The Dexter District Library is hosting a free storytelling concert titled, “A Little Bit of Twain with a Little Bit of Thurber,” featuring storytellers Jane Fink and Steve Daut, on March 1 at 7:00 p.m.
When I heard about the event, it sounded like fun and I was intrigued to learn more. I contacted Jane Fink who agreed to sit down a few minutes to talk about her event and the art of storytelling.
Jane has had a love for telling stories all of her life. “I started telling stories when I was five-years-old to anybody who would listen. I would gather up kids in my neighborhood and make them sit on my grass and I’d tell them a story. Sometimes it went well; sometimes it didn’t,” she says laughing.
She credits her zeal for storytelling to her Welsh heritage. “The Welsh, like the Irish,” she says, “are known for their storytelling. It’s in my blood. I just love a good story.”
One of the reasons she loves storytelling so much, and is so good at it, is that she actually sees the story playing out in front of her. As it plays out, Jane relays what she is seeing to the audience comparing the process of storytelling to sharing the highlights of a good book with a friend – putting it in your own words while maintaining the essence of the message.
“Story telling is an ancient art,” Jane explains. “Before people wrote down their history, they passed along their story to the next generation through oral tradition. That was how one generation carried forward the traditions and beliefs and ideas of that last generation.”
The word “storytelling,” conjures up all sorts of images, from someone reading a book aloud to a child, a grandparent telling yarns of “when I was your age”, or maybe something along the lines of a children’s sermon in church. Jane makes it clear this isn’t that.
“It isn’t reciting,” she tells me. “When I tell a James Thurber story, I don’t tell it word for word. His language is cumbersome. It’s a little outdated. I take the essence of his story and tell it in my own words so that it’s still his story. I’ve modified it to be heard instead of read.”
I asked Jane how she addresses some of the cultural differences found especially in literature generations ago when acceptable values and mindset of that day could be viewed as offensive in today’s world.
“I don’t change the culture,” she says, “but sometimes I explain it.” She uses one of her favorite sources for stories, James Thurber, as an example. “His stories about a married couple usually have a wife who is quite shrewish. Well, I don’t want people thinking Thurber must have been a misogynist so I’ll give a brief introduction to the story that explains the literary, historical, and cultural context.”
Jane is a member of the Ann Arbor Storytellers Guild. The Guild was formed 28 years ago by a group of teachers and librarians whose profession already had them involved with telling stories to children but who wanted to take the imagination-provoking art form of storytelling up to the adult level.
The Guild has grown to about 80 members and meets once a month. They are a very supportive group of each other’s talents as members hone their craft. There are lots of opportunities to practice storytelling and feedback is only given upon request.
Members of the Guild put on small events called “a taste of storytelling” throughout the year in anticipation of their big concert in the Fall. This year, the Ann Arbor Storytellers Guild’s main event is November 9th at Trinity Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor.
Although it is performance art, storytelling is more about audience engagement than it is about performance. The house lights are up. There may be some interaction with audience members. “I always tell a story with the audience in mind,” says Jane. “If I can bring a moment of laughter, provoke a thought, or get somebody to see things a little different than they did before, that to me is successful storytelling.”
There are two kinds of concerts: General storytelling concerts are aimed at ages 14 and up. “Smaller children will get squirmy,” says Jane. There are “family concerts” which are geared towards young children. Jane’s concerts are geared more toward the 14+ age group.
The March 1st event will be Jane’s third concert at Dexter District Library.
You can learn more about the Ann Arbor Storytellers Guild by visiting their website.