Monday, August 19, 2013

The Three Rivers Storytelling Festival

I was in Pittsburgh over the weekend, performing at the Three Rivers Storytelling Festival. I did not take any photos at the festival because I was so busy telling, MC'ing and visiting with friends. Sometimes I find myself too involved in what's going on to step aside and take photos, as a photographer must do. It was a grand time seeing friends I had not seen in a while and hearing new tellers.

I was a volunteer for this festival. The Three Rivers festival found itself in a bind when the Northlands Public Library pulled their funding and support. With only 4 months until the festival and contracts signed with national presenters, the Story Swap guild in Pittsburgh decided that rather than let the festival die, they would take it on themselves. That meant finding money, finding a place to hold the festival, recruiting volunteers, scheduling, doing publicity, finding food vendors, stages, tent and all the other things necessary for such an event. A daunting task even with a year to prepare.

But the Pittsburgh storytellers are made of strong stuff and they forged ahead. The result of their efforts was a fine festival with good attendance in a beautiful setting. Volunteers worked hard to make sure all went well. Many local tellers and a few of us from West Virginia volunteered our time and talents. It was a great time with memorable stories and appreciative audiences.

Yes, it cost me to volunteer for this event. Pittsburgh is about 4 hours from my home and that meant we needed to get a motel room, buy food, and of course gas is always a consideration. There are times when we have to give back, and this was one of them. I have been a featured teller at this festival in the past and also volunteered. In those days, my room was paid for and my meals covered, and as a featured teller I was also paid for performing. Now the festival needed help and I was glad to be able to help by tweeting festival information, posting and sharing the festival poster on Facebook, and volunteering to help in any way I could. Larry and I looked at it as a chance to see friends, attend the festival and see a little bit of Pittsburgh on the way home.

There were three national storytellers who were featured this year. Beth Horner is from the Chicago area and I had seen her many years ago at a conference. I enjoyed her then, but this time she really blew me away. Her stories, her humor, her singing and her warm personality were completely engaging. Most memorable was the story of a Civil War diary kept by her great-grandfather--this is the kind of history that is immediate and close to the heart, bringing the pain and impact of war close to us all.

Randel McGee was another of the major tellers at the festival, along with his friendly dragon Groark. I last heard Randel in Chicago, I believe, at a national conference. He is hilarious! The dragon is impudent, comical and looks so alive with his expressions. Randel is a consummate ventriloquist, but that is just one part of what he does. He also performs as Hans Christian Andersen, appearing in costume and speaking with a delightful accent. As part of this act Randel does intricate papercutting as he tells Andersen's stories. Amazing.

The third teller was Bil Lepp, a West Virginian who travels internationally telling lies and getting paid for it. No lie! His storytelling has to be heard to be believed, really. He's funnier than any stand-up comic because while he keeps his audiences in stitches he is telling a story; stand-ups deliver one-liners but there is no real story behind them. Bil has a children's picture book coming out this fall called The King of Little Things. We're right proud of him in this state!

I was lucky enough to MC for Randel and Beth, a pleasure and not a chore when the performers are as delightful as these two. I also told in a set in the afternoon and at the evening ghost story concert, which you know is right up my alley.

I was interested to note that the only based-on-reported-events ghost stories (I suppose I could say "true" but some would dispute that there is such a thing as a true ghost story) told in the concert were told by me and by Jo Ann Dadisman, another West Virginia teller. We have so many such stories in our state. Other performers told literary stories, original fiction or traditional folktales--all told well. A teller named Stas' Ziolkowski did a stunning and creepy rendition of the story The Monkey's Paw. Made my skin crawl. We heard a young lady recite Lady MacBeth's speech (chilling from the lips of a young teen), and listened to a story told as modern dance performers took the stage. That was a fine finale to an entertaining evening.

On the way home we stopped at Point Park, the place where two rivers come together to form the Ohio. I'll have more about that in my next post, complete, I promise, with pictures!

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Unknown said...

I think it's admirable that you volunteered at your own expense. Two thumbs up!

Lynn said...

I so admire those that can talk in public, story telling to me is the crème de la crème, I grew up surrounded by them and I could listen to storytellers forever-ghosty stories are my favourite :-0

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