Extraordinary tales: Internationally known 'tellers' weave words, connect cultures in storytelling festival

September 14, 2013 8:28:22 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Storytelling is a timeless art, a tradition at the heart of the human experience. It preserves history and entertains. It captures moments in time and links us together, culture to culture. With a trio of internationally known storytellers whose heritage is rooted in Japan, Cuba and West Africa, the second annual Possum Town Storytelling Festival in Columbus will open windows on the wider world. The storytellers' tools? Captivating narrative, laced with poignancy and humor, with song, suspense and sometimes mystery. 


The Columbus Arts Council presents professional storytellers Len Cabral, Carmen Agra Deedy and Kuniko Yamamoto at the Rosenzweig Arts Center Omnova Theater in downtown Columbus Sept. 24-28. Cabral will also lead a storytelling workshop Sept. 24; Yamamoto will conduct an origami workshop Sept. 28. Local tellers are invited to take part, too, in a Homegrown Storytelling segment Sept. 26. 


Columbus Arts Council Executive Director Tina Sweeten-Lunsford said, "This is such a unique experience to be able to bring to the region. You'll laugh, you'll cry. We hope everyone will come out to enjoy this amazing art form." 




Building an audience 


U.S. Air Force retiree Jerry Hodson and his wife, Kathy, landed in Columbus many years ago and chose to stay after Jerry concluded his military career. They attended the inaugural Possum Town Tales in 2012. 


"I had no idea what it was going to be about, but I was fascinated by it and amazed how someone can capture your attention and imagination for that period of time," he said. "I'm really looking forward to this one." 


CAC Program Manager Beverly Norris liaisons closely with the performers. "If you haven't been to a storytelling event, it's hard to know how incredible the experience can be and that it literally can change the way you look at life," she commented. International storytellers tie in with the arts council's season theme, "Coming to America," reflecting the influence other cultures bring to our country's performing and visual arts. 


Organizers hope to build on last year's festival and develop audiences as communities learn more about storytelling. Some mistakenly assume it is always targeted toward children. Not so.  


All performances at The Omnova will be family-friendly, though not specifically aimed toward children, Norris noted. Some arranged appearances at Columbus schools, however, will be geared for youngsters. Yamamoto, a native of Osaka, Japan, for example, will perform at Sale Elementary Magnet School. Some of the students are learning more about that country in anticipation of her arrival. 


Kay Ellis is the school's international baccalaureate coordinator. "Sale is a school that focuses on international studies, so having a storyteller from a culture that is as different as Japan will be a great learning experience for our children."  




The tellers 


Deedy, Yamamoto and Cabral are well known in the storytelling world, where more than 10,000 people converge on Jonesborough, Tenn., each October for the prestigious National Storytelling Festival. Even more flocked to the International Storytelling Festival, held earlier this month in Singapore. Cabral was a featured performer there. 




From Havana  


Born in Havana, Cuba, Carmen Agra Deedy migrated to the U.S. with her family in 1963 after the Cuban Revolution. She grew up in Decatur, Ga., and is a prolific award-winning author of children's literature, including her most recent "14 Cows for America," a New York Times Bestseller. Other well-known works include "Martina the Beautiful Cockroach," "The Yellow Star," The Library Dragon" and "The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale." 


She has contributed to National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" and "Latino USA." Her audio collection of short stories on NPR, "Growing up Cuban in Decatur, Georgia" (Peachtree Publishers, 2004), was named Publishers Weekly Best Audiobook-Adult Storytelling.  


She performs Friday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m., in a program that also features Kuniko Yamamoto. 




Japanese tales 


Charming folktales, traditional dance, music and theater have influenced the storytelling of Yamamoto, who has performed at the Kennedy Center, Disney Epcot Japanese Pavilion, the Silk Road International Exposition and on Kansai National Television. After touring with the Leland Faulkner Light Theater, she married Jon LeClair, a renowned magician who has helped her add subtle magic and mystery to her performances. 


Her performance is Friday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. She is also a passionate, award-winning origami artist and will conduct an origami workshop Sept. 28 at 10 a.m. 




Island heritage 


Len Cabral returns to Possum Town Tales by popular demand. 


The great-grandson of a Cape Verdean whaler whose grandparents immigrated to America from the islands of West Africa, Cabral employs mime, poetry, song and humor to take his audiences on an adventurous ride.  


"He was just wonderful!" said Karen Overstreet, who heard the animated Cabral last year. "It was a little like comparative literature -- there's a common thread in all our stories, but each has its own geography. Everybody has a story, but it may be told differently, with different syntax, telling about cultures and people so vividly." 


Cabral conducts a storytelling workshop Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. and is the featured storyteller Thursday, Sept. 26 in a program that begins at 7 p.m. with Homegrown Storytelling.  




How to go 


All events are at the Columbus Arts Council's Rosenzweig Arts Center at 501 Main St. in downtown Columbus. Tickets are $10 per performance. Seating is limited; advance tickets are recommended. Those signing up for a workshop get a story performance ticket at half price. For tickets or information, or to inquire about sharing a story of your own in the Homegrown Storytelling segment, contact the CAC, 662-328-2787, Tuesday through Saturday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. 


Possum Town Tales is made possible by the generous support of sponsors including the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau, Birney and Beth Imes, The Dispatch, South Arts, the National Endowment of the Arts, Cartney-Hunt House and the River Chase Inn. 






  • columbus-arts.org 




    Possum Town Tales 


    ■ Tuesday, Sept. 24 - 7 p.m. Storytelling Workshop with Len Cabral ($10) 


    ■ Thursday, Sept. 26 - 7 p.m. Homegrown Storytelling plus featured storyteller Len Cabral ($10) 


    ■ Friday, Sept. 27 - 7 p.m. Featured storytellers Kuniko Yamamoto and Carmen Agra Deedy ($10) 


    ■ Saturday, Sept. 28 - 10 a.m. Origami Workshop with Kuniko Yamamoto ($10; $5 for each additional family member) 


    ■ Attend a workshop, get a story performance ticket at half price. All events are at the Rosenzweig Arts Center Omnova Theater. Limited seating; advance tickets recommended. Columbus Arts Council, 662-328-2787; columbus-arts.org.

    Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.