The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen revives the world's oldest form of entertainment. 

A Story to Tell

The magic of storytelling will be in full force during "A Story and Folktelling Festival" at the Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. A first-ever event in the metro-Richmond area, the event will star several regional storytellers on Saturday, Sept. 30 from 1 to 5 p.m. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' Education and Outreach Division will also offer hands-on activities designed to introduce children and their families to the art of the world's many cultures.

This festival will be the largest one of its kind in the Richmond area — usually fans have gathered in bookstores and churches. As Dovie Thomason, one of the guest storytellers, says, "This idea is long overdue for Richmond."

According to Larkin Brown, executive director of the Cultural Arts Center, the notion for a festival began years ago when he noticed the crowd was spellbound by a storyteller at a local harvest festival; people of all ages were hanging on every word, laughing hysterically. The image stayed with Brown, and he thought: Why can't we have lots of storytellers in an auditorium, weaving their tales with no interruption? Six years later "A Story and Folktelling Festival" was organized.

In addition to Thomason, the festival will feature Dylan Pritchett, who will present African and African-American stories; Mac and Joan Swift with their "tandem" storytelling; Pete Houston; Norfolk's Lynn Ruehlmann and Linda Goodman of Richmond, a member of the country's first professional storytelling troupe.

If anyone knows what makes a good story, it's Thomason. Since those long ago days at her Grandmother Dovie's house back in Texas, she learned the power of the spoken word as she listened to the oft-told tales of her Kiowa Apache and Lakota heritage. From her relatives she heard the voices of the Animal People and learned lessons they had to teach a little girl such as herself. It is these same fables that hold her audiences so enraptured today — 3,000 listeners last week at a festival in Kentucky — and as she explains, "My stories talk of choices. The mistakes we make. The people we know. They speak of people in a world of values."

With a love of good stories and a great desire to teach the world about her culture, Thomason started telling tales to students in her American literature classes at a Cleveland high school back in the 1970s. Stories about her Native-American past had an especially strong impact on students with learning problems. The formula of taking ancient tales and making them relevant to today's audiences has been successful. Her lyricism has been heard throughout North America and overseas, from NPR to the BBC. She is also a respected educator who has led workshops on ethics and cultural integrity.

There has been a renaissance of storytelling across the country during the last two decades. Festival attendance is on the rise and two years ago, for the first time, a storyteller, rather than an actor reading, was awarded a Grammy in the spoken word category. People of all ages are reaching out for pastimes that are social — technology can be lonely — and they're tired of mass media, the kids planted in front of their gray/white boxes.

Brown, who calls these storytellers national treasures, expects a good turnout and is excited about the possible success of the event. He admits the Center is strongly considering another festival next year, and they're "thinking big." "This is a simple idea, as old as man," he says, "and it's powerful to have someone tell a story live. Nothing can replace the power of someone up in front of you telling a story. These stories teach us about ourselves."


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