Can you remember the last time you surrendered to a good story?
Not one in a book, on the radio, or on the screen (large or small) — but one told to you in person, from the heart and mind of a storyteller?
Perhaps it’s been since childhood. But just because you’re grown up doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good tale.
The art of storytelling is experiencing a renaissance, and on the weekend before Thanksgiving, storytellers will entertain thousands of listeners worldwide as part of an ambitious benefit called “Tellabration.” Asheville’s event happens at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway; the proceeds will support the work of the Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministry, a consortium of more than 100 churches whose projects involve helping the homeless and elderly.
Local storyteller Douglas Haynes promises that the audience will hear “some of the best stories they’ve heard in their lives. … Some funny, some traditional, love stories — maybe stories from childhood.” But Haynes emphasizes that this event is for adults, and says that some concepts would be hard for children (even some teens) to grasp.
Haynes is one of four professional storytellers co-headlining the event, each of whom gets 20 minutes to spin a tale or two. Weaverville’s Hobey Ford, known for his shadow puppetry and handcrafted foam-animal puppets, is “hilarious,” and Nanny P. — ” a granny” from Drexel, N.C. — will make you feel like you’re 5 years old, says Haynes. “She’s a vivacious storyteller who does lots of different voices, personalities.” Rocky Rockwell, director of the Barter Theater storytelling program in Abingdon, Va., will entertain the audience with yarns inspired by his career as a journalist.
So how does one become a “professional” storyteller? Haynes was first inspired to spin tales out of frustration with his son, who as a child refused to have anything read to him except Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.
“Luke wouldn’t accept any other books,” recalls Haynes. “But when I asked him, ‘Can I tell you a story instead?’, he said OK.”
A former elementary-school teacher, Haynes turned to carpentry to allow him more time to pursue storytelling, which he’s been doing professionally for 13 years now. Last January he decided to work on his new craft full-time, and he’s been booked ever since. Haynes produced the first local “Tellabration” with the Asheville Storytelling Circle after he moved here five years ago. The group recently honored him with a distinguished-service award, which he says he earned because “I never say no to anything, and I’m good at talking them into things.”
After four years of working behind the scenes to produce “Tellabration,” Haynes — whose mischievous grin, lively eyes and expressive gestures make him a natural entertainer — decided to toss his name in the selection committee’s hat.
Although Haynes collects stories wherever he goes, he says the Appalachian region is the easiest place to find new material because it’s “so steeped in tradition. Folks are always saying ‘Here’s a story,’ or ‘Here’s a different version of that.’ Stories are given away so freely. The people are so open and kind.”
For his “Tellabration” offering, however, Haynes is interpreting a tale from China. “The Blue Willow Plate” (named after the popular blue-and-white china pattern first produced in Europe more than 200 years ago) is the saga of a rich man’s daughter forbidden by her father to marry the man she loves.
Since “Tellabration” was launched in1988 (by J.G. “Paw-paw” Pinkerton, in Connecticut), the event has spread like a juicy rumor. Last year, stories were shared in 333 sites and attracted 34,000 audience members, according to the “Tellabration” Web site. Welcoming visitors to the site, Pinkerton says, “May what the tellers share bring joy to many people and may the listeners come to know that … through storytelling, we can draw closer together in peace … and in friendship … and in love.”
Haynes echoes those sentiments in expressing his own hope that audience members come away from “Tellabration” with the idea that “all cultures are really not that different.”