The art of the spoken word is being shared this week by two international storytellers.
Donna Jacobs Sife and Ed Stivender are in Southland for this year’s Celebrate Story, presented by the Southland Council of the New Zealand Literacy Association.
The tellers have performed a Family Concert and Meet The Tellers night, along with visiting schools throughout the region, and their final performance is an Adults’ Concertat Repertory House tomorrow night.
From Sydney, Jacobs Sife said she had been to New Zealand many times before as a storyteller, but this was her first time visiting Southland.
Also a writer and peace worker, Jacobs Sife said several big themes were reflected in the stories she tells, including living in harmony.
“My niche as a storyteller is about how to be a human being, sort of conflict and justice and peace and grace.”
She travelled all over the world telling, including in South Africa, Israel and Palestine, and also worked for multi-faith diversity education organisation Together For Humanity, she said.
“The work that I do will be reflected and talked about a little in the programme and then the stories to illustrate the skills and techniques of living in a diverse world.”
Jacobs Sife said she got into storytelling by following her heart.
“I didn’t even know there was such a thing as storytelling when I was young, but I started to teach religion, Jewish studies, and I just thought that stories was the best way to do it.”
This is also the first time in Southland for Stivender, whose storytelling career has taken him to the North Island, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Austria and Indonesia.
However, he said most of his work was in the United States.
Originally from Philadelphia, Stivender said he became a storyteller in 1977, then hit the national stage in 1980 after being invited to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee.
“I’ve been doing shows ever since.”
His original work as a storyteller was his own versions of traditional material, such as folklore or scripture, he said. He also had stories about growing up Catholic, which came from his book Raised Catholic (Can You Tell?)
Armed with a frailing banjo, he said he also drew on American classical stories from the likes of O Henry and Mark Twain and loved doing improvisation based on audience suggestion.
“My main idea of storytelling is it’s kind of a dance with the audience, the teller says something and the audience responds,” Stivender said.
“It’s kind of a back-and-forth dance, so that’s the main image that I have [of storytelling].”
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