By Andrea McGuire
On Tuesday evening, the festival began with a Story Circle held above Rocket Bakery. Three storytellers—host Kelly Russell, Sharon King-Campbell, and Anne Glover—were slated to tell their stories in turn, along with anyone who wished to join the circle as part of the open mic. Nine storytellers were heard all told, including Dave Paddon, Stella Mair Evans, Patrick Kennedy, Gaurav Madan, Karen Carroll, and Angus Anderson.
The stories were set in both the faraway past and the here and now. We heard true life tales of incredible feats (such as running from Quebec City to Montreal in five days straight!), recitations about vegan sea creatures and talking ninja caplin, and a Jack tale explaining how Jack, the fairies, and the leprechauns came together and outsmarted some dastardly land developers. We heard folktales from way back when, a heartfelt ode to molasses and bread, and a modern day meeting of wits on Water Street. As they told their tales, some storytellers wielded mittens and rhyming couplets, while others used concertinas and string. But whatever their means, each teller unquestionably held the rapt attention of the room.
Kelly Russell began the Story Circle, leading with his memories of renowned fiddler Rufus Guinchard. At the time of their meeting, Kelly was 19 and Rufus was 77, and Kelly introduced himself by way of playing one of Rufus’ tunes, which he’d learned from a tape in MUN’s Folklore Archive. After describing this iconic moment, Kelly went on to play that very tune. At first, I almost felt taken aback—were we really listening to the tune that had started it all, before the duo began touring internationally? Kelly continued, telling more stories of tunes before playing the tunes—including how Rufus once woke him with a tune suddenly remembered (“Kelly, Kelly, wake up! I got another one!”) Every melody felt more and more resonant.
The next featured storyteller, Sharon King-Campbell, told stories about her grandfather, Frank, a well-read man with “long arms and nimble fingers” from Stratford, Ontario. Whether he was riding barrels over Niagara Falls to prove his sea legs, or winning bets for his vocabulary, Frank’s ingenuity always shone through. Sharon’s stories unfolded like folk tales set in the 1930s, and Frank’s tricky triumphs were easy to root for.
Anne Glover, the last featured storyteller, wowed the crowd with her characteristic “string stories”— stories wherein key images and characters are formed through the manipulation of cat’s cradle-style string. Anne can loop string into houses and chairs, turtles and dogs. She can make a knotted bird slowly fly through the sky. What’s more, Anne performed all the characters in her story—including a snake, a chicken, and the mythical Anansi spider, amongst others—with total conviction. As Anne showed her string images around the room, taking care that everyone could see, I was reminded of seeing a picture book read aloud. But with Anne’s stories, the images are created in real time—you can witness the construction—and the looped figures carry a certain timelessness, while hinting at just enough of a form to spark images in the viewer’s mind.
Anne Glover’s string stories are truly not to be missed. She’s leading a string storytelling workshop on Thursday evening (October 11), telling stories to kids (and adults, as she assured us!) on Friday afternoon (October 12), and telling stories for Francophone toddlers and parents on Wednesday, October 17. For more details, click here!