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The Call of Story

Produced by: BYU Broadcasting
Media: DVD
Length: 56:46 min.
Item #: KB251
Price: $19.95

Stories and storytelling lie at the heart of human experience. Since the beginnings of humankind, we have shared through our stories the events, beliefs, and values that make us who we are and form our families, communities, and cultures. Some of these stories have been collected in myth and canonized in scripture. Others have become literary classics. The most important stories, though, may be those we share with families and friends as we explain our present and imagine our future.

In the one-hour documentary, The Call of Story: An American Renaissance, six professional storytellers take turns sharing stories about their childhoods, parenting experiences, and cultural traditions, interspersed with storytelling discussions. Three of these entertainers (Donald Davis, Carmen Deedy, and Rex Ellis) share experiences that increased their admiration for their mothers and fathers, as they explore the ways storytelling can bring memories of a person to life. Two other performers express the way in which telling stories connects us with our children, as Waddie Mitchell and Syd Lieberman both share stories about their experiences raising children. Finally, all six discuss how every life is a story, and Dovie Thomason-Sickles relates how she learned to appreciate her native culture as a child by watching her grandmother.

Aspects of Storytelling
Storytelling remains a compelling form of personal communication as ancient as language itself. The stories we are willing to share with one another shape our culture, values, beliefs, aspirations and traditions, binding us together into a cohesive society that allows us to work together with a common purpose.

Throughout history, men and women have shared through stories the events, beliefs, and values held dear by families, communities, and cultures. In this complex and diverse world there exists something that we all have in common and upon which the success of our entire civilization rests: the almost magical way in which we communicate and understand each other. Simply said, storytelling is the human action, whether verbal or visual, that conveys feelings and thoughts. It is as fluid as water and takes many shapes and forms, from dance to sculpture.

Some of the stories we have shared since the beginning of humankind have been collected in myth and canonized in scripture. Others have become literary classics. Still others have become tall tales and humorous yarns. Looking inward, story patterns and characters intertwine with the hard-to-perceive forces that shape our lives. Looking outward, story threads join us in a larger cultural fabric. The most important stories may be those we share with family and friends, and all help us preserve memories, explain our present, and imagine our future. Sewn across time, story threads bind individuals to families and families to society, defining our collective values, beliefs, goals, and traditions.

The word storytelling, as used today, often refers to an interactive experience between a teller and a listener. While many mediums, such as novels and television, contain stories, they are not seen in the same light as "storytelling," which permits live storytellers the opportunity to morph and change their stories based on the reactions of listeners. Most of us recognize the story in every facet of life. The great American writer and psychiatrist Robert Coles expresses that stories, whether written or heard, are an encounter with metaphors that bear on everyday life. Careful listeners come to see people's lives as stories; that in speaking to one another we tell our stories, and that the stories we reach out and identify with can help us make choices, find direction, identify moral hazards, and understand our personal lives with more clarity.

Carmen Deedy
A Cuban-American storyteller known for her funny and bittersweet immigrant tales, Carmen Deedy has told stories in multiple venues, including the Kennedy Center, New Victory Theater on Broadway, and the First National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. As Carmen reveals her memories, audiences are drawn to the innocent wonder of a young girl's heart, thrown into the comedy of marital conflict, and soothed by the comfort of lessons learned.

In addition to her personal stories, Carmen tells a variety of new and exciting tales to audiences young and old. She has written six children's books and has won a Parent's Choice Gold Award for her audio, Growing Up Cuban in Decatur, Georgia. Carmen serves as a weekend National Public Radio commentator on All Things Considered and Latino USA.

Syd Lieberman
Syd Lieberman told stories long before he began performing professionally. While teaching high school English, he told anecdotes in the classroom, explaining, "I liked to share moments in my life when they were relevant. Kids are thirsty to know who you are. Adults don't talk to them enough."

