Performers to bring diverse tales to John Blue grounds

By Mary Katherine Murphy

April 8, 2014

LAURINBURG — Nearly 2,000 people are expected to flock to the John Blue House grounds this weekend to celebrate and enjoy the power of narrative in the eighth annual Storytelling Festival of Carolina.

The three-day festival will feature four individual tellers and one group, all of whom have performed at the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee: Donald Davis, Carmen Agra Deedy, Antonio Rocha, Kim Weitkamp, and the Healing Force.

During the day on Friday, the tellers will perform for local students at the John Blue grounds. The 12 p.m. storytelling session on Friday will be open to the public for the admission price of one canned good, to be donated to Church and Community Services.

Friday evening will offer a preview of all the weekend’s talent, as each of the storytellers will offer a sample tale during a 7 p.m. olio at the Storytelling and Arts Center on Main Street.

“We try to have very diverse storytellers that people can relate to in different ways,” said festival coordinator Jan Schmidt. “We also try to have traditional storytellers and people who tell traditional stories.”

Each teller will offer stories from their own repertoire, complemented by a variety of mediums. A native of Brazil, Antonio Rocha brings a theatrical dimension to his stories, miming anything from an animal to a hot air balloon. Kim Weitkamp will take the stage with a guitar, using music to enhance old family legends and ghost stories alike.

The stories told over the weekend will cover diverse topics, drawing on the tellers’ backgrounds, travels, and the people they have known.

“We look for people who are warm and friendly and have a lot of humor in their stories but who are still going to tug at your heart with stories that relate to people and their own experiences in life,” said Schmidt.

Davis, a retired Methodist minister, tells stories inspired by his environment and upbringing as a native of the Southern Appalachians. Deedy, who came to the U.S. with her family in 1964 from Cuba as a refugee, specializes in traditional folktales from various traditions, as well as stories about her Cuban roots.

The Healing Force is a multigenerational family group of four who bring both Africa as a setting and the African-American experience to audiences with stories, song, dance and music.

The festival will begin on Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 a.m., with the John Blue House grounds opening at 8:30 a.m. The featured tellers will rotate in the main tent throughout the day until 5 p.m. on Saturday and 3:30 p.m. on Sunday. The tellers will also lead storytelling workshops on the grounds for teachers and others wishing to work on their presentation skills.

Schmidt said that the festival’s audience has trended toward middle aged and older, but that the event offers something for everyone.

“It’s probably a demographic of people in their 40s to 70s and then some younger families,” she said. “We have people come year after year with their children, so it’s a mixed demographic. It’s really designed for everybody; it’s a real family event.”

On Saturday night at 7 p.m. the storytelling center will host a music and storytelling gala complete with drinks, desserts, and the opportunity to meet the weekend’s storytelling talent. Tickets for the Friday evening olio are $10 per person, and gala tickets are $20. Reservations for those events should be made in advance by calling the storytelling center at 910-277-3599.

The festival is funded in part by grants from the N.C. Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, Art Works, and the Scotland County Tourism Development Authority.

“It’s wonderful and people have a great time,” said Schmidt. “We’re just so lucky to have these tellers willing to come to our little town and we love the idea of having local people come to enjoy it.”

Tickets for Saturday and Sunday may be purchased at the gate at a cost of $37 for adults and $10 for children, covering both days. All workshops are $10.

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 17. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.