published Saturday, January 21st, 2012

Chattanooga Story Circle participants spin tales both true and imaginary

Kaye Rose spent years talking about Glops.

A retired schoolteacher, Rose created the characters of Glops -- some with three toes, others with four -- to teach her first-grade students about prejudice and the civil-rights movement.

"It was something they could identify with," she said. "And then I'd say, 'This really happened; it just wasn't with Glops.' "

Through Glop stories, she said, she was able to bring a message to first-graders they might not have understood through recounting facts alone.

It's a role stories often play, for children and adults alike. The National Storytelling Network describes storytelling as "a performance art, a process of cultural transformation and more." It is a rich tradition, and it is alive and well in Chattanooga.

The Chattanooga Story Circle, which has been in effect for several months, grew out of the Cleveland Storytelling Guild, which was organized in the mid-1980s. Rose, who now works part-time at the Chattanooga Public Library, used to drive to Cleveland, but grew weary of the travel. Other circles in Chattanooga, she said, "seemed to fizzle out."

When Steve Daugherty, whom Rose called "the king of organizing things," put together the Chattanooga Story Circle, she was thrilled.

Daugherty said he thinks the level of intensity and skill required in Cleveland is a little too much for some people, who just want to enjoy a rich tradition.

"Stories are everywhere," he said. "You'll find people who like different genres of music. It's the same way in storytelling," Daugherty said. "You'll find people who specialize in a particular genre, and it's the same with storytelling."

Some specialize in historical stories, biblical stories, anecdotes, fairy tales and fables. Stories may be original, reproduced, fiction or nonfiction.

Participant Vincent Phipps said they often tell a new version of a traditional story, make up fictional stories or tell personal stories about their own experiences or those of family and friends. Phipps said those are his favorites.

"The stories are flat hilarious," he said.

A geneaology aficianado, Daugherty is working on the story of Frances Dickinson Scott, his great-great-great-great-grandmother, who lived in Virginia. It is one of torture, fear, survival and a new life.

"I don't think people understand storytelling," she said. "They think storytelling is going to be boring."

In the Chattanooga Story Circle, stories are five to eight minutes. They are spoken aloud, often with inflection and gesture, not read from paper. They vary by genre and theme.

"When you tell a story, it's a different rhythm from when you're reading," Phipps said.

Stories, he said, have several elements:

First, identify a key message. "For example, that message could be courage, or humor, or families are crazy."

Next, focus on delivery.

Finally, work on vocal dynamics. Some people include music, others do sound effects, some incorporate voices for different characters.

While some story circles might have critique sessions, the Chattanooga Story Circle offers praise only, in the hopes of being more welcoming and encouraging more people to participate.

"We want people to get back to the art of storytelling," Phipps said. "Effective storytelling is more than just standing up and talking. It's about having a clear message that is enjoyable to your audience. With all the social media out there, storytelling is still the best and cheapest form of entertainment."

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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