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Tellabration!™ 2008

Celebrating the telling of stories on a designated day — uniting tellers and audiences under one sky — was the brainchild of the late J.G. "Paw–Paw" Pinkerton:

 

"In 1988, I dreamed of having a night each year when storytellers in each community got together and told stories to their families and friends. I called the idea Tellabration!"

Tellabration! came early to New York this year through a collaboration between the African Folk Heritage Circle, Inc. and the Storytelling Center of New York City on Saturday, November 8, at the Children's Aid Society in Greenwich Village. One interactive workshop, a singer/storyteller, eleven swapped stories, some poetry and blessings, and three featured tellers (with a cameo "guest" teller) all created a wonderful event that brought together the community of families, friends and new found friends that "Paw–Paw" envisioned.

Scottie Davis during her workshop
Scottie Davis during her workshop.

Scottie Davis's workshop, "The Art of the Body," took her participants on a physical journey of mime, movement, costuming, and embodiment of character traits that she felt would always enhance the tellers' telling of a tale and the enjoyment of their audience. Ms. Davis feels that these qualities make the "difference between telling a story and becoming the story."  Exploring the history of communications from gestures and dance to speech, they all intertwine. "Humans will look at movement first," she added. "Don't care how silly you think you look… Find wonderful ways to portray colorful characters. It helps to make the story new and more fun for the teller."

The participants, some shy at first, blossomed underneath Ms. Davis's care as she deftly took them through a series of exercises in body placement and mime, emotional contexts and status requirements, emphasizing the big and small choices that can be made. Masks, music, and puppetry all came into play as each of the group expanded and moved beyond their comfort levels.

The workshop ended with a short Q&A which mainly dealt with the question of "when is movement too much and when is it a distraction?" Ms. Davis feels that the ideal is to "judge the style of the story and most importantly keep the action part of the story so it keeps moving along and does not become the entire emphasis."

Scottie Davis and Bob 'Bobaloo' Basey
Scottie Davis mimes as Bob "Bobaloo" Basey sings.

Next up, Bob "Bobaloo" Basey took his first of two musical interludes, showing how story songs have a strong narrative base. A performance and teaching artist, "Bobaloo" wove songs in a number of different styles, most with a folk style that meshed wonderfully with the day. Leaning more towards folksongs, Mr. Basey stated that while he does write some of his own songs, he is drawn to traditional pieces where he sometimes adds his "own voice, molding the songs to my taste and the situation at hand." "Bobaloo" finished his first set with a spiritually–inspired piece that he asked Scottie Davis to mime for him while he played and sang.

Dr. Joyce Duncan   Mary Ann Schmidt
Dr. Joyce Duncan (left) and Mary Ann Schmidt
(right, in white shirt) during the swap.

Native American storyteller Bobby Gonzalez then presided over the eleven Story Swappers (as opposed to eleven pipers piping). A wide range of stories and styles were presented by MaryAnn Schmidt, Bob Basey, Laurence Brunson (a visitor from the south of France who told her tale of "Cinderella" in French), youth teller Tenzin, Joy Smith, Ellen Stewart, Joyce Duncan, Robin Bady, Stuart Nager, Barbara Aliprantis, and Regina Ress.

A short musical and food interlude (music by "Bobaloo" and food by Storytelling Center members) followed and everyone relaxed as the gathering hall filled with greetings and meetings, chowing down, laughter and hugs.

The assemblage was brought back together as Linda Humes who dedicated the day's proceedings to the recently passed J.G. "Paw–Paw" Pinkerton, in a water and call and response ritual in his memory, for all storytellers who have left their imprints in the collective and for all to come. Maria Aponte carried this feeling along with a "blessing for a new journey," infusing the space with our gathering and with the hope for a brighter future for all. That sentiment was later brought back by Ms. Hume in a poem she wrote, "A New Era," on her hopes and excitement over our recent political realization.

Tara McGowen and her Kamishibai box
Tara McGowen and her Kamishibai box.

The first of the three featured tellers, Tara McGowen, brought her love of multicultural tales to life. First telling two favorite Japanese tales, Ms. McGowen delighted the audience with her passion for the picture story tradition. Using a traditional Kamishibai box, she told the tale of the "Three Magic Charms," where the "pictures take on a life of their own."

Our cameo "guest" teller was another youth teller, William Hume, who, with hands deeply entrenched in his jeans pockets (but expressively were used at just the right times; Ms. Davis should have been proud) told us of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" and that Troll with the "banana nose" and other fun details.

Straight from Norway, Heidi Dahlsveen brought a spooky Norwegian folktale to life, enthralling the audience. Jet–lagged she may have claimed to be, but once she took the floor she commanded it with her tales of the sea, the graveyard and deeds done. Ms. Dahlsveen was present as she was the featured teller at an event the next day, and it was good fortune to get this taste of what she had to offer.

Judith Heineman remembers her grandfather
Judith Heineman remembers her grandfather.

Judith Heineman, the last of the tellers for this day, told a personal tale of her grandfather, a Yiddish actor in early New York City, who gave up the stage for love. Starting with a recording, almost a ritual to place us in the time and spirit, Ms. Heineman told us of his life, his struggles, what he exchanged for love, and the impact this man and his spirit of his own telling had on her. A Yiddish "King Lear," his memory came alive for all.

Five hours of the NYC Tellabration!™ touched the hearts and minds of all who attended. The diversity of the stories and sharing of these tales came and were accepted freely. I feel that the day accomplished what "Paw–Paw" set out to do, twenty years strong:

"May what the tellers share bring joy to many people and may the listeners come to know that… through storytelling, we can draw closer together in peace… and in friendship… and in love."

Stuart H. Nager.

 

Also in this section:
 
Stories from the Stoop (Spring 2009)
Tales from the Body
2007 Partnership for the Homeless Chrismas Party
Fall Story Concert and Swap 2007
Tellabration! 2003 Report
Tellabration! 2004 Report
Tellabration! 2005 Report
2003–4 Workshop Report
2004–5 Workshop Report
Remembering Ruth Lesh
Remember Selma Wiener
Remembering John Colligan

 
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