Top Tale Tellers

storytelling festival bigger – and scarier – for 2013

Tom Giffey

Featured performers at the second annual Chippewa Valley Storytelling Festival include, clockwise from top left, Kevin McMullin, Tracy Chipman, and Sadarri & Company. Not pictured is Marge Loch-Wouters.
Featured performers at the second annual Chippewa Valley Storytelling Festival
include Tracy Chipman.

Heard any good stories lately? Maybe they came via your TV or radio. Maybe from a podcast downloaded to a digital device. Or maybe, if you’re lucky, they came from the mouth of a friend or a loved one or even a stranger, shared over a cup of coffee or a bottle of beer or the smoke of a campfire. It is such stories – real or imagined, ancient or modern, laugh-out-loud or bone-chilling – that tend to make a real impression, even in the 21st century.

Rob Reid, one of the organizers of the upcoming Chippewa Valley Storytelling Festival, has made a career of telling stories and teaching others how to tell them, and he knows the near-mystical power they can have. “To hear the oral tale – which is the oldest art in the world – the kids really connect,” Reid said. “They seem to be hungry for the spoken word, and they don’t even know they’re hungry for it.”

Featured performers at the second annual Chippewa Valley Storytelling Festival include, clockwise from top left, Kevin McMullin, Tracy Chipman, and Sadarri & Company. Not pictured is Marge Loch-Wouters.
Featured performers at the second
annual Chippewa Valley Storytelling Festival
include Kevin McMullin.

Over the past 30 years, Reid – a senior lecturer in education studies at UW-Eau Claire – has seen that instinct grow stronger as electronic gizmos have come to dominate communication and entertainment for children (and adults). As well-crafted as mass-media stories can be, it seems, they don’t fill our recommended daily allowance of human interaction.

Fortunately, there’s a remedy. Children and adults can feed their hunger for stories Sept. 13-14 at the Chippewa Valley Storytelling Festival at UW-Eau Claire’s Davies Center. The festival was launched last year with the encouragement of Gail Scukanec, dean of UWEC’s College of Education and Human Sciences. The 2012 event consisted of a one-night storytelling concert featuring two professional storytellers and a performance by BareBones Improv. (Full disclosure: Yours truly is a member of that troupe.) The dean’s feedback? “She said, ‘Let’s do it again, but bigger,’ ” said Reid. (No word on the dean’s response to the improv.)

Organizers – including Reid, Professor Melissa Bruce, and Jane Becker and Suzanne Olson of the dean’s office – took Scukanec’s advice to heart: This year they’re putting on a full-blown two-day festival, including four featured performers at two evening events as well as an afternoon full of workshops for adults, educators, kids, and anyone else interested in learning how to spin a tale.

As luck would have it, this year’s festival is scheduled to begin Friday the 13th, an ideal date for eerie stories. The first evening’s two-hour event will feature superstitions, ghost stories, myths, trickster tales, and the like. (Beware: Some of the stories may be a bit too hair-raising for the littlest listeners.) The evening will be led by featured storyteller and musician Kevin McMullin and will include two other featured tale-spinners – Tracy Chipman of Menomonie, whose stable of folktales and myths are populated by stories she collected doing research in Scotland, and Marge Loch-Wouters, a children’s librarian from La Cross known for her razzle-dazzle tales (and puppets) – as well as a cast of Chippewa Valley storytellers (including a couple of Reid’s UWEC students).

Between 12:30 and 4:15pm Saturday, the featured storytellers will hold a series of workshops – four aimed at adults and teens, four aimed at families – on everything from the oral tradition in Scotland’s Outer Hebridies to telling a story with a handkerchief. The workshops – and the festival as a whole – are designed to entertain and boost educators’ professional storytelling skills.

An evening of family storytelling will begin at 6:30pm Saturday, starring Friday’s three featured performers as well as Sadarri & Company, a multilingual, multicultural storytelling troupe. The show will be aimed for audiences of all ages. No digital effects – just skilled performers and a stage.

“This is low-tech, which has got an appeal, like a poetry slam,” Reid said. There won’t be any plugged-in entertainment gizmos, but the atmosphere will still be electrified by the universal art of storytelling.

Featured performers at the second annual Chippewa Valley Storytelling Festival include, clockwise from top left, Kevin McMullin, Tracy Chipman, and Sadarri & Company. Not pictured is Marge Loch-Wouters.
Featured performers at the second annual Chippewa Valley Storytelling Festival
include Sadarri & Company.

The Chippewa Valley Storytelling Festival • UW-Eau Claire Davies Student Center • “Friday the 13th” Storytelling, 7-9pm, Friday, Sept. 13, Dakota Ballroom • Family Storytelling, 6:30-8:30pm, Saturday, Sept. 14, Dakota Ballroom • storytelling workshops, 12:30-4:15pm, Menomonie and Ho-Chunk Rooms (see www.uwec.edu/COEHS/alumni/StorytellingFestival.htm for details) • tickets to individual events are $5/person, $8/family, and $3/UWEC student; weekend passes to all events are $10/person, $20/family, $7/UWEC student

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