North Texas Daily

Denton storytelling association keeps an ancient art alive

Denton storytelling association keeps an ancient art alive

Rev. Robert Jones

Denton storytelling association keeps an ancient art alive
March 30
17:49 2017

Texan storytellers preserve art of folklore and fable

With the power of their voice, a storyteller can take you into the eye of a tornado, a snarling lion’s den or simply at their family dinner table all from the comfort of your seat.

The Tejas Storytellers Association, a non-profit organization based in Denton, is upholding a generations-long tradition of oral storytelling as a “performing art and an educational tool.” In 1985, TSA founder and storyteller Finley Stewart initiated the first storytelling festival at the Denton Arts Center. 

A year later, TSA was born. It grew as a community for storytellers who come from all regions within Texas.

“[The TSA board] is almost all highly creative people, which means our bookkeeping is terrible and our planning falls by the wayside because we start saying ‘Hey, have you heard of this story?’” Gene Helmick-Richardson, storyteller and former president, said, with a laugh. “Despite being led by a herd of cats, we’ve managed to survive 30 years.”

Since its establishment, TSA’s community has grown, garnering storytellers from different backgrounds and telling styles. Now comprised of 210 members, TSA is spreading their love of storytelling to a captivated audience.

“A story program builds community,” storyteller and artistic director Mary Grace Ketner said. “Everyone in the room is united in following the tale. You can see it in the eyes of listeners as they become lost in the story.”

The origins of storytelling stretch back to ancient times, around crackling fires and local villagers. Storytellers often accompany their various tales with singing, dancing or theatrical performances to invite audiences into new worlds.

Stories can range from personal anecdotes and family happenings to Biblical tales, Western folklore or Native American stories.

“When you tell a story, you go to a certain place and you join with those certain characters in your mind,” storyteller Melanie Davenport said. “When you take a group of people with you, it’s a wonderful [experience].”

TSA has attracted listeners and storytellers from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas. It’s gathered together a wide variety of people intrigued by its community-centered qualities.

“Stories touch our hearts,” Ketner said. “They make us laugh and cry and ponder. They pass along our values to our children. They provide insight into the lives of others and help us see the commonalities among ourselves and among the world’s cultures.”

Audience interaction is a key part of oral storytelling. As the storyteller draws in their listeners, the listeners too, elevate the story with their participation.

Ketner said that’s hard for some people who have such a passion for storytelling.

“Even a person like me, not exactly shy but reluctant to be the center of attention, feels it,” Ketner said. “Your heart drives you to excellence. You just can’t bear the thought that you might fail your listeners. They are depending upon you to keep the magic alive.”

Storytellers that are a part of the TSA community have seen the stories manifest themselves into their own perspectives on life.

“I’ve found that telling folktales have helped me express my own emotions and work through my own conflicts just from having studied down how others from the ages handled social situations and problems that they encountered,” Davenport said.

From generation to generation, daughters to sons, Helmick-Richardson said these tales act as a guiding light for humans overall.  

One of the best things about storytelling, according to TSA, is the fact that you can tell stories from centuries ago and they still apply to modern life.

“Without a strong narrative culture, there wouldn’t be human beings as we know them today,” Helmick-Richardson said. “It inspires us to do better and to follow our wiser and more ancient self as described by the fables of Aesop, the parables of the Bible, the Jataka tales of India — it goes on and on.”

Storytellers continue to preserve this oral tradition from a strong belief in its ability to bind together people and their communities. Especially in an increasingly technological world, oral storytelling is proving to be an organic way of passing on knowledge and experience through an interactive experience.

“Humans are storytelling animals,” Helmick-Richardson said. “We’re not the biggest, not the fastest and we’re not the brightest of all the animals on the planet, but we do dumb things and if we sit down and [tell stories about it], we can pass that down onto our children and our village.”

TSA will hold its annual Texas Storytelling Festival at the Denton Civic Center in 2018. Storytellers from numerous states will be performing. For more festival information, check out their calendar.

Featured Image: Rev. Robert Jones tells a story. Amy Roh

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Amy Roh

Amy Roh

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