STORYTELLING; 'How to Be Human' Part of Tale as Groups Reach Folks Tall, Small

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 4, 2007 | Go to article overview

STORYTELLING; 'How to Be Human' Part of Tale as Groups Reach Folks Tall, Small


Byline: Lisa Rauschart, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Once upon a time, before there were IPods or cell phones, people told stories. There were stories of mighty heroes and fair ladies, of brave girls in red cloaks and shiver-inducing ghosts, all told by the light of a flickering fire as the stars moved overhead.

Now, of course, we've got arc lights and Xboxes, personal DVD players and instant messaging. With all the connections being made, there's hardly time to cook dinner for your family, even less to conjure up a tale replete with clever rabbits or exotic princesses.

But here's a strange and wondrous thing. Stories, and the art of telling them, are making something of a comeback. You don't even need the light of a flickering fire to hear a well-told tale; storytelling events are happening all around the Washington area. With a little practice, you even can tell a good one yourself, and you may well find yourself connecting - with your children, your spouse, even yourself.

"People are beginning to recognize that storytelling has a wide range of uses, from the workplace to peace work," says Noa Baum, a professional storyteller. "That's one of the things that storytelling does - it teaches us how to be human."

One thing is sure. Storytelling isn't only for the preschool set, although there's nothing wrong with seeing a 3-year-old sitting quietly enraptured by one of Ms. Baum's stories of lions and rabbits or girls and moon men. In a world of pre-made toys and scripted play, it's kind of nice to see a child - or anyone - filling in the spaces on his own.

"Imagination is the key," Ms. Baum says. "You have to understand that storytelling in its traditional sense is not about words. It's about the images you make in your mind."

In a way, a good story can be the ultimate mind game - for the teller and the listener.

"It really helps you to think outside the box," says Louise Capon, a Bethesda mom who has been telling stories to her own children for years.

For Mrs. Capon, who home-schooled her three boys, ages ranging from 7 to 20, storytelling was hardly something out of the ordinary. Her father told bedtime stories, some so vivid that her mother had to ask him to tone them down. Today, Mrs. Capon uses storytelling to calm down, fire up and incorporate the important moral lessons of the day.

"When my two older boys were younger, they used to fight," she says. "So I would tell a story at the end of the day where the characters had very similar problems and always resolved things a little bit better than they had. Sometimes, they even tried what I had suggested, and they never caught on."

Watch an audience listening to a seasoned storyteller, and you'll soon realize that no two persons are seeing exactly the same thing.

"Stories are made of images and imagination," says Jon Spelman, a Silver Spring-based professional storyteller. "You tell a story to 500 people, and there are 500 parallel stories all happening at the same time."

Storytelling festivals around the county feature local and nationally known storytellers telling a variety of stories in a variety of settings.

Probably the best known is the National Storytelling Festival, which takes place every October in Jonesborough, Tenn. Jonesborough is also home to the International Storytelling Center, with exhibits devoted to storytelling and storytellers.

If you can't get to Jonesborough, you always can listen to a story at the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center. Founded in 1928 to collect American folk songs, the archive quickly began collecting stories as well. A few years ago, the library acquired the International Storytelling Archive from Jonesborough. Today, any member of the public older than high school age can go to the library to hear a tale, so long as he or she fills out a readers' card beforehand. It's a great way to listen to how storytelling has changed through the years. …

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