Beaufort Intergalactic Storytelling Festival begs the question: What is storytelling?

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comMarch 7, 2012 

  • The Beaufort Intergalactic Storytelling Festival & Liars Competitions runs March 8-10. For the full schedule of events, go to www.beaufortcountyarts.com

Storytelling isn't a play, but it can be just as dramatic. Storytelling isn't a song, but it can be put to music. Storytelling isn't stand-up comedy, but it can be funny.

Storytelling is many art forms stripped bare. It's just a storyteller and a story.

The Beaufort Intergalactic Storytelling Festival is four days of performances from some of the top storytellers in the nation. On Saturday, storytellers John McCutcheon, Dolores Hydock and Natalie Daise will be brought together for a panel discussion revolving around a single question. The question is simple, but the answer is complex: What is storytelling?

Storytelling has roots that stretch back thousands of years. Nowadays, a movie can tell a story in a much more complex way than words spoken around a fire. But what makes both instances engaging is the same thing: a good story.

"I find people really hunger for good stories," said musician and storyteller McCutcheon. "We get a lot of sound bites today. But that's what these storytelling festivals give people -- good stories."

Storytelling can seem old fashioned to some. It comes without the bells and whistles of Hollywood. But good storytelling can be just as captivating.

"When people encounter a good storyteller, they're enamored like the first time you heard a favorite song," said J.W. Rone, ARTworks director and force behind the Beaufort festival. "It brings us to a point of focus. How can it be that we can just focus on the words and the emotion and the movement and be suddenly whisked away?"

That connection between teller and audience is the essence of the art, storytellers say. A story is only as good as the audience's reaction, said Hydock, who's appeared at the prestigious National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro, Tenn.

Storytelling is like two hands clapping, she said. One hand is the storyteller; the other is the audience. Both need to come together for the action to be complete.

"The audience is as much part of the story as the teller," Hydock said. "It's like a conversation with the audience. Sometimes that conversation is easy. Other times, it's work to find out where we connect. All you can do is honestly, truthfully put it out there with some heart and see how people respond."

The stories Hydock tells come from many sources, such as folk tales, 800-year-old texts and personal research. Her most famous piece, which she'll perform at 6 p.m. Saturday at ARTworks, is "In Her Own Fashion." In it, Hydock tells the true stories of a 96-year-old fashion designer from Alabama, fully becoming the character. Like all the stories she tells, Hydock strives not only to make the character interesting, but something more that can resonate deeper with the audience.

"Someone once told me, 'A good story holds up a picture; a great story holds up a mirror,' " Hydock said.

Daise got into storytelling to preserve Gullah culture. She told stories for a while on television with her husband, Ron, on Nickelodeon's "Gullah Gullah Island." Nearly a decade ago, she spoke at a festival at the Library of Congress. She still tells stories these days, both Gullah folklore and tales from her life. Now, storytelling to her isn't just about preserving a culture, it's about bringing together seemingly disparate lives. An audience doesn't have to live around Gullah traditions to relate to the stories about the culture.

"When we tell stories," she said, "we can connect."

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