Arts and Entertainment

Tall tales: Fourth annual Orcas Storyfest brings professional tellers

Robert Kikuchi-Yngjojo & Nancy Wang of Eth-Noh-Tec organize the festival.  - contributed photo
Robert Kikuchi-Yngjojo & Nancy Wang of Eth-Noh-Tec organize the festival.
— image credit: contributed photo

One of civilization’s oldest art forms is storytelling. It preserves traditions, honors ancestors and ignites peoples’ imaginations.

An Orcas couple is presenting four days of traditional, live storytelling with professionals from across the country.

“The way it started is that we were swimming in Cascade Lake, and thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great to have a festival here?’” said Robert Kikuchi-Yngjojo, who runs the storytelling performance non-profit “Eth-Noh-Tec” with his wife Nancy Wang. “We were splashing around some ideas. We thought the storytellers could enjoy the beauty of island life and share their stories.”

The 4th annual Orcas Storyfest is Aug. 2 through 5. Events take place at the Orcas Senior Center, Orcas Library and Odd Fellows Hall. The festival is sponsored by a grant from Friends of the Library and donations from individuals and small businesses. The first storyfest was in 2004; Wang and Kikuchi-Yngjojo organize the event every few years.

“Now that we are in our fourth year, people are asking about it,” Kikuchi-Yngjojo said. “They really appreciate that the storytellers are professional and bring a caliber of storytelling that is deep and adults can appreciate them.”

Featured tellers this year are Judith Black, Arif Choudhury, Doug Banner, Anji Ringzin, Antoinette Botsford, and Eth-Noh-Tec.

Black, hailing from Marblehead, Mass., is a professional storyteller with a national following. She brings to the festival her wealth of Jewish stories and quirky tales on everyday living, relationships, and feminism. This past spring, she performed in Finland, Amsterdarm and Paris, where she also conducted a leadership seminar and story workshop. Judith has been a featured teller at the National Storytelling Festival eight times, and served twice as a teller-in-residence for the International Storytelling Center in Tennessee.

Choudhury, from Northbrook, Ill., performs as both a stand-up comedian as well as a storyteller, drawing from his Bangladeshi, Muslim American cultural background. In recent years, he has been part of a team of interfaith storytellers that perform before high school students in Chicago.

Banner, who is from just across the waters in Bellingham, has been a leader in the storytelling movement of the Northwest region for decades and will perform stories unique to the Northwest as well as related to his Cherokee, Portuguese, African, and Scottish American heritage. He is the founder of the Bellingham Storytellers Guild.

Orcas resident Ringzin will offer the poetry of Rumi and other Central and South Asian poets. She has been presenting Rumi poetry since the early 1990s, drawn to Rumi’s mellifluous and eloquent messages of living life fully and with passion and non-attachment.

“Her soothing voice and dramatic recitation of these ancient stanzas will provide a complimentary narrative that, like the voice of a great storyteller, also moves the listener on a journey home towards an enlightened human spirit,” Kikuchi-Yngjojo said.

Botsford, also an Orcas resident, grew up in a family that values storytelling.

“My mother told stories about the past, my father told stories about the future,” she said.

Botsford especially known for native North American tales (many learned from her Canadian-Metís relatives) as well as a growing Celtic collection she calls, “The Forest of Broceliande.” A large part of her performance repertoire includes stories she weaves from fragments of family history and anecdotes, as well as stories she describes as “traditional and true” that she has adapted from world cultures.

Kikuchi-Yngojo and Wang, who divide their time between San Francisco and Orcas, are known for telling tales with drama and precision choreography. They interpret Asian myths, folk tales and biographical stories from the Asian American experience. They feel strongly that the artform of storytelling is a vehicle for cultural activism. With their performance group Eth-Noh-Tec, they have performed around the country, abroad and graced the stages in Washington, D.C. for both Clinton and Obama inaugural celebrations.

“All too often, the stereotype of the storyteller is of a person reading from a book to a child,” Kikuchi-Yngjojo said. “Although this is only one type of telling, it pales against the spectrum of global oral tradition – no book in hand. Storytelling is not just for kiddies.”


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