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Wendy Rose: That's all she wrote: St. John's storytelling festival concludes

Traveling to Newfoundland from British Columbia, Maggidah Shoshana Litman — a Jewish storyteller — performed at Tales From Near and Afar, part of the 2018 St. John’s Storytelling Festival.
Traveling to Newfoundland from British Columbia, Maggidah Shoshana Litman — a Jewish storyteller — performed at Tales From Near and Afar, part of the 2018 St. John’s Storytelling Festival. - Contributed

Local arts patrons have been busy these past two months, with Out of Earshot, the St. John’s Short Plays Festival, the Iceberg Alley Performance Tent Festival, the St. John’s International Circus Festival, the Festival of New Dance and the St. John’s Storytelling Festival running back-to-back, and sometimes overlapping.

The busy fall of festivals concluded this week in the capital city, when St. John’s Storytelling Festival finished up.

With 17 events beginning Oct. 9, the festival brought storytellers from across town and across the country to various locations around the city for workshops, socials, storytelling circles, children’s events, and more, including three events at seniors complexes and 13 shows at six local schools.

The final evening performance of the festival was “Tales of Near and Afar,” held at the Signal Hill Interpretation Centre and hosted by Fergus O’Byrne of Ryan’s Fancy.

Six storytellers, from Newfoundland, British Columbia, India via NL, and Nunavut entertained the crowd, spinning yarns ranging from child-friendly folklore to edge-of-your-seat thrillers.

After a song from O’Byrne, first-generation urban Inuit Tama Fost did a solo throat singing act, using a smartphone to record her singing, to then perform a duet with herself. Her use of new technology to present an ancient tradition showed Fost’s dedication to preserving her Indigenous culture in a millennial way.

Gaurav Madan, an Indian man now living in St. John’s, was next on the bill. He told a lengthy and gripping tale of the Bhangarh Fort and the surrounding folklore. Presented like a ghost story told around a campfire, Madan’s piece commanded a deep silence from his listeners.

The seriousness of Madan’s dark tale was contrasted by the next performer, Anne Glover (BC). Glover’s kid-friendly performance personified animals of the jungle, and was filled with jokes, puns, string art, and funny voices. Her show inspired child-like giggles from the adult crowd.

The hilarity and the personification of animals continued with Shoshana Litman (BC), who worked demons, angels, mythological creatures and a singalong into her performance.

Themes included peace, justice, mercy, and love, words that were covered in a Hebrew language lesson throughout the show.

The next set was a departure from the evening’s prior performances. Daze Jefferies wowed the crowd with her animal-themed story, focused on fish and “feeling fishy.” Jeffries’ piece, an exploration of identity told through the perspective of a codfish, was deeply moving, and thought-provoking.

All the way from Iqaluit, Nunavut, Ashley Savard finished out the night with a number of Inuk tales, typically scary stories meant to teach children valuable life lessons.

Telling spooky sagas of mythological beings and monsters, like the Qallupilluit, the Mahaha, and the Kiviuq, Savard’s relaxed set inspired laughter and amazement, with many attendees unaware of these phenomenal fictional tales of caution.

As he had done in between each performer’s set, O’Byrne finished out the show with a musical performance – a perfect ending to a wonderful festival of spinnin’ yarns.

The festival mostly concluded on the weekend, except for events for Francophone students today.

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