Storytelling Festival could be Lititz’s next tourist attraction

By on September 19, 2012

By: JANET SCOUTEN Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

Photo by Janet ScoutenTerri Mastrobuono told hilarious tales inspired by her Italian ancestors and culture during last weekend's Storytelling Festival.

Once upon a time in a land far away, as the story goes, a queen saved her own life through the power of a well-told tale. For a thousand and one nights, the Arabian Queen Scheherazade captivated a king who planned to end her life through telling stories that kept him at the edge of his seat.

While the stakes were not quite as high at the First Annual Lititz Storytelling Festival last weekend, the storytellers featured on stage still managed to keep audience members spellbound in the Snavely Family Theater on the campus of Linden Hall.

As local event organizers Brenda Burkholder and David Worth of StoryPartners explained, storytelling is not just an activity for children.

"There’s something a little mysterious about the pull of storytelling," said Burkholder. "Listeners gather in a group as the storyteller engages their minds and ultimately their hearts, touching them through laughter or tears."

"And the bottom line," inserted Worth, "is that storytelling is fun!"

With a theater filled with laughter all weekend, Worth’s point proved itself.

The first performer of the festival, Terri Mastrobuono, took full ownership of her audience Friday night, telling hilarious stories inspired by her Italian ancestors and culture that had listeners in hysterics.

A very physical storyteller, Mastrobuono said, "I tend to be active and visual in my presentation and often involve the audience." Her story of a pompous professor who was shown up by a wise and wily fishwife featured singing, miming and an impressive array of voices as the storyteller brought characters to life through her one-woman presentation.

In addition to Mastrobuono, the festival featured several nationally-known and acclaimed performers, along with regional and local storytellers who shared tales of humor and insight.

Phillip Gulley, who has become the voice of small-town America, was among the best-known storytellers at the festival. Along with writing Front Porch Tales, Hometown Tales and For Everything a Season, Gulley is also the author of the widely-popular Harmony series of novels.

A Quaker pastor from Indiana, Gulley has been compared to Garrison Keillor, Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry and Kathleen Norris. According to The Wall Street Journal, Gulley has a "charming sense of small-town life and a shrewd sense of life in general … He knows how to exaggerate in a witty way."

The stories he presented in the Linden Hall theater sparkled with both a sense of mischief and a deep love for small-town America and its humorous foibles.

Describing memories of Thanksgiving that included sitting at the kids’ table until he was the ripe-old age of 45, Gulley displayed a deep reverence for long-loved family traditions, while poking good-natured fun at the absurdities found in any family setting.

Charlotte Blake Alston, master storyteller, also appeared on stage. Having performed in venues such as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Alston is known for breathing life into traditional and contemporary stories from African oral and cultural traditions.

Noting the "impressive turnout for the first night of the first year of a new festival," Alston proceeded to bring a story of Zimbabwe to life on the Lititz stage. In her tale about a tribal chief with empathy for all living things, including the snake that would save his life, Alston pulled the audience into her performance through call-and-response singing often used in African storytelling.

Other local storytellers featured in the two-day festival included Rita Clarke, Kenneth Sensenig and co-planner of the event, David Worth. The festival offered a wide range of stories from tall tales to traditional folk tales from a variety of cultures, including England, Italy, Korea and West Africa. The festival also included stories with local flavor from the Amish, Mennonite and Quaker cultures.

The first night of the event, described as a "Storytelling Sampler," showcased all six festival performers. The second day included an afternoon of exaggerations and tall tales, followed by a storytelling concert on Saturday evening.

Inspired by the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn. — an event that grew from just 60 people gathered around an old farm wagon in 1973 to an audience of 10,000 listeners today — Burkholder and Worth sought to bring the magic of this type of storytelling to the town of Lititz.

With almost a quarter of the event’s ticket sales going to visitors from areas outside Lancaster County, the Lititz Storytelling Festival may prove to be yet another draw for local tourism.

"The festival was a great event, and we’re excited to see how it grows in the coming years. StoryPartners should be very proud of their hard work," said Todd Dickinson, owner of Aaron’s Books on Main Street. "So many people came for the weekend who had never been to Lititz before. It was the perfect way for them to see our town for the first time."

To learn more about the festival, visit More STORY FEST, page A18

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