Storytelling Arts' mission is to preserve, promote and impart the art of storytelling to develop literacy, strengthen communities and nurture the human spirit.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Report from the 18th Annual NJ Storytelling Festival

Yet another rainy festival. We should probably call it ‘festival weather’ at this point. Nonetheless, people showed up, tellers and listeners and all had a good, cozy time. As Carol Titus, current coordinator of the festival said, “We have no trouble in the rain, we’ve got it down pat at this point.” The rain held off enough for short walks around the beautiful Grounds For Sculpture.

The day started with a workshop for storytellers and teachers. Judy Freeman had us clapping, snapping singing and chanting. Perfect for a rainy Sunday morning. Judy Freeman is best known in New Jersey for her annual Winner’s Conferences she holds throughout NJ. At these well-attended conferences she calls out the top hundred children’s books published in that year. She gives quick book talks and demonstrates activities and suggests thematic ideas for the books.

The two-hour Storytelling Festival workshop had more of an emphasis on storytelling. Judy’s forte is the quick, snappy story that is perfect to use as fillers. These are stories in their own right. Peter and Iona Opie say that the nursery rhyme is the child’s first story. And just think of the journeys taken by Jack and Jill, and the mouse up the clock, and our own selves as we go to market to buy a fat pig.

Judy Freeman helped us all recall the old camp songs and risqué children’s’ chants we all told to each other, though never to our parents; songs and chants that are based on these older rhymes.

Then she ran through drawing stories, paper folding stories, finger plays and stories with puppets.

I am amazed at Judy Freeman’s generosity. She gave totally of herself darning the workshop. And we all went away with a handout of all of the stories she used. The pages of storytelling tips we received can also be found in her book, Once Upon a Time: Using Storytelling, Creative Drama, and Reader’s Theatre With Children in Grades Pre-K-6. It is a book worth looking into, full of tips and techniques for learning how to tell stories.

Her handout also included a list of Internet storytelling links that she developed with Carol Titus.

The rest of the day was filled with stories and song. We have such wonderful storytellers here in New Jersey. Many of you reading this blog will be familiar with what a festival atmosphere is like. We have four stages set up with four performances taking place at once. The audience is encouraged to dip into as many sessions as they wish. It is at a festival like this that we realize how many stories there are in the works, and how many different styles of storytelling there are as well.

But, the Festival is also a gathering where we as storytellers are able to meet together, hear each other’s new work and catch up on personal stories. It is in this way that we support each other refresh our commitment to the community of storytellers around the state and are nourished by wonderful stories.

My favorite spot is always the spot where the Storytelling Groups perform. For those of you reading who may not know, New Jersey has at least six storytelling groups representing all corners of the state. When the groups perform their ‘set’ at the Festival, three or more members take turns telling a story or two. We learn a bit about their group, what their meetings are like, what they do in their meetings, how often they meet, where else they may tell as a group, and who their members are. Usually the members telling are not professional free-lance tellers, but tell to their families, library classes, classrooms, church groups, and any other such gatherings. It is delightful to discover new storytellers and new approaches to storytelling. I think this year we were all impressed with the upcoming young teller Shifra Willick.

I would also like to say ‘hats off’ to Carol Titus for pulling the whole thing together this year. She had many to help and SAI was well represented on that front. It was great seeing you all there and hearing many of you tell. But, one idea I think Carol carried out on her own was the announcements to be made before each session. She covered every aspect of storytelling in New Jersey… the groups, events, the Internet and the Telebrations to be held around the state. It was such an easy, unobtrusive way to cover so much information. Go to to see what she has developed.

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