Welcome to ‘the dance’ Linden Hall hosts the art of physical storytelling

By on September 18, 2013


DONNA WALKER Record Express Correspondent

, Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Bruce Thiessenâ?©Jay Oâ??Callahan on stage during the Lititz Storytelling Festival at Linden Hallâ??s Snavely Theater Sept. 13-14.

Some started with "once upon a time," some ended with "happily ever after," and all the tales told last weekend at the Lititz Storytelling Festival entertained listeners who love a story.

In its second year, the festival featured two days of performances and workshops delivered by national, regional and local storytellers at Linden Hall in Lititz.

Husband and wife team Brenda Burkholder and David Worth of Story Partners LLC, based in Lititz, expanded the festival this year, doubling the number of performances and adding workshops taught by the performers.

On Friday and Saturday, the halls of the girls school rang with laughter because, at the bottom of it all, storytellers have fun.

And they connect with people.

"I love the satisfaction that it brings to connect with somebody in a way that you might not necessarily in any other way than through story," said Rita Clarke, a storyteller from Lititz.

"In this day and age of everything being electronic and people texting and people sitting next to each other and not communicating, this is a way where you have to turn all of that off and just become one with another person," Clarke said.

Clarke has been telling stories since 1999. The Philadelphia native finds inspiration for her stories in her own life. She mixes real-life experiences with conjured ones, as a lot of storytellers do.

They stand on stage and take the audience with them into their story world peppered with scenes their words create and plop into a listener’s mind. They mimic noises, describe smells, and whisper or shout to convey suspense.

Jay O’Callahan took his audience to Brookline, Mass., to a remarkable night when he and a friend sneaked to a political rally for presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. The descriptions, motions and inflections of the gray-bearded, raspy-voiced man convinced onlookers they listened to the words of a 14-year-old boy.

Fellow storyteller Ed Stivender said he appreciates O’Callahan’s style because his physical movements build on the words of his stories, which are "heart driven."

"I like the dance," Stivender said. The dance means "physicalization" of the work on stage, during which gestures convey meaning just as often as narrative.

For Stivender, his dance is with the audience. He takes their cues – their fidgets or their coolness – and uses them to build his narrative and engage them in his story.

"The audience, by their response, shows you where you’re going wrong and shows you where you’re going right," he said. "The dance with audience is a pleasure for me."

As for the audience, "They get a break from what’s outside that door," Stivender said. His motivation for storytelling is centered there, in the words and scenes that let him bring fun and playfulness to the audience so they can forget all else.

The fun pertains to all, young and old alike.

"The dilemma with storytelling is people think it’s for children," Burkholder said, but storytellers have followings. She estimated that 33 percent of those attending the festival would travel from out of town to see their favorite tellers. Other attendees were returning after seeing the show last year; still others were the curious, there for the first time.

Of course, the young always love a story, and Story Partners received a grant from the National Storytelling Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the art of storytelling, to host a student storytelling workshop.

Lititz resident Terri Mastrobuono coached the workshop for students in grades six to 12. About 10 students attended the no cost, two-hour workshop to develop stories and then present them on-stage during a story swap.

The third annual storytelling festival will be held Sept. 12-13, 2014, at Linden Hall.

More STORY FEST, page A18

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