Stories on Asheville’s Front Porch returns for its 10th season

FROM BALLADS TO BOLD-FACED LIES: This year's Stories on Asheville's Front Porch brings new voices and varied forms of narrative to the stage. Clockwise from top left are Lillian Chase, Ray Christian, Catherine Yael Serota and Bob Falls. Serota’s photo by Wallace Shealy, other photos courtesy of the performers

Stories are in our genes and our evolutionary history.

Our parents told them to us as children. The first humans told them around campfires. As Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal, says, “We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”

Asheville story lovers will celebrate that biological and evolutionary imperative in July with free, weekly, family-friendly gatherings called Stories on Asheville’s Front Porch. Entering its 10th season, SAFP begins Saturday, July 6, at Jubilee! with Michael Reno Harrell, a Morganton-based singer-songwriter and storyteller who has performed throughout the U.S., Britain and Europe.

Becky Stone, a professional storyteller in Asheville for 30 years, organizes SAFP for the Asheville Storytelling Circle. “We want to showcase story in all of its forms,” she says. Ray Christian, for example — a Moth StorySlam Champion — will tell personal narratives in the Moth style on July 13.

Ballads, Stone notes, are an ancient form of narrative. Lillian Chase, a 14-year-old bluegrass and old-time fiddler and singer, will perform such story songs with her band on July 20.

Stone also wanted to bring poetry into the series. “Verse is a great way of telling stories,” she says. So she invited Bob Falls, founder of Poetry Alive! — an Asheville-based troupe that tours schools nationally — to perform, also on July 20.

“Uncle Ted” White, a bass player and singer, brings in local history on July 27. “He’s a guide with Grayline Trolley Tours,” Stone says. “He knows a lot about Asheville.”

One newcomer to the showcase is Catherine Yael Serota, an Asheville native now living in Johnson City, Tenn., where she is a community mental health therapist.

“I’ve only been telling stories for about two years,” Serota says. She met Wallace Shealy, who was president of the Asheville Storytelling Circle, about four years ago, and he invited Serota to that organization’s event, Tellebration. After they had been dating for a while, he said, “You’ve led an interesting life. Why don’t you tell stories?”

Serota and Shealy were married in April. A longtime storyteller, he was named the 2010 Bold-Faced Liar Champion by the Storytelling Arts Center of the Southeast.

So how does one become a storyteller?

“You have to have a love for the spoken word,” Serota says. “You have to have an element in your personality of a showoff, of a smarty-pants, and I certainly have that. So it was a natural for me.”

Serota’s love for the spoken word came from her father, a World War II veteran who worked for Morgan Brothers School Supply. He taught her to read when she was 4. “He would come home from work, sit me on his lap with the newspaper and follow the words with his finger as he spoke them aloud,” she says.

While storytelling is done without notes, most storytellers, Serota said, write out their stories. Some tellers memorize them word for word, while others work from what Serota calls a “storyboard” in their minds. “They envision the scenes and tell it from that,” she says. “I’m transitioning from memorizing written-out stories to using mental scenes.”

For her performance on July 27, Serota will tell stories of growing up in Asheville and share Yiddish folk tales. She has been researching Yiddish tales collected in Eastern Europe before World War II by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York.

Serota’s parents’ families perished in the Holocaust. “When I first thought about becoming a storyteller,” she says, “I was concerned about that lost family connection.” The essence of storytelling, she adds, is “giving a voice to people who may not be present any longer to speak.”

She is constructing a series of stories about a shtetl, a Jewish village in Europe before the Holocaust. “I want it to be a whole panorama of people,” she said. “In that way, I’m giving my ancestors a voice.”

WHAT: Stories on Asheville’s Front Porch, avl.mx/67m
WHERE: Jubilee!, 46 Wall St.
WHEN: Saturdays, July 6, 13, 20 and 27, 10:30-11:30 a.m. Free

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About Arnold Wengrow
Arnold Wengrow was the founding artistic director of the Theatre of the University of North Carolina at Asheville in 1970 and retired as professor emeritus of drama in 1998. He is the author of "The Designs of Santo Loquasto," published by the United States Institute for Theatre Technology.

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