|25th Annual NJ Storytelling Festival at Howell Living History Farm|
A simple phone call. A batch of handwritten letters. A beautiful afternoon. Voilà: a storytelling festival.
That in short is how the first New Jersey Storytelling Festival got started 25 years ago when the educational director of Allaire Village, Kit Crippen—fresh from a trip to the national festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee—dialed Julie Della Torre with a proposition. She wanted New Jersey to have its own version.
“She knew the logistics. I knew the tellers,” says Julie, who got to work sending letters of invitation to all the tellers she knew to promote the idea of showcasing New Jersey tellers and to give a those just starting out as tellers a chance to test their skills in public.
Twenty-five years later, the effort is firmly planted. This year the event was held September 16 in its fourth location, at the Howell Living History Farm near Lambertville. It took many more phone calls to get it arranged. More than a flurry of e-mails. Another beautiful afternoon.
Visitors sat on hay bales, benches or chairs at four different locations where rolling farmland and animals filled out the vistas. Howell Farm staff said it was the biggest crowd they had seen on a September Saturday, with an estimated 250 people who strolled from site to site to enjoy stories.
|Julie Pasqua at the 25th annual NJ Storytelling Festival|
Some things have changed, some have stayed the same. For many years the festival has offered morning workshops for tellers, educators, and all interested in story. A Story Slam was introduced more than five years ago to kick off the afternoon’s festivities.
The number of tellers is bigger—some 40 tellers now. Individuals as well as teams from swap groups sign up for 45-minute slots over the afternoon. Bigger, yet its roots have stayed the same: a venue for storytellers from novice to professional.
|Julie Della Torre telling at the festival. (photos by Ken Galipeau)|
Although Julie gave up the reins to running the festival after about ten years, Storytelling Arts’ tellers have continued to be involved as tellers, workshop leaders, and festival committee members. For a time the festival was affiliated with the Folk Project, a music and dance association, and Julie Pasqual attended meetings to keep communication between parties flowing. Helen Wise served as liaison with Grounds For Sculpture. I’ve served on the festival planning committee since 2005.And in what might be seen as a fitting bookend to starting the festival, Julie Della Torre, with co-presenter Paula Davidoff, kicked off this year’s celebration of story leading the morning workshop. “Gleaning Insight from Critical Moments: Working Below and Between the Lines of an Oral Text” introduced new tellers and fortified practiced ones—more than 40 interested participants—with a deeper understanding of the storytelling tradition.