance package is available for $45 and covers all events, including Sunday's lunch-and-story.
Sponsors for the festival are the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Commercial Dispatch, WCBI-TV, Best Western Executive Suites, and partner, Columbus Municipal School District.
Stories and storytelling are at the heart of the human experience, an art form as old as time. For those who already love storytelling, and for those who are simply curious, the festival hopes to ignite a spark that grows into an even bigger festival next year.
"I'm honored and excited to be part of this inaugural event as it gets off the ground," said Hydock. "But storytellers need story listeners, or we're just talking to ourselves, so I hope folks will come out and be part of this very special weekend."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.