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By Michael Jacobs
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 29, 1997

Festival's tales promote understanding


Arizona Daily Wildcat

"You cannot hate someone whose story you know."

The statement, whispered by Pleasant DeSpain, an author and teller of children's stories, captures the essence of storytelling.

DeSpain was one performer in this year's fourth annual Storytelling Festival and Conference in Southern Arizona titled "Tales of Arizona ... Then and Now."

The two-day festival of tales featured over 15 storytellers and catered to participants of all ages.

Tellers of Tales, a storytelling organization founded in 1980, and the Marshall Foundation have worked together to breathe life into this celebration of the art of storytelling, according to a news release.

Support from the Arizona Historical Society and the Arizona State Museum provided organizers with prime locations for the festivals array of songs and stories, the release stated.

Sheila Pattison, Manager of the Bear Canyon Library and a co-founder of the Tellers of Tales, said she worked to bind many diverse entertainers into the festival.

"We have a tremendous diversity of cultures in Arizona," said Pattison. "This is a way of bringing the community together, and telling stories to promote peace and harmony."

On Friday night performers filled the airwaves with renditions of folk tales and original stories in the Center for English as a Second Language auditorium.

Michael Lacapa, author and illustrator of "Antelope Woman" and "Mouse Couple" treated the audience with wonderful and original stories, said Pattison.

Adela Allen, president of Tellers of Tales and associate dean of the graduate college, was the keynote speaker for storytelling workshops Saturday morning at the Arizona Historical Society Auditorium.

Allen focused on the importance of "orality" in our society, said Pattison.

"All of us came from an oral tradition. It was how our cultures survived," said Pattison. "Growth of orality displays that the human thread of communication keeps us together."

On Saturday afternoon, the lawn of the Arizona State Museum was sprinkled with tie dye booths. Children had the opportunity to dance under a 75-foot tie dyed monster as they dramatized the story of "Nyangara the Python" to African drumming and chanting, Pattison said.

The festival concluded Saturday night on the east lawn of the Arizona State Museum with a Haitian tradition known as "CricCrac."

This interactive forum of participatory storytelling was hosted by Tony Norris, a folk entertainer and musician, in his third appearance at the festival.

When a member of the audience wants to share a story, they are required to say "cric" as a courtesy. A resounding response of "crac" paves the path to the microphone.

Norris facilitated and coordinated the evening event by urging people to promote their cultural background through the medium of speech.

The air was thick with personal stories as orators used the threads of intimacy to weave a cultural tapestry.

"The way I grew up, we would stay out on the porch at night and just talk. This helped define my identity," said Norris. "It also helped provide continuity; to know the stories of our families and to tell these stories to our offspring."

Norris kicked off the evening by performing a song called "Mountain Fields." Norris said the story uses the tilting of the soil and harvesting an intimate relationship with a piece of land as a metaphor for intimacy with another person.

Norris views storytelling as a magical power for therapy.

"When you're storytelling as an entertainer, you have the responsibility of not breaking down in front of an audience. But the audience doesn't have that same responsibility," said Norris. Norris also expressed concern for the detrimental effects that television can inflict on the imaginative soul.

"While watching TV people don't talk, because of the visual nature. The listener is given a single image, but with storytelling you have as many images as you have persons," said Norris. "Storytelling calls upon the individual to be creative."

Melinda Morgan, a senior majoring in communications, attended the "CricCrac" for a humanities course.

"It's nice to hear different perspectives about cultures. Hearing about different cultures gives the listener new perspectives on cultures other than their own," said Morgan.

Pattison said she believes that the festival possesses a potent message to society.

"If we had more understanding of backgrounds and cultures, then we would have less animosity in the world," said Pattison.

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