A version of this story appears in Friday’s Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
Oklahoma City Storytelling Festival moves to Oklahoma History Center
The venerable festival, which includes performances by local and nationally known storytellers, workshops and a family matinee, is set for Thursday through Aug. 24.
A box of tissues is recommended, too.
“It’s like a one-man show mixed with comedy and inspiration and tears. I’ve cried at these before. They can be really
This year, the venerable festival, which includes performances by local and nationally known storytellers, workshops and a family matinee, is shifting to a different month and venue. The 2013 event is set for Thursday through Aug. 24 at the Oklahoma History Center, with a few activities lined up at downtown hotspots like the Myriad Botanical Gardens.
“The history center is all about telling the stories of Oklahomans, all Oklahomans from all walks of life,” said Dan Provo, director of the Oklahoma History Center.
“We think it’s a very good fit with the Oklahoma History Center: oral history, traditions, storytelling, folk lore, folk life, all the different parts that go to make up storytelling as a wonderful and history-making, if you will, event.”
Now in its 33rd year, the festival has been going through a reinvention. About four years ago, the arts council moved the festival from February to late summer and changed the name from WinterTales to the Oklahoma City Storytelling Festival. In the past, the festival has been set in the now-defunct Stage Center and under tents in downtown.
“After last year when we had some weather issues with having it out in the tent — it was like 104 (degrees) one night and then it stormed and blew over the tent the next night — we just decided to try to look at other options,” Foss said. “Not only does storytelling have such a great historical connection — I mean, it is history — but the Oklahoma History Center, they do their own storytelling.” … It really seems like the perfect connection and the perfection partnership that we can feed off each other and grow from year to year. There are so many possibilities.”
Although the event is more than three decades old, organizers say many people still don’t quite understand that the festival isn’t about memorized poetry readings or children’s storybook readings. Except for a Saturday afternoon children’s matinee, most of the performances are aimed at adults or at least a PG-13 audience.
“It’s an actual live performing art form. It’s theater really,” Foss said. “Our biggest hurdle every year is reeducating people on what exactly it is and trying to get them there because once they go they love it. I always hear that from attendees that once you go once, you’re hooked.”
The event annually brings in featured storytellers recruited from the National Storytelling Festival.
“The goal is to get a varied group of tellers so that there really is something for everyone. You’re bound to like at least one of them but will probably leave loving all of them,” Foss said.
Patrick Ball hails from California, is considered one of the world’s premier Celtic harp players, and spins ancient tales in a brogue garnered through years spent in Ireland. Bostonian Judith Black tells modern, personal stories, including an award-winning one about her son’s military service and return from Iraq. Alton Chung, who is of Japanese and Korean heritage, weaves a spell of stories, superstitions and magic of the Hawaiian Islands.
Featured teller Barbara McBride-Smith is based in Tulsa and works as a school librarian when she’s not touring the country on the professional storytelling circuit.
“She tells Greek myths in like an Okie style, and it’s really hysterical and fun,” Foss said.
In addition, Oklahoma’s Territory Tellers will be showcased during free lunchtime events Aug. 23-24, when the featured tellers, along with the staff of the Oklahoma History Center and representatives from the Gold Dome Multicultural Society, will teach workshops as part of the festival.
“My job is to market and sell events, and I see storytelling workshops as an opportunity to hone in my own skills in order to tell the story of my organization,” said Stacy Hawthorne, communications director for the Arts Council of Oklahoma City. “It gives you a little bit of an edge to learn the art of storytelling. … It’s kind of professional development all the way around.”
Festivalgoers and workshop attendees will have the opportunity to tour the history center for no additional charge.
While most of the festivities will take place at the history center, the featured tellers also will participate in the art council’s Art Moves program, which offers free lunchtime performances to various downtown locales. Ball will take his harp along for a noon concert Thursday at First National Center, while Black and Chung will give a festival sneak preview at noon Aug. 23 at Midtown Market.
At 8 p.m. Aug. 24, the council will offer a free performance including all four featured tellers at the Myriad Gardens Great Lawn Stage. The public is invited to bring lawn chairs, blankets and picnics to the festival’s closing event.
“Having it out in the open there and free at the Myriad Gardens, we’re hoping to bring in a new audience, maybe people passing by who wouldn’t normally go see the Storytelling Festival,” Foss said. “(We’re) hoping to gain some new fans.”
Oklahoma City Storytelling Festival
When: Thursday through Aug. 24.
Where: Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive.