Words About the Theater of Spoken Words

Who doesn’t have lovely memories of Mom tucking you in at night before reading a cheery, dream-inducing bedtime story? Doesn’t that make you just feel warm all over?

“That’s our biggest problem,” says Brian Bemel, the creator of Village of Tales, the Ojai Storytelling Festival that marks its eighth annual season this weekend. “Everybody thinks of storytelling as just being for the kids. People don’t come because they think they can just go to school and hear someone reading a book.”

While Village of Tales is certainly family-friendly, says Bemel, the festival is created by and largely aimed toward adults.

“These aren’t Mother Goose stories. It’s not stuff to fall asleep to,” he says.

On the other hand, storytelling is also different from story reading, which has grown as a genre as indicated by Santa Barbara’s successful Speaking of Stories series, which features actors reading short stories from the stage, word-by-word, rather than from memory and acting them out.

“I like to think of it as theater of the spoken word,” says Bemel.

But, he cautioned, there’s a very large difference with typical theatrical presentations.

“You know that concept of the ‘fourth wall’?” he asks, referring to the term that refers to the imaginary boundary between the fictional presentation on stage and the audience in their seats. “Well, in storytelling, it’s more like a bridge. Storytelling is a very fluid medium. It’s not like theater where the lines are set in stone. Every time someone tells a story, it’s a little bit different. They’re creating it in real time, along with the audience, who depending on their reaction helps shape it as it’s being told.”

Bemel says he was especially proud of this year’s lineup, which includes returning tellers Donald Davis, Diane Ferlatte, Barbara McBride-Smith and Grammy winner Bill Harley, plus newcomers Carmen Deedy, Sheila Kay Adams and guest musician Billy Jonas.

The four-day Village of Tales Festival has a plethora of formats for the professional to ply their craft, beginning tonight with a free Tellers’ Picnic featuring all seven of the tellers at Libbey Bowl. Friday night’s program focuses on funny stories, while Saturday offers a variety of different formats, including a workshop for educators, a free “story swap,” individual hour-long sessions for each teller, and a wrap-up in the evening featuring all the tellers, plus an after-hours segment encompassing adults-only fare.

“I think I really love the festival because when you are in the audience and hear all these tellers’ stories, it actually calls up your own memories,” says Bemel. “It brings up a lot of stories from your past. And it gets you back in touch with your own life.”

Hmm. Maybe it’s not so different from Mom’s tales after all.

More from the South

This annual Ventura Music Festival still hasn’t come close to the cachet of its elder classical music cousin up the road in Ojai (which takes place next month), but the event still boasts quite an impressive lineup and a tasty smorgasbord of concerts. “Impressions” is the theme for 2007, and the schedule includes galas, the popular “Tea & Trumpets” afternoon gatherings, chamber music concerts, a “rising stars” recital, and full festival orchestra concerts conducted by up-and-coming music director Nuvi Mehta. The special guest jazz artist this year is none other than Grammy Award-winning singer Diane Schuur. (Get the complete schedule online at www.venturamusicfestival.org or call 648-3146.)

Shakespeare’s epic tragedy “Hamlet” has drawn a veteran, all-star cast for Rubicon Theatre’s current production of the classic. Joseph Fuqua (recent Rubicon shows: “Tuesdays with Morrie” and “All My Sons”) plays the dark Prince of Denmark, while Rubicon artistic director James O’Neil portrays Claudius and company regular Stephanie Zimbalist (who made her Santa Barbara debut in Ensemble’s “The Memory of Water” earlier this year) takes on Gertrude.

Visit www.rubicontheatre.org for info.