The South Carolina coast’s second-annual Intergalactic Storytelling Festival and Liars Competition celebrates oral traditions next weekend.
by Judy Garrison
“The humorous story is strictly a work of art – high and delicate art – and only an artist can tell it, but no art is necessary in telling the comic and the witty story. Anybody can do it. The art of telling a humorous story – understand, I mean by word of mouth, not print – was created in America, and has remained at home.” – Mark Twain
In 1865, Twain introduced Simon Wheeler, Jim Smiley and a frog that was the champion jumper of Calaveras County. These two fellers and a 5-pound frog altered the future chain of storytelling. Twain’s knack for the narrative was followed by Georgia’s Joel Chandler Harris, who culled his Uncle Remus stories from his childhood, imparting local observations linked with tales of old.
In Beaufort, South Carolina, tales are leaping off the page and onto the stage. In its second year, the Intergalactic Storytelling Festival and Liars Competition carries on Southern traditions of quirky authors, witty bards, fabulous fibbers and irreverent narrators, all bound and determined to showcase Beaufort’s oral traditions – nationally, internationally and hopefully beyond.
Sit Back and Listen
When the audible cadence rises on the evening of April 11, the audience will be enchanted, intrigued and entertained with headliners like internationally known Bil Lepp from West Virginia, local Natalie Daise and naturalist from North Carolina Doug Elliott. On Friday and Saturday, the storytelling troupe from Beaufort Middle School spins ghost stories and folk tales like The Hairy Toe. There will be plenty of music, demonstrations and children’s activities, all leading up to Sunday’s grand finale, the Liars Competition.
“Storytelling is a universal art form,” says JW Rone, executive director of ARTworks, which puts on the event. “It’s important to give people an opportunity to tell their own story.” As the festival nears, he observes storytellers as they “come out of the woodwork. Anyone can tell a story, and everyone has a story to tell,” he adds.
The festival stage parlays regular people into storytellers and allows the audience to sit back and enjoy. Since Beaufort is the Kazoo Capital of the country, miniature colored kazoos serve as admission tickets, and blowing in place of clapping is encouraged.
“Storytelling is so uncomplicated and healthy,” says ARTworks Publicity Director Lisa Rentz. “It’s people talking, entertaining each other, being authentic.”
Take a Deep Breath
ARTworks has been on a year-long mission of storytelling, thanks to an anonymous foundation grant. The arts council of Beaufort, Port Royal and the Sea Islands has hosted national level storytellers as well as many literary festivals, but this year, they will be teaching children the art of concocting a tale.
In her classroom as well as in her own life, Beaufort educator Christine Warner believes telling tales is a way to pass stories on to other generations. “I have a 4-year-old son who enjoys listening and learning from the stories I tell,” she says. “It is my hope that he will carry these stories on to his children and grandchildren one day so that I can have a part in their lives long after I am gone.”
As she works with students, Warner sharpens their skills of patience, perseverance and listening. “They have taken the bare bones stories and added details to turn the stories into works of art,” she explains. “We have learned about voice mechanics, facial expressions, use of space, timing and pacing, and characterization. Listening to great storytellers is the key. The next step is taking a deep breath.”
Don’t Let the Truth Stand in the Way of a Good Story
“I’ve been a storyteller all my life,” says Natalie Daise, visual artist, storyteller and lowcountry resident.
She and her husband, Ron, have been weaving tales and entertaining millions for almost 30 years. Best known for Nick Jr.’s program “Gullah Gullah Island,” they share their cultural heritage and love of South Carolina’s coast with anyone who will listen. “I love Beaufort,” Daise says. “I love the way the air smells. I love the water. I love the small townness of it. I love the sense of connectedness that native Gullah and Beaufort folk have, the way they are so casual about their ancestors and their connection to the land. My husband’s family is so connected that I would almost swear that Spanish moss grows along their hairline.”
Daise will be sharing Stories People Have Told Me, along with other Southern tales, primarily those with a personal and traditional resonance.
“The opportunity to tell one’s story and to recognize themselves in other’s stories meets a basic human need to be heard and understood. I love social media, but it cannot take the place of the oral tradition. There is something about this, the oldest art form, that connects us in a deeper way than other forms of story.”
Daise may be a headliner, but then there’s the competitors. First-time liar competitor 70-year-old Jim Gibson is a Beaufort native and retired litigation attorney who takes encouragement from his grandchildren before he takes the stage.
“They have always loved my stories and ask me to tell the same ones over and over,” he says. “My mother and her family were all great storytellers who never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.”
As with most saga spinners, content originates from life experiences and everyday moments. “I enjoy cooking barbecue,” explains Gibson, “and the many long hours around a pit were passed by storytelling. Storytelling is a part of our Southern culture that is a part of all of us. Just like the way we cook, it should be preserved and carried on. A Southerner who can’t tell a good story or at least enjoy one is like having fat-free barbecue and washing it down with unsweetened ice tea.”
From Doug Elliot’s lowcountry anecdotes of the root doctor to Natalie Daise’s accounts of the Gullah experience, Beaufort’s tell-abration promises to be Earth shattering. And those out in the universe – beyond the national and international scope – are welcome too. “We’re still waiting for first contact, but when they do, we’re sure they will have a story to tell,” quips Rone.
Take your listening position at the 2nd annual Intergalactic Storytelling Festival and Liars Competition, April 11-14, at the Beaufort Town Center. Tickets range from $5-12, and all-access passes are also available. Click here to order online.
Photo Credits: Kazoos and Natalie Daise courtesy of ARTworks of Beaufort, South Carolina.
Judy Garrison is a travel writer based out of Athens, Georgia. Visit her website to find out more about her and the Seeing Southern project, stories about Southern people, celebrations and family gatherings.