Four professional storytellers will perform worldly folklore, ghost stories and original compositions starting Thursday for an annual festival celebrating the art of spoken word.
For Oklahoma City’s 33rd festival, Patrick Ball, Judith Black, Alton Chung and Barbara McBride-Smith not only will pull from their near-bursting repertoire of stories but also will hold weekend workshops for visitors curious about storytelling as an art form and a profession.
“Storytelling’s also something that has shaped cultures all over the world for hundreds of years, so it’s just so neat that we actually get to experience it in Oklahoma City,” said communications director Stacy Hawthorne.
Every October, festival organizers scout for talented taletellers at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, Tenn., said projects director Christina Foss. The national festival showcases about 30 to 40 internationally famous storytellers. Foss and Peter Dolese, executive director of the Arts Council of Oklahoma City, select two men and two women to participate in Oklahoma’s festival.
“We want to reach all sorts of different people from different backgrounds,” Foss said.
Third-time festival participant Patrick Ball incorporates in his stories years of travel, starting in 1983 in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, where he heard his first story, to his six months in Ireland, where he picked up the Celtic harp and begin telling stories with music.
“One of the things that’s crucial to me when I’m listening to a story and telling a story is the music of the speech, the melody of expression, the sound of the words,” Ball said.
“It’s kind of like a spell. The sound itself has power and beauty,” he said.
Ball said professional storytellers simply are paid for something everyone has the ability to do. But a successful story includes several key elements: surprise, suspense, characterization and momentum in the narrative.
“There has to be a reason for people to listen as the story unfolds,” Ball said.
Ball will explain marketing, contracts and fees during his workshop, “Taking the Next Step: Telling Stories as a Professional.”
“This festival offers something for personal and professional development,” Hawthorne said.
“The stories that folks tell around a supper table, or in a bar, or in a pulpit or at the beauty shop could be shaped and honed into performance pieces,” Barbara McBride-Smith said.
McBride-Smith, a freelance, full-time storyteller from Tulsa, will offer a workshop, “Every Story is a Personal Story,” to show visitors how to story from personal experiences.
“I’ve discovered, over the years, that the way I connect with a story is to figure out how to parallel that story to the people, places and events in my own life,” McBride-Smith said.
McBride-Smith, who tells family stories, myths, folktales and Biblical stories, said dialogue is key to a good story, although she never knows exactly which story she is going to tell until she actually sees the audience.
“Oklahomans are kind and gentle people who recognize the power of a well-told tale,” she said.
Other workshops include "From Heart to Heart" by Judith Black and "Finding Your Own Voice," featuring all four tellers who will each put his or her creative spin on the classic story of Rumpelstiltskin.
“[Spoken word is] a profound experience, and it’s not something you can really prepare yourself for,” Hawthorne said.
A rookie to OKC’s festival, Alton Chung prepares by having two to three stories ready to go, depending on the audience and venue.
Once Chung gains his grounding, he uses an old mantra to give the best performance possible.
“Ah. Ha ha. Awe. Amen,” he said.
The audience should learn or discover, laugh, experience awe and take the story with them afterward, whether the story is 15 minutes or over an hour long, Chung said.
“As a storyteller, you are 100 percent present to that audience,” he said.
A native Hawaiian with Japanese and Korean roots, Chung reawakens ancient island ghost stories, wartime tales and rich, historical accounts from the 1950s and ’60s, when he was a child in Hawaii.
“Strange things happen in Hawaii, and everybody has their ghost stories,” Chung said.
Registration for Chung’s workshop, "Ghost Stories and Other Scary Stuff," as well as the plethora of workshops and showtimes, can be completed online at artscouncilokc.com.
All performances are ticketed except a free outdoor performance at the Myriad Botanical Gardens Great Lawn Stage at 8 p.m. Saturday.