Syd found his art form in a week-long storytelling course and first performed in a town library. Since then, Syd has visited local and national festivals and has been featured as far away as New Zealand. He has also served as guest storyteller and host on American Public Radio's Good Evening.

In addition to writing his own stories, Syd instructs teachers around the country on how to use storytelling in the classroom. He directs an annual institute at the Chicago Historical Society and has taught storytelling to teachers at both the Smithsonian and the Kennedy Center.

He says, "Certainly, connecting people is one of the great values of storytelling. Stories that contain universals teach us we are not alone. It's wonderful to laugh and cry together. It's such an intimate art form. The story is created somewhere between my words and the audience's imagination. In a way, we are working together."

Dovie Thomason-Sickles
Dovie Thomason-Sickles, an award-winning storyteller and cultural educator, brings the richness of her Lakota and Kiowa Apache heritage to her work. Her stories teach listeners of all ages about the values and beliefs of Native Americans as illustrated by the hilarious antics of animals and tricksters. These tales hold children spellbound, make them laugh, and help them imagine as they gain insights into native culture and life lessons.

A winner of the Parent's Choice Gold Award and the ALA/Booklist Editor's Choice Award for her recordings, Dovie has shared stories throughout the world. She has performed at places such as the National Storytelling Festival, NPR's Living on Earth, the BBC's My Century, and conflict resolution programs in Northern Ireland.

Donald Davis
Donald Davis was born in the Southern Appalachian Mountains and grew up hearing gentle fairy tales, scary mountain lore, ancient Welsh and Scottish folktales, and wholesome, true-to-life stories of his own neighbors and kin.

Donald's Uncle Frank, a man who "talked in stories," helped him capture the real and daily adventures of life and gave him the creative courage to tell about them. Donald remembers, "I discovered that in a story I could safely dream any dream, hope any hope, go anywhere I pleased, fight any foe, win or lose, live or die. My stories created a safe, experimental learning place."

With this outlook, Donald has approached learning experiences throughout his life as a graduate of Duke University Divinity School, as a retired Methodist minister, and as a storyteller for various national associations and institutions. He has graced festivals and concerts throughout the United States and the world, has produced books and tapes of his works, and has taught workshops and storytelling courses.

For Donald, storytelling "is not what I do for a living, ... it is how I do all that I do while I am living."

Waddi Mitchell
Living as a working cowboy on some of the most desolate spreads in Nevada for 25 years gave Waddi Mitchel time to develop his common-sense approach to life and perfect his cowboy poetry, which has delighted and inspired audiences across the United States. He says, "All the time I was growing up we had these old cowboys around. When you live in close proximity like that with the same folks month after month, one of your duties is to entertain each other, and I suppose that's where the whole tradition of cowboy poetry started."

When The Tonight Show first called with an invitation to share his stories with a national audience, the talent coordinator reached a neighbor who subsequently drove 40 miles to the remotely based cowboy with the good news. Waddi said no to the offer; it was calving time, and he'd never heard of Johnny Carson.

In addition to helping dispel the stereotypical image of the cowboy created by Hollywood, Waddi has found that sharing his poetry across the country has opened his eyes to the good in people and broadened his own horizons.

Rex Ellis
Rex Ellis is a teacher, historian, and storyteller who believes that storytelling brings hope of improving communities and bringing people together. Rex says, "I have seen bridges built with storytelling that invite listeners and tellers to unite in ways that are more potent than a town meeting and more healing than a therapy session. It's pretty hard to hate someone whose story you know." Director of the Center for Museum Studies at the Smithsonian Institute, Rex knows his facts and brings them to the stage with a profoundly straightforward approach that leaves audiences dramatically changed for the better.

Prior to his work with the Smithsonian, Rex directed the Department of African-American Interpretation and Presentations at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Williamsburg, Va. He is also the author of Beneath the Blazing Sun: Stories from the African-American Journey, and The Ups and Downs of Being Brown.

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