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Tara Bradbury
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St. John’s Storytelling Festival has city in its grip this weekend

Everyone loves a good story. Organizers of the St. John’s Storytelling Festival recognize that, and the fact people in this province love them perhaps more than others.

Participants in this year’s St. John’s Storytelling Festival includes Jan Blake. — Submitted photo

When this year’s festival opens Saturday, there’ll be no shortage of opportunities for people to participate in the stories, either as a teller or a listener.

The festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, with events happening around the city as well as in Mount Pearl, Renews, Tors Cove and Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The goal of the festival, a non-profit organization, has always been to promote the art of storytelling and preserve its traditions in Newfoundland and Labrador, and each year it presents events with local and international storytellers in a showcase of oral traditions.

This year, the festival has gone a little hi-tech, with the help of a new iPhone app developed by Battery Radio, led by documentarian and festival president Chris Brookes.

The free app, called Inside Outside Battery, works with a GPS to automatically provide you with recordings of about 50 songs and stories as you walk through the Battery — as about 80,000 people do each year.

“As you walk, it knows where you are and you hear voices and sounds as you move through,” Brookes explained.

A lot of the recordings are of personal memories and stories relevant to the area, and there’s a short story by Lisa Moore, poetry by Don McKay and Michel Savard, even a secret ghost story by Dale Jarvis.

“Secret, so you have to find where it is by accident,” Brookes said.

The app is permanent, but the rest of the events are one-time only, and include appearances by Brookes, musicians Allan Byrne, Aaron Collis, Emilia Bartellas, Jean Hewson and Christina Smith, Ellen Power and Kelly Russell, and local storytellers like Charis Cotter of Western Bay, Elizabeth Croft of Aquaforte, Paul Dean of North Harbour, Ford Elms, Mary Fearon, Gary Green, Hubert Furey, Christine Hennebury, Stella Mair Evans, and Catherine Wright.

Storytellers from outside the province will include Robert Seven Crows of Quebec, Caitriona Ni Chonaola of Ireland, Jennifer Ferris of Victoria and Jan Blake of England, who performs with a fiddler.

The storytelling events will be pretty varied, said Erin McArthur, event manager for the festival.

“It could be personal narratives. It could be something that happened to them and they’ve crafted it into a very entertaining story, and it might be the only story they tell. Some people might have a really big repertoire and it might include traditional tales, like fairy tales or Jack tales that are traditional around here, or they could be something that happened in the family,” she said. “It could be demonstrated through movement and song. It takes a lot of different shapes.”

What makes a good storyteller? For McArthur, it comes down to the teller’s engaging of the crowd.

“I think they have to be present in the room and they create a relationship with the audience,” she said. “It’s a misconception people have that it’s someone sitting, reading from a book or just standing there, talking. It’s a combination of theatre and engaging with whoever is there and making them want to know what happens next. It can be quite a physical performance.”

“People often ask me what the difference is between storytelling and acting,” added Brookes. “In general, if you’re performing on stage in a play as an actor, the lights are on you and you don’t really see the audience. You can hear them and sense them. In storytelling, that really never happens. The lights are always there but you need to be able to look into the eyes of your audience and communicate with them that way.”

The festival has been growing each year, and saw some sold-out events in 2012.

This year’s schedule includes evenings of storytelling, workshops, a group walk in the Battery using the Inside Outside Battery app, a children’s storytelling event and Halloween party and a story slam at the Ship Pub Wednesday evening. Participants can put their name into a hat for the opportunity to tell a five-minute tale on stage, which is then graded on how well it is told and constructed by judges selected from the audience. This year’s theme is “Smokeroom on the Kyle” (participants get extra points for including either “The Kyle,” a smokeroom or the number 100, and the winner will receive $150.

A detailed schedule of events for this year’s festival is available online at

“There will be eclectic performances, and some stories that will stick in people’s brains for a long time, from the best storytellers,” Brookes said. “I think the best stories have a resonance that goes beyond just the mechanics of the stories themselves. They give you something to munch on; to think about.”

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Geographic location: Mount Pearl, Tors Cove, Happy Valley Goose Bay Newfoundland and Labrador North Harbour Quebec Ireland Victoria England

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