30th and final Bay Area Storytelling Festival from April 29-May 1
By Lou Fancher
"All good things must come to an end" is a poignant pronouncement of the final Bay Area Storytelling Festival.
Organizer Linda Yemoto says this is the Storytelling Association of California's 30th and final weekend-long, multicultural event.
"We're having a hard time finding young people to do the work," she says about the volunteer-run operation. "We decided at our 27th that we'd continue to our 30th and hope there'd be young people to shadow us and put in the hours to keep it going."
The festival moved to Orinda after being held for many years in El Sobrante's Kennedy Grove amphitheater, and briefly at the Craneway Pavilion.
New this year are sessions that run concurrently, and a larger selection of headliners and a closing night dance featuring the Gypsy Jazz Eclair de Lune Trio.
One aspect that remains unchanged since the festival's debut is an emphasis on diversity.
"It's not just diversity in ethnicity, but in style and the type of stories told. We have Asian, Brazilian and mime, tall tales, Appalachian, personal stories, African American -- and every one of them different in style," says Yemoto.
Among the guest storytellers, Antonio Rocha grew up in Brazil and tells stories involving jungle and mythical animals. His movement -- expressed through mime and whole body enactments -- Yemoto says is "mesmerizing."
Oakland-based Diane Ferlatte brings her native Louisiana heritage and resonant voice to stories that include humor, pathos, and empathy. Accompanied by a banjo player, the live soundtrack amplifies or counterpoints the imagery and message in her stories.
Another Bay Area teller, from San Francisco, is the two-person team of Eth-Noh-Tec, Nancy Wang and Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo. From ancient pan-Asian folk tales to contemporary Asian-American stories, the story theater company founded in 1982 is recognized for choreographed gestures and movements, musicality, and training in traditional and contemporary storytelling.
"Our stories are chosen by their content and the values they reveal such as greed, wisdom, foolishness, the environment, bullying, and more." says Wang. "In addition, we are introducing our young performance ensemble of five (members) who will perform four tales spread throughout the weekend. Most of the stories we will be doing are 5-to-15 minutes in length."
Wang says the training program is essential because Asians have lived in America for seven generations, and the country needs to know more than just the Euro and African American culture."This is why I've written 'Red Altar,' the story of my ancestors who started the fishing industry in 1850 in the Monterey Bay area, facing anti-Chinese violence and racism, both legal and illegal. Not many know this history at all."
Wang says her vision is for a world in which common truths are revealed and values like inclusion, compassion and awe are most honored.
Like most storytellers, Wang has a few favorites. A Cambodian origin myth, Trouble Talk, contains a message that human competition for power is the cause of the world's troubles.
"The story has man challenging fish," she begins. "Man won. He can swim better than fish can walk. Other animals heard about the contest. (Soon) you have bird challenging tiger, and so on, until man must prove his superiority. Since he can't fly or run as fast, he shows the animals his all-powerful fire and in the process destroys the earth's environment. Sound familiar? We tell this story so it is at first humorous and quirky and at the end, it is very serious. We often ask our audiences what is the real power then?"
Yemoto says the final festival is bittersweet. She predicts young people less interested in traditional forms will still be drawn to personal stories told in five minutes, and invigorate Bay Area storytelling for generations to come.