Mariposa Storytelling Festival

Feb 9, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Arts & Entertainment, Terrance V. Mc Arthur

by Terrance Mc Arthur

Storytelling. What does that word bring to your mind?

A quiet librarian quietly reading a quiet book to a group of quiet children who listen quietly?

A grandmother, while making cookies in the kitchen, trying to remember what it was like when she was a little girl?

A musician talking about his songs and what they mean to him?

A big sister telling Bible stories at bedtime without the thees and thous?

A grade-school student reciting the memorized text of a children’s book?

Terrance telling a story

A best-selling author describing the process of creating his latest novel?

A group of hipsters competing in something that’s not exactly a poetry slam, sort-of a stand-up routine, and a lot of psychodrama confessional?

What is storytelling?

It’s all of these, some of these, and none of these, depending on who is doing it.

A good place to see different styles of storytelling is the Mariposa Storytelling Festival in Mariposa, California. This year’s 26th annual celebration of the spoken word, March 8-10, features six nationally-known storytellers: Patrick Ball, Donald Davis, Lyn Ford, Angela Lloyd, David Novak, and Laura Pershin Raynor. These are storytellers, not story-readers. You won’t see a book being read onstage, but there will be illustrations…pictures in your mind. Just as a chili cook-off will have different flavors and strengths, each teller is different from all the others.

Although the others have performed at Mariposa before, Laura Pershin Raynor is a newcomer to this event. A librarian from Ann Arbor, Michigan (many of today’s professional storytellers started out as librarians), some of Laura’s stories came to her from her 105-year-old grandmother, tales of The Old Country. Other stories are about her unusual family (but all families seem strange to someone in them), including a feisty canary. Her flavor might have a bit of paprika.

Patrick Ball

Patrick Ball is a well-known Celtic harp player who went from California to Ireland to learn the music and the culture. I have owned his music CDs for years, but he also collects and tells the tales of the Emerald Isle, weaving his music into the telling. He would be a potato dish with a smooth splash of Irish whiskey.

Donald Davis, seldom seen without a bow tie, became a storyteller after 25 years as a minister (A number of tellers come from the ministry). His stories of his younger days in North Carolina have a clarity of recollection and detail that makes them real to the listener. My daughter was not a fan of storytelling (It was one of those things her father did that embarrassed her) until she heard Davis tell about a hollow-legged kitchen table and some unwanted peas and carrots. The girl laughed until she could barely get air into her lungs! Donald Davis is home-made ice cream, just like grandpa used to make. Check out Donald Davis’ storytelling in this video.

Lyn Ford mixes adapted folktales, spooky stories, and her original pieces from her multicultural heritage. Call it Afrilachian Tales (African-Appalachian tradition), Home Fried Tales, or Laughter Yoga, it is appealing. There’s definitely okra in that pot. Get a taste of Lyn Ford’s storytelling in this video.

Angela Lloyd has a whimsical charm to her tales. Autoharp, washboard, spoons, guitar, bells, and a Sun-brella (You’ve probably never seen one before, but you’ll want to make one) accompany her wherever she performs. Tales of her street-performing past and flights of fantasy seem perfectly natural with her sunny smile. Donald Davis has called her “a combination of Maria Von Trapp, Mary Poppins, and Tinkerbell,” while Barbara McBride-Smith describes her as “diagonally parked in a parallel world.” Imagine whole-wheat cotton candy. Get a taste of Angela Lloyd’s storytelling in this video.

David Novak

David Novak, who has been described as “The Brothers Grimm and Carl Jung meet Monty Python,” takes stories that everyone knows and makes them into something epic and spellbinding. I sometimes talk about 3-D storytelling, incorporating props and other techniques into a performance. He tells “Jack and the Beanstalk” using Cat’s Cradle and other string figures to create costumes and scenery. A bandana can transform Novak into the entire cast of “Little Red Riding Hood.” String becomes the labyrinth that holds Theseus and the Minotaur. My favorite Novak tale is an epic struggle of success, failure, and webbing, “The Heroic Climb of Itsy Bitsy Spider.” What is his flavor? Nothing you’ve ever tasted before, but it’s something wild!. Check out some of David’s storytelling in this video.

The Mariposa Storytelling Festival takes place at Mariposa High school, with a special Sunday concert at the Yosemite National Park Visitor’s Center. You can see the festival flyer and brochure at For tickets, contact the Mariposa County Arts Council at (209) 966-3155 or (800) 903-9936.

What is storytelling? It is communication, transmitting the past, our beliefs, and our culture…with a few dreams thrown in for good measure.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a California-born, Valley-raised librarian/entertainer/writer. He lives in Sanger, four blocks from the library, with his wife, his daughter, and a spinster cat.


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