We sat there, enchanted, my daughter and I, for several hours. Around us were many other children and adults, some sprawled on the comfortable pillows, others leaning forward on the chairs, drawn into the storytellers’ weaving of their tales.
We were at Latitudes Storytelling Festival, an annual event, which is part of the Tapestry series. It is held in Victoria Park in Kitchener and surrounded by the sights and sounds of the Multicultural Festival. I always pick out my food at the Multicultural Festival, and then head on over to the storytelling tent, where I know I won’t be disappointed.
It’s not easy to be a storyteller. You need to be able to connect with the audience, often only using your voice and your facial expressions. I often wonder how they can do it. A bit of research told me that because of the connection between the listener and teller, the social element of language is employed.
While I admire those who can captivate with an oral tale, I am a storyteller of a different nature, one who pens her stories. But I love listening to stories, just as much as I love reading them.
I admit that I spend my time in the children’s section, although there is a section for adults. Last year, one of the highlights was Rukhsana Khan telling her story, which is now an award winning book called “The Big Red Lollipop”.
Listening to stories used to hold a very important place in every culture, before stories were written down. Somewhere along the line, it took on less importance. But now many people, realizing the benefits of storytelling, are reviving it. The result of one study suggested that among other benefits children could recall more from listening to a storyteller than from reading a story. This is because storytellers tend to use more gestures, repetition, and sounds when telling a story.
So I wanted to hear from Lori-Ann Livingston, the founder of the festival, about why she founded the festival, what she hopes it brings, and her take on technology in today’s storytelling.
Lori-Ann has kindly done some guest blogging for me. Here today is the first of two parts.
1. What are the benefits of storytelling?
Storytelling explores community narrative. It teaches, passes on wisdom and humour and history. Those are benefits ancient civilizations have known for ages (literally!). Other benefits are that stories entertain. Hollywood knows that. I think storytelling helps cultures and communities understand each other. It’s hard to argue with someone when you know their story. You might not agree with their point of view, but you can’t dismiss it, either.
This community has stories of new Canadians, refugees, abuse, innovation, war, faith and so many other threads that make it up. I see the value in capturing some of those stories, whatever way we can, and also in sharing those with an audience, so that there is a legacy of story to pass on.
2. Why did you decide to found a storytelling festival?
I didn’t start out to create a storytelling festival. I started out inspired by a liberal arts festival in the UK called Greenbelt, which mixes the arts with religion and politics and storytelling in all sorts of ways. I wanted to re-create that open dialogue, open approach here when we moved back to Canada, but somehow it morphed into a storytelling festival. Not a bad thing at all. I still feel like the right thing happened at the right time, with the right people.
So, that kernel of a liberal arts festival that’s down to earth, creative, mindful of the environment, etc. — those are all things I aspire to for my festival, and maybe achieve some of the time. But it wasn’t until Trinity United Church, a downtown Kitchener congregation, wanted to celebrate one of their milestones that we saw how a storytelling festival would be a good fit. Indeed, that first festival in 2006 had a room dedicated to Trinity’s stories, and stories of faith. Which I think is an important part of my story, and many people’s stories.
3. What do you hope to accomplish with your storytelling festival?
I hope we have created something that appeals to all walks of people, because we use such a broad range of the arts and technology to tell stories on our stages. I hope people will think about story differently, in particular, their own narrative and how that intersects with the community. I’d like to think we’re a bit cutting-edge, as we make forays into digital storytelling, talk to app developers and bloggers and journalists about the power of story.
And I want people to get away from the notion or perception that stories are just for children.
Stay tuned for part two, where Lori-Ann blogs about using technology with storytelling.