Storytellers find their distinctive voices at Bay Area festival slated
By Lou Fancher
We are all storytellers.
Inventing the future through science fiction and fantasies; reinventing the past with histories, myths, legends, "fish stories," fables, folk and fairy tales, the master craft of storytelling will be on full display at the Bay Area Storytelling Festival.
For three decades, the festival has thrived in the Bay Area's literary mélange, attracting oral storytellers from all over the world while operating for many years in El Sobrante's Kennedy Grove amphitheater, before moving to the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond.
This year's co-chair, Linda Yemoto, says the move to Orinda -- east of the Caldecott Tunnel for the first time ever -- has already introduced festival volunteers to a welcoming, flexible community.
"The city staff, parks and rec people, businesses -- they've all been wonderful," Yemoto says.
She's pleased that the new setting will offer nearby cafes and restaurants for festival guests to visit between events. Saturday's farmers market is a bonus, she says.
The three-day weekend offers opening and closing concerts with four featured guest storytellers, including London-based Clare Murphy, Oklahoma Choctaw and author Tim Tingle, New Orleans-born singer-songwriter Kate Campbell, and Hawaii's first poet laureate, Kealoha.
Musical "warm-ups" by local musicians will provide an "easy ambience and transition into storytelling concerts," Yemoto says. Solo performances, workshops and a vendor room where books and other items can be purchased fill the afternoon hours.
As the Bay Area storytelling movement evolved, a natural aging occurred, Yemoto says. But a younger generation is gravitating to the tradition. Their stories are broader, with more ethnic range, and a personal model of storytelling has become popular.
Kealoha is a good example of the passion and unusual personalities coming to the storytelling stage in the 21st century. An MIT graduate with a degree in nuclear physics and a minor in writing, he worked as a business consultant while surfing in the Pacific after attending college.
Discovering his voice in 2002, Kealoha plunged into the poetry world, appearing on HBO's "Brave New Voices" series, leading sold-out poetry slam events, co-writing and playing the lead role in the hip-hop theater production, "Chase," and developing a school curriculum while conducting workshops in schools, libraries, prisons and community centers.
"I'm excited to try out some new work," he says. "I've written a creation story that explains everything that has happened from the Big Bang until now. That's right, 13.7 billion years' worth of time all told in a theater show."
Kealoha's storytelling is often a fusion of science, poetry, movement, chanting, music and art or animation. Although videos of Kealoha in action show him to have the spontaneity of a jazz musician and the quicksilver dexterity of a pro basketball player or martial artist, he sticks close to the script.
He might make on-the-fly edits or substitute words for a younger audience, or change-up the syntax to suit a geographic region, but structure is essential, like the molecular models he used to study. The poem comes first, he says, and dictates the story's path into the oral realm.
"You just sort of know after writing something whether or not you can and should perform it -- whether it should be strictly for the page, or whether it is for both mediums," he says.
Recognizing that the digital age is a "huge player" in providing limitless information, Kealoha says it also bombards us with stories from various fields of science, art, politics, literature, culture, and more.
"Unless you have been hiding in a cave during the past couple of decades, you have certainly been exposed to new lines of thought," he says.
The rich weaving of words, a legacy of his ancestry, makes him grateful for the poet laureate designation. Surprised at the recognition, he believes a multidisciplinary approach to education -- like the one he has provided for himself -- will allow future generations of students to see how art, science and humanity are connected.