“No, no! The adventures first; explanations take such a dreadful time.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Nothing ruins a story like excess exegesis. Bring on the oral storytellers, who aren’t burdened with reciting scholarly footnotes.
The 17th Ojai Storytelling Festival, after taking a year off while founder Brian Bemel lived in Spain to learn Spanish (ask him to share his adventures), has returned. Several storytellers who make a career out of their narrative skills, without pontificating, will keep audiences chuckling, weeping and pondering from Sept. 7 to 10. Any lessons learned tend to wind themselves into hearts rather than brains.
“You’re gonna laugh, feel, connect,” said Kim Weitkamp, one of the 2017 storytellers. “Storytelling brings us to a place where we’re all on universal ground. Whatever your political and religious views, you’re feeling the same things, and that’s freakin’ powerful.”
The power-packed lineup (all except Weitkamp have been to the festival before) also includes:
- Bill Harley, a Grammy-winning humorist and musician;
- Motoko, who tells folktales and reminisces about her childhood in Japan and immigration to the U.S.;
- Samite, a humanitarian and East African musician (kalimba, marimba, litungu and various flutes);
- Antonio Rocha, a storyteller/mime from Brazil;
- Dovie Thomason, an award-winning artist who grew up hearing Native American stories from her Kiowa Apache and Lakota relatives; and
- Niall de Búrca, an award-winning Irish humorist.
Weitkamp is a speaker, humorist and singer-songwriter from Virginia with a honeyed Southern accent and liberal (but not political) approach to storytelling.
“I think every generation has their forms of storytelling,” she said, “from hieroglyphics to grunts around the fire, Lucille Ball, M*A*S*H, videogaming, Yo-Yo Ma. I embrace all stories.”
She avoids polarizing topics. “I am purposeful in that I speak to red, to blue, high to low income, young to old,” she said. “Audiences tend to be vast in type and demographic. One of my jobs as a storyteller is to bring peace, and pull community together in the moment, which is one of the most profound things we can do right now.”
While most evening festival performances will still take place under the oaks at Libbey Park, this year many daytime events have been moved inside the Ojai Art Center to allow for more intimacy.
Along with performances, the festival features workshops, concerts and special events, such as “Raw Tales” with three winners of the Los Angeles Moth Grand SLAM; and “Bodies Unbound,” a one-woman theater production by Cynthia Waring.
Themed storytelling shows include “Laughing Night” with all the tellers going for giggles, “From Japan to Brazil” with Motoko and Rocha, “High Energy Tales” with Weitkamp and de Burca and “Music and Stories” with Harley and Samite.
Also returning is the late-night “Naughty Tales” (10 p.m. on Sept. 9), an adults-only opportunity to hear de Burca, Motoko and Weitkamp deliver stories for not-so-innocent ears. Wine, hors d’oeuvres, coffee and dessert are included.
“Naughty” is “a matter of interpretation,” Bemel said. “It’s mostly tales of love and romance — more suggestive than anything else, and not vulgar.”
Weitkamp said her portion of “Naughty” might include a tale about “my parents sending us to the candy store so they could have sex. It’s a story that works for 10-year-olds to 90-year-olds.” Attendees must be 21 or older to attend “Naughty Tales,” however, so leave the tweens at home.
Weitkamp is looking forward to stepping over the comedy edge during “Naughty Tales.” “I don’t normally get a chance to do that,” she said. “Most festivals don’t want to offend anybody so they can invite everybody.”
We were promised no overt lessons, but Bemel does feel the need to repeat his ongoing lesson about storytelling: “It’s not someone reading a book to kids, and it’s really more for adults.”
And it’s still more about adventure than explanation.
The Ojai Storytelling Festival will take place Sept. 7-10. For tickets, venues, schedule and more information, visit www.ojaistoryfest.org.