Thursday, October 16, 2008

Storytelling Festival at Fredonia Opera House

Fredonia Storytelling Festival to Feature Noted Storyteller Willy Claflin

FREDONIA – Spoken word performances are drawing crowds in recent years thanks to events like poetry slams and hip-hop inspired jams. But the forerunner of all these events – good, old-fashioned storytelling – also is experiencing a huge resurgence in popularity.

Willy Claflin, one of the country’s finest storytellers, will headline this year’s Fredonia Storytelling Festival at the 1891 Fredonia Opera House on Oct. 17 & 18. Claflin will be featured in a special free storytelling program for kids and an evening Storytelling Cabaret for adults. He also will offer a master class for tellers looking to hone their craft.

“Engage your imagination” is the underlying theme of the Festival. “After all, that’s what storytelling is all about,” says Rick Davis, Fredonia Opera House executive director. “Whether it’s to a child at bedtime, to a neighbor over the back fence or to an audience in a concert setting, storytelling is putting the imagination into words.”

Big Fish
The Festival kicks off on Friday, Oct. 17 with a special screening of the movie “Big Fish” at 7 p.m. In the movie, Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) returns to his family home in Alabama, having spent the past three years not talking to his father, Edward (Albert Finney). Dying, Edward recounts his life story in his own unique, exaggerated way, full of fantastic events. As Will tries to get to know his father and find the truth, he discovers that his father did indeed lead an extraordinary life and that his storytelling was his finest achievement.
The film also is part of Family Night at the Movies which features films based on books. “This film initially was scheduled as part of our Family Night Movie Series, but because a central focus of the movie is a father’s stories to his son, we thought it would be a great way to kick off this year’s Storytelling Festival,” says Davis. Admission is free.

Out of Thin Air: Making up Your Own Stories
In the master class “Out of Thin Air,” Claflin presents storytellers with a fool-proof recipe for cooking up their own original stories. Participants make lists of problems and characters (both human and animal), cut them up and shuffle them, pick random combinations and set their protagonists out to seek their fortunes. With unexpected plots in hand, a series of games and exercises add detail. And finally, tellers learn how to tell the tale in a confident fashion without having to memorize every word. This class is limited to 25 participants and will be held Saturday, Oct. 18, at 9 a.m. The cost is $25.

Willy Claflin & Friends
In “Willy Claflin & Friends” Claflin and his sidekick, Maynard Moose, entertain the kid in all of us. A teacher in the 1960s and 70s known for his creative curriculum, Claflin created and utilized puppets; Maynard Moose, Boring Beaver, Socklops, Dr. Al and Gorf all invaded his classroom persona and made great teaching assistants. These puppets later criss-crossed the country as Claflin began his professional storytelling career.
This family storytelling event will be held at 2 p.m. on Sat., Oct. 18, and will feature some of Claflin’s most requested stories for family audiences. Admission is free, but tickets are required.

A Storytelling Cabaret
Capping off the Festival on Saturday, Oct. 18 at 7:30 p.m. is A Storytelling Cabaret. Hosted by Doug Manly, this adults-only event features Claflin and includes regional storytellers Dennis Collins and Sharon Holley in an evening of wild and witty stories designed to tickle your funny bone and make you laugh out loud. The $10 ticket includes a post-show reception with the storytellers and light refreshments.

Claflin is a nationally recognized storyteller with a long list of credits. He has released nine recordings which have earned a combined total of two Parents’ Choice Gold Awards, two Storytelling World Awards, a National Parenting Publications Gold Award, a recognition by the American Library Association as a Notable Children’s Recording and a citation as a Recommended Release in Billboard Magazine.

In 2001, Claflin was in Jakarta, Indonesia, for a residency at the International School. That fall he was a headliner at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn., where he returned as a featured teller in 2002, 2004 and 2006. In 2007, he headlined National Story Night which kicks off the Festival.

A hit at regional festivals all over the country and at the International Storytelling Festival in Cape Clear, Ireland, Claflin continues performing in concert venues and schools. Students of his from every corner of the globe have become teachers and storytellers, perpetuating his love of story and absurdity.

Manly is the former CEO of RHM Grocery Products, which owned Red Wing and three other food processing companies. A resident of Fredonia for more than 50 years, he became interested in doing stand-up comedy for retirement communities four years ago and has served as emcee of cabaret events for the Storytelling Festival for the past several years.

Collins is a retired elementary teacher, with experience telling stories for audiences ranging from preschool children to senior citizens. As a storyteller, he has toured libraries, schools and summer camps in New York and Pennsylvania for 15 years. Collins tells stories for all ages that attempt to unite, heal and illustrate the connection between people.

Holley is a storyteller and librarian who also performs with Karima Amin as part of “We All Storytellers.” Originally from High Springs, Fla., she is responsible for city branches and outreach services of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. A founding and performing member of Spin-a-Story-Tellers of Western New York and Tradition Keepers: Black Storytellers of Western New York, she is also a member of the National Association of Black Storytellers, for which she has served on the Board of Directors.

Portions of the Fredonia Storytelling Festival are sponsored by the D.R. Barker Library and the Fredonia Teachers Association and by Ann & Doug Manly. Tickets for all events may be reserved or purchased in person at the Opera House Box Office or by phone at 716-679-1891, Tuesday through Friday, 1-5 p.m. and Saturday, 2-5 p.m. They also may be purchased online any time at

Chautauqua County’s only year-round performing arts center, the 1891 Fredonia Opera House is a member-supported not-for-profit organization located in Village Hall in downtown Fredonia. A complete schedule of events is available at

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