The first storytelling troupe met at the Irish Rose earlier this month, just a handful of adults enjoying the pub in Beaufort Town Center. This first troupe is more than a bit different than the rest, which will be centered on students in the schools. But hot Irish coffee on a wintry Sunday afternoon was a fitting launch.
Liz Entwistle and Brenda McClung-Merritt attended just to listen and enjoy.
"I've attended a lot of events here in Beaufort, at ARTworks and Paris Avenue and the film festival," Entwistle said. "You can get so close to the music and the performers, and you don't have to pay $80 just to sit way in the back. I once saw Ella Fitzgerald with binoculars at the Hollywood Bowl. I want to hear people. It's good for the soul."
Too many people miss good events in Beaufort, she added.
Dennis Wilkins joined because he's preparing for the BIG Liars Competition in April. He competed last year, too. "I love the idea that you can stand up in front of a bunch of people and look them in the eye," he said, and then proceeded to try out a story about the Wilkins Sisters, as he and his brother were dubbed during bootcamp at Fort Jackson in Columbia. "The middle of the state is an oven," he mentioned, quite correctly. What he likes about the Liars Competition is that it's hard to say whether the tellers are lying. The material usually falls into two categories: personal stories and retelling fables.
"I spent 35 years in sales, traveling a lot," Wilkins said. "I can take any day and have a story, not about the sales, but about the experience." Then he ruminated aloud about his father, a lineman running to hop onto the trains where he worked.
"Did he have all his fingers?" JW Rone asked. In addition to his role at ARTworks, Rone long has been a storyteller, and an admirer of storytellers even longer, so he knows details are important. We all then discussed the inspiration, career, and museums of Will Rogers for a while.
In last year's Liars Competition, Kristal Norris won with her own rewrite of "Hansel und Gretel." This accomplishment inspires Wilkins is his quest for new material, to take an old story "and put a twist on it," he said. "I've got an Uncle Remus story I hope will fly."
At the mention of Uncle Remus, someone sang out "Zippety-doo-dah," and Entwistle told a quick one about how she happened to run into Walt Disney in California and got her picture taken with him. Although she had already declared she was attending only to listen, she soon was telling us about Las Vegas in the 1950s, too. Listening to stories has a way of warming up your own memories.
"You can learn a lot from people," said McClung-Merritt, another avowed listener. "Some people have really good imaginations."
She soon was telling about the saga of her mother and the challenge of cooking hogs head, of finding a big enough pot, and of taking things literally.
Rone pointed out that Maria Benac and Natalie Daise retold Uncle Remus stories at the BIG Story Fest last year, giving all the more reason to use that source. "Stories are so personal. People who are touched by these stories are moved to share them." The stories reach the next person, Rone said, because they're built on morals.
The storytelling tradition is as dynamic as a football field. It's a sport where everyone can try out, where the training can be done at a pub or a desk, where the listeners and tellers choose their own starting positions, and the whistles are bluebirds on your shoulder.
Lisa Annelouise Rentz works for ARTworks, the arts council of Beaufort, Port Royal and the Sea Islands, and can be reached at 843-379-2787.