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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Storytelling

Blog About Town
by John W. MacDonald
_____________________
"Will you walk into my parlour?" said the spider to the fly;
'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you may spy.
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I have many curious things to show when you are there."
"Oh no, no," said the little fly; "to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down again."

My brother and I encountered the world of stories at our mother’s side.
There was always a bedtime story. One that stands out is The Spider and
the Fly by Mary Howitt. Remember that poem? It seems the stories of my
youth were lessons meant to scare the bejeezus out of us. What was Mom
trying to teach us?

When I was seven or eight, I’d make up stories and tell them to my
brother. The tales really never had any middle or ending. They did,
however, have a super beginning for some reason, though I had no idea
when to stop. Usually I got the hint when my brother left the room. We
heard more classic tales retold at school and especially at summer
camp. Mother Goose and assorted ghost stories were new and exciting
and, I soon realized, intended either to instruct or to frighten. They
had a magical power.

Neil Wilson, director of the Ottawa International Writers Festival,
recently shared with the audience a brief conversation he had with
journalist Patrick Langston after Michel Faber’s extraordinary reading.
To sum what Langston said, “We all love being read to because we are,
in some ways, still children at heart, and kids love being read to.”

Ask storytellers to reflect on their art and you’ll often hear a
similar response. I recently attended my first event with the Ottawa
Storytellers, which on that evening was lead by Leah Stinson.

“I always loved reading and being read to,” said Stinson when I asked
how she got interested in the form. Her involvement with the Ottawa
Storytellers began with a New Year’s resolution. She checked out the
group’s website, found an affordable beginner’s workshop with lunch
included and now she’s very involved as a member.

The Ottawa Storytellers has been a not-for-profit organization since
1983. It’s mandate is threefold: "to promote the art of storytelling in
our community, nurture and inspire both beginning and experienced
storytellers, provide tellers and listeners of all ages with
opportunities to come together to share and enjoy stories." Story swaps
are held on the first Thursday of every month. Admission is free and
everyone is invited to tell a story or simply to listen.

At the recent writers festival, Stinson attended a lecture by Dan
Yashinsky, a professional storyteller for almost 30 years and the
founder of the Toronto Festival of Storytelling. “Listening to Dan
reconfirmed what I already thought about storytelling being a very
important way of passing on information, history, culture and lessons
to people including children and combating the unhealthy messages that
people are constantly bombarded with via television and other media,”
said Stinson, a grandmother. “Dan said, ‘Storytelling is a sanctuary
from every day life. I hadn't thought about that but I totally agree
with him.’

Stinson says Yashinsky reminded her of the importance of listening. “We
listen because we find ourselves in the story at some level,” she said.
“The story is for the unregarded part of everyone — the part that no
one thinks will amount to anything.”

As Yashinksy told his Ottawa audience, “the true hero is one who is
open to listening to new voices.”

If you’re open to “new voices” take in the Ottawa Storytelling
Festival, which features the best tellers from Ottawa and across Canada
from Nov. 2 to 6. The festival kicks off at the Fourth Stage of the
National Arts Centre then moves to the Library and Archives of Canada.
The latest information can be found online at
http://ottawastorytellers.ca/festival.htm.
(originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen 23 October 2005)

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