Once upon a time 

Rocky Mountain Storytelling Festival keeps imaginations alive

click to enlarge Pat Mendoza, one of this years featured storytellers.
  • Pat Mendoza, one of this years featured storytellers.

Stories are not only a natural part of our lives, but they form a part of our collective conscience. We tell stories daily, to co-workers, friends, family members and even strangers while waiting in the grocery line. A well-told story can be recalled years later, the story itself more memorable than the person who told it. Stories are how disparate parts of a society can relate to one another.

Young, old and disparate folks alike can participate in the Rocky Mountain Storytelling Festival, an event that celebrates the everyday amusement, encouragement and enlightenment offered by the exchange of stories. It's a two-day extravaganza, with events taking place in Castle Rock on Friday, July 30, and in Palmer Lake on Saturday, July 31.

The festival, now in its 16th year, acts as a proper orientation for those unfamiliar with the art. Through a series of workshops and performances, even the most inexperienced storytellers can acquire basic know-how.

Those who start in the middle of a story and plow on through to the end could benefit from a beginner workshop. Or, if you're already pretty good at spinning yarns, you can attend the advanced workshop to refine your talent. If you prefer to simply listen and don't relish the thought of having multiple pairs of eyes trained on you, then just sit back and enjoy the evening concerts.

Every year, festival director John Stansfield invites a different crew of storytellers to run workshops and perform at the concerts. This year the festival will feature Opalanga Pugh, Pat Mendoza and Susan Kaplan, all based out of Denver.

Mendoza has been practicing the art of storytelling for 28 years. His longtime passion had its roots in a strange beginning -- a gig at a " redneck joint" in South Carolina where he was hired on as a singer/storyteller/bouncer. Not only was he expected to entertain the unruly crowd, but also, if a fight erupted, he'd have to drop his guitar and go break it up.

Mendoza's current life is a far cry from those rocky beginnings. He travels the world performing, writes well-received books, and collaborates with groups like the Colorado Chorale. Mendoza believes that the truth makes good stories. He also has a credo that all performers should stick to: "Always give back what you take from your audience. Put some heart in it. If you can't do that, you won't be that successful."

Kaplan was drawn to storytelling through her background as a social worker. In this line of work, Kaplan says she "experienced the power of stories and found a lot of healing, a feeling of 'Oh, I'm not alone, it's not just me.' Stories form nice connections between people."

Kaplan is conscious of the fact that children will determine the future of storytelling and there is a lot at stake.

"Kids are having their imaginations robbed," she said. "With TV and video games, their minds are being filled with other people's stories." Workshops like those offered by the festival will help children generate their own stories and perhaps even restore a sense of self and enliven creativity. That's something adults could use too in an age where the unique power of the story is often taken for granted.

-- Tamara Matthews

capsule Rocky Mountain Storytelling Festival

Friday, July 30

Miller Public Library, 100 S. Wilcox St., Castle Rock

9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., children's workshop (age 9 and up); 5:30 p.m., brown bag story swap; 7 p.m., evening concert

Saturday, July 31

Palmer Lake Elementary School, 115 Upper Glenway, Palmer Lake

8 a.m., registration opens; 9:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., beginner and advanced workshops; 3 p.m., family concert; 4:30 p.m., story swap; 7 p.m., variety concert

For more info visit www.coloartists.org/festival or call 866/462-1727.


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