Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

OKC's 33rd Annual Storytelling Festival: From Small to Tall Tales: Storytellers Find Power in Narratives

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

OKC's 33rd Annual Storytelling Festival: From Small to Tall Tales: Storytellers Find Power in Narratives

Article excerpt

A retail chain is unlikely to win over new customers with such a simple marketing narrative as, "Once upon a time ..."

And yet that's basically what Wal-Mart has accomplished, Judith Black said. An otherwise faceless behemoth sales machine humanized itself through story and continues to dominate the mid-level sales market with its hundreds of supersize stores across the country.

Black despises Wal-Mart - she saves some of her strongest words to describe how she feels about the company's employment practices - but as a professional storyteller she respects the accomplishment.

"It all comes down to, what is the story?" Black said Wednesday. "What do they want to tell people about who they are? I think it's one of the most exploitive companies in America, but what they've done brilliantly is share their story. And that story is about one man who worked very hard and his family joined him in the business and they changed everything. It's heartwarming and much more interesting.

"Then there's the story about the secretary who became a millionaire because they gave her stock every year for Christmas," Black said. "It's a story they love to tell instead of people who work for $8.25 an hour. ... Stories are powerful. They can define you."

The Massachusetts resident is one of the many featured participants in the Arts Council of Oklahoma City's 33rd annual OKC Storytelling Festival held Aug. 22-24 at the Oklahoma History Center. The series of evening performances and educational workshops concludes with a free public matinee 8 p.m. Aug. 24 at the Myriad Botanical Gardens.

Storytelling as an art form is less like a children's bedtime story and more akin to a mix of stand-up comedian, NPR's This American Life and a crazy uncle. Black and her peers have honed their craft for years on the storytelling circuit and in classrooms. In Black's case, she's even been hired by companies such as Unilever to help develop the staff's corporate communications skills.

"There's absolutely nothing that can't be communicated in a warmer, more openhearted way than with a story," she said.

The structure of a narrative sneaks into the human brain in a manner that raw information cannot, she said. As an example, Black described an introductory biology class instruction about insect breeding: "What happens when a fly reproduces is this . …

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