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Story Time

A day of “once upon a times” and “happily ever afters” is scheduled for this Saturday’s Storytelling Festival from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Hillsborough High School, 5000 Central Ave., Tampa.The event is produced by the Tampa-Hillsborough County Storytelling Festival Committee, the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System and the City of Tampa Recreation Department and Creative Arts Theater.

The annual event – now in its 22nd year – draws on the voluntary participation of individuals both young and old. It’s designed to give storytellers a way to share family histories, old tales and new adventures. Tellers are given center stage and can dance, sign or sing their way through the tales.

“We always emphasize that storytelling is not just for children,” said Gladys Varga, community representative for the festival committee. “We like to see the general public as well as the parents of the children telling the stories.”

In addition to the young storytellers, more than 30 professional storytellers will be present at this weekend’s festival to offer a demonstration of their talent as well as free workshops to improve visitors’ storytelling.

Feature storyteller for this year’s event is Donald Davis, a nationally-known tale teller. The festival committee has spent several years trying to book him for the event but was always turned down because of his busy schedule.

“We’re really excited to get him this year,” said Varga.The father of four is a recognized storyteller at the Smithsonian Institute and the World’s Fair.

“I didn’t learn stories, I just absorbed them,” he said in the festival news release. Davis grew up hearing about the adventures of his Uncle Frank, a man who “talked in stories.”

“I discovered that in a story, I could safely dream any dream, hope any hope, go anywhere I pleased, fight any foe, win or lose, live or die,” said Davis. “My stories created a safe experimental learning place.”

That is the purpose of storytelling, said Davis. It’s a way of giving and living life.

Such is the feeling for many local, younger storytellers. The annual area festival draws the participation of talented storytellers, most under high school age.

This past weekend, youth storyteller Morgan Cheek, a fifth grader at Lee Elementary, competed as a national semi-finalist in the National Storytelling Youth Olympics in Fresno, Calif.

“It is a great honor to recognize a community endeavor that has its roots in the mid-1950s,” said Nancy Kavanaugh, executive director for the National Storytelling Network. “Everyone in the Tampa-Hillsborough County community should stand tall when the accomplishments of the Tampa-Hillsborough County Storytelling Festival are mentioned.”

Teachers across the county, as well as individual participants involved with storytelling outside of school, have been gearing up for this weekend’s festival. Of the days’ worth of storytelling that will be given, approximately 75 percent is from the youngsters.

Opening ceremonies begin at 9:30 a.m., the Storybook Character Parade winds through at 12:15 p.m., and a puppet show will be performed at 12:30 p.m. Performances from the professional and youth storytellers will be continuous throughout the day.

The festival committee reports that volunteers are no longer needed – especially because students from USF classes will already be participating for class credit – but the event is still open to the public. It would be especially beneficial, said committee members, to college-aged students with an interest in childhood education.

“It’s really rewarding to see those kids. They’re so excited; you can just see the excitement beaming from them,” said Varga. “That’s why we’re really doing this. It’s for the kids.”

Contact Danielle Ritchie at oraclefeatures@yahoo.com