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OC LIVE : Family : Big Talkers : Festival Features Tales Accented by Mime, Movement and Juggling

October 12, 1995|CORINNE FLOCKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Listen to storyteller-juggler Izzi Tooinsky describe how he used to grocery shop in Africa, and triple coupons seem dull by comparison:

"I'd be juggling on the beach, and the merchants would come and ask me to juggle at their booths," recalled Tooinsky, an Albanian immigrant who spent his late teens and early adulthood on the road, living everywhere from the slums of East Africa to an Israeli kibbutz and the streets of Paris.

"The merchants and I made this deal that I could keep whatever I juggled," Tooinsky continued. "I'd go to one booth and juggle maybe three cucumbers or five oranges, then at another, a couple avocados and a banana. It was a great relationship: People came to the booths and I got my shopping done."

Tooinsky, 39, has since settled with his family in North San Juan, Calif., a rural community near Nevada City. But in his head, he carries hundreds of folk tales, stories and "some outright lies" inspired by his international travels. He shares them with listeners at venues around the world.

Friday and Saturday in San Juan Capistrano, locals can hear Tooinsky and seven other tale tellers--including Donald Davis, Diane Ferlatte and David Novak--spin yarns at the Once Upon a Story festival. Coordinated by Mission Viejo school librarian Melba Jones and community volunteers, the fifth annual festival will feature storytelling concerts and workshops for children and adults.

This year, nonverbal storytelling is playing a larger role than ever. Cary Trivanovich of Trabuco Canyon integrates mime and movement in his act. And Tooinsky uses juggling to weave together his stories, which range from Punjabi folk tales to the fantasy tales he shared with Italian travelers one night in a Paris parking structure. In one sequence, which he calls "The Circus of Old Ladies," he portrays a series of old women who one-up each other by presenting juggling tricks and stories, each more fantastic than the last.

In fact, said Tooinsky, a person doesn't have to have a gift for gab to benefit from storytelling.

"It's great if someone hears a story and is inspired to sit down and draw what's in their imagination," he said. "Or maybe a father heard about a relationship in a story . . . he may never speak eloquently about it, but he may feel a deeper love for his child because of what he heard. That in itself is incredibly rich." The San Juan Capistrano festival, which started in 1991 with three tellers and an audience of less than 500, has grown in popularity and scope. This year, Jones has added more storytelling concerts and workshops, and brought in acountry band, Crossfire, to represent storytelling through music. There will also be an open "story swap," a bilingual Spanish/English program and a family concert signed for the hearing impaired.

Jones, a Tennessee native who still speaks with a soft twang in her voice and recalls listening to family stories as a girl, thinks young people have a greater need than ever for the intimacy of live storytelling.

"The competition is worse now," she said. "There's television, of course, but more than that, it's the computer games. I'm all for computers for learning, and all, but I do think that just sitting in front of a screen is doing something socially to our young people.

"There's just something about the closeness of a book, or of someone telling you a story, that is so important. You can't get that from a machine."

Jones, a retired teacher, got the idea for Once Upon a Story after visiting the annual National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn., which attracts top tellers from around the world and a multigenerational audience of about 10,000. In fact, many of the tellers featured in the Orange County event are veterans of the Jonesborough festival (which took place last weekend).

Davis is one of those. A former United Methodist minister from North Carolina, he is among the nation's most prolific professional tellers. He tours internationally about 300 days a year and has chronicled many of his favorite stories in print.

Speaking by phone last week from Jonesborough, Davis echoed Jones when he said his profession exists not only in spite of electronic mediums, but maybe even because of them.

"People are drawn to storytelling partly [in response] to television. TV is unrelated to the imaginative process; you're shown everything you should see and told everything you should hear, and as a result, you go away remembering nothing. With a good story, the audience is doing all the visualization, going on journeys of all kinds and helping the teller build the story along the way."

* CHILDREN'S LISTINGS, F21

* What: Once Upon a Story festival.

* When: Friday performances at 7:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8:45 p.m.

* Where: San Juan Capistrano Regional Library's La Sala auditorium and courtyard (31495 El Camino Real), and the San Juan Capistrano Women's Club (31442 El Horno St.) and adjacent Old Fire Station complex.

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