Tellabrate good times

Last Sunday night, all over the world, people congregated to collectively recognize the rare art of storytelling. Spanning 40 states and nine countries, the performances, collectively known as “Tellabration,” have been organized by the National Storytelling Network, and are held each year on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The Chicago variant, in its 14th recitation, was hosted by the Chicago Storyteller’s Guild at the Experimental Station on 61st and Blackstone. This year’s celebration included an adult-only session, but organizers were clear to specify in their invitations: “This means not that the stories will be off-color, but that the colors will perhaps be more vivid than would be appropriate for children.”

The evening included its fair share of traditional fairy and folk tales, but other accounts sprang from less predictable origins, inspired by everything from Homer’s Odyssey to Shakespeare’s King Lear, from life changing personal experiences to fleeting moments that sparked journeys to the farthest reaches of the imagination. There were song-stories and poem-stories, tales about love lost and about science, histories carried from the Solomon Islands and from the African continent.

Each of the performances was united through the teller’s enthusiasm and pleasure of spinning a well-crafted yarn.  It was a night filled with flying hand gestures, dramatic silences, whispers and yelps; people were genuinely passionate about sharing not just their experiences, but a great story.  Many of the performers were professionals, the business cards they had laid out proudly proclaiming “Storyteller.”  But more were simply individuals with a story to tell; a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago drawing from his anthropological work and a social worker imagining the death of his imaginary brother, a painter with a silly song of lust and an elementary school teacher in a fuss over a talking yam.

The stories and their tellers were unique, but everything seemed to revolve around a shared joy for that moment when the teller holds the entire fate of a person, a group, or an entire world in his words. (Isaac Dalke)