Debbie Croft: Storytelling festival returns to Mariposa

More than the telling of tales, the Mariposa Storytelling Festival features renowned artists who have entertained and enlightened audiences around the world. It’s a weekend packed with conviction, imagination and hilarity.

Visitors can sit back and simply enjoy as performers share the trials and triumphs of the human experience.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, sessions are scheduled for daytime and evening hours. Friday and Saturday sessions will be held at Mariposa County High School. Sunday afternoon’s finale will take place at Yosemite National Park.

The following is this year’s list of award-winning storytellers:

• Andy Offutt Irwin’s personality can be summed up in one word: zany. From his website comes this description: “People are drawn to him like magnets to a refrigerator. And inside, it’s all Mountain Dew and Jolt Cola.” His artistic career includes theater, comedy troupes, children’s camps and educational programs, and impersonations. All five of his storytelling CDs have received awards.

• First Nations storyteller Dovie Thomason is a Lakota-Plains Apache. She has performed for audiences across North America and in Great Britain. This delightful storyteller uses humor, wit and characterization. Her indigenous values and rich oral tradition are woven through the stories of her people, past and present.

• In addition to performing, Antonio Sacre teaches storytelling, writing and theater arts to students and teachers across the country. He is frequently heard on National Public Radio’s Latino USA program. This bilingual performer was born in Boston to a Cuban father and Irish-American mother. He has authored three children’s picture books.

• Dan Keding is practically a one-man-band. Accompanied by his guitar, banjo and collection of spoons, his specialty is the ballad. His Croatian grandmother told him the stories of her homeland when he was a boy. With many recordings and books to his credit, he has appeared at some of the most prestigious events in the storytelling circuit.

• Kim Weitkamp is a musician and humorist who combines a soothing voice and naturally vivid imagination with her Americana roots. Whether speaking or singing, she recounts childhood and not-so-childish escapades with warmth and candor. Audiences quickly become endeared listening to her on radio and stage.

• Dianne Ferlatte remembers listening to the stories of her African-American relatives on the front porch at her grandparents’ house. Little did she know that learning American Sign Language, playing the piano, singing in church choirs and performing in stage productions would prepare her for a career in storytelling. Internationally known, she travels extensively, but most enjoys her partnership with schools and libraries.

The new book “Inspiring Generations: 150 Years, 150 Stories” will be officially released at the festival. On Saturday during the lunch break, the public is invited to gather in the high school library for this special event. The book will be available for purchase.

New this year is the Story Slam, when brave novices will be given a turn at the microphone. Community members are welcome to tell their original, true stories on Thursday night, March 6, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Each five-minute story must connect with the theme “Trains, Planes, Automobiles.”

The Story Slam will be held in the board room of the county government center near Mariposa County Library. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the event is free. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three winners.

More details are available at the Mariposa County Arts Council website or by calling (209) 966-3155 or (800) 903-9936.

A copy of the festival brochure, including pricing and the festival schedule, is available at the council website and at the council office, 5009 Highway 140, above Chocolate Soup in downtown Mariposa.

In the words of Ferlatte: “For that little moment of intimate connection telling personal stories and opening ourselves up to whoever is listening there is often a value to be learned, or encouragement to be gained, knowing that others before them have conquered fears and challenges similar to their own the right story at the right time will enrich their day, and even make the world a little better place. That’s why I really love to tell stories.”