The 30-year-old collective geared towards rejuvenating the classic art of storytelling has a full long weekend lined up for the public, and at one of the capital city’s greatest locations to hear a good yarn.
The Alberta League Encouraging Storytelling, otherwise known appropriately as TALES, is bringing back the long-standing Storytelling Festival to Fort Edmonton Park on Sunday and Monday. Visitors to the park can enjoy some of the tallest tales from near and far abroad, both as a method of entertainment for the masses and also for keeping oral traditions alive.
RenĂ©e Englot is one of the organizers and a teller of stories in her own right, having been involved with the festival for several years now. She expects a solid crowd for the shows, and is not shy to divulge her motivations when asked what compels her about the world of storytelling.
“It always sounds bad … I quite enjoy performing,” she admitted. “I love being in front of an audience.”
Of course, she hasn’t always been on stage. She first fell in love with the cultural art form as an audience member, saying that it “takes you to another world.”
“A well-told story really helps you to just be in another place, imagine another life, and get right caught up in the story. I think we all love that right from our first bedtime stories as kids and we don’t stop loving it as grown-ups.”
The organization was founded as a grassroots festival, one of the few such festivals in North America that promotes oral storytelling both in the performing of it and also in the encouragement of training burgeoning practitioners through workshops and mentoring.
To support that cause, TALES has been putting on the festival since the mid-1980s. On the Labour Day weekend every year, visitors to Fort Edmonton Park can listen to some fine tales on four stages, including a storytelling concert on Sunday night. At the end of the weekend, attendees are encouraged to swap stories with anyone and everyone who is willing.
This year the theme is ‘Shaking the Story Tree’. Visitors can listen to folk and children’s stories from the Maritimes, Europe and China. These will all be read by amateur and professional storytellers like Calgary poets and singers Cassy Welburn and Joanna Drummond, Edmonton artist Laura O’Connor, and even St. Albert’s Kerry McPhail.
Englot is looking forward to Marie Anne McLean’s performance (with Kathy Jessup at 2 p.m. on Monday) – “She’s an expert in our field,” she exclaimed – but she’s certain that her own children will be keen on McPhail’s performance.
“That will definitely be high on my kids’ list as sets they want to see. She does some great things, getting young audiences involved and really building the story with them. She amazes me with her ability to think on her feet.”
Other performers include the east coast’s Dale Jarvis and Delf Hohmann who will be performing Newfoundland devil encounters and ‘bangbellies’, a colloquialism for a pudding or pancake but in this instance refers to a feast of stories and songs about food.
Kathleen Quinn and Caroline Stuart will relate some forest tales from Ireland, Turkey and Germany. Fairy tales and children’s rhymes will also get stage time thanks to Pearl-Ann Gooding, while Bethany Ellis will tell some rude and silly stories for the amusement of some, the dismay of others.
Englot herself has a few sets including some lively songs and animal stories before she hosts the story swap starting at 4 p.m. on Monday.
She sees this festival as an opportunity not to revive a lost art but as a way of keeping oral traditions alive for generations to come.
“I don’t think it’s dying at all but it is certainly under the radar of most people’s awareness. We’re hoping to bring more people into the fold.”
Fort Edmonton Storytelling Festival
Running Sunday, Sept. 2 to Monday, Sept. 3, from 1 to 5 p.m. both days
Fort Edmonton Park
Stages located along 1905 Street
Entry with regular admission to the park