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Reviving the Oral Tradition

Storytellers Festival in Ojai allows artists to explore their craft for a live audience.

April 28, 2001|ANN SHIELDS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The spoken word takes center stage when Ojai's second annual storytelling festival, "Village of Tales," comes to town May 4 to 6.

More than 20 performances aimed at family, adults and kids will be held at several downtown locations, including Libbey Bowl and the Arts Council center.

Among storytellers will be Bill Harley of Rhode Island, a regular commentator on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."

Harley tours nationally as a solo artist and with his band the Troublemakers. He has Grammy nominations for "Weezie and the Moonpies" in 1998 and for "The Battle of the Mad Scientists" in 1999.

In 1991, he produced an album of freedom songs from the civil rights movement titled "I'm Gonna Let It Shine." He also has four children's books to his credit. He can be reached through his Web site at http://www.billharley.com.

While on tour, Harley discussed his profession, a combination of performing and writing that is somewhat confusing, he said.

"I used to want to stand in front of people--like I needed it," he said. "Now I don't need it as much and the writing is something I'm trying to master a little better. Plus, I don't have to get in an airplane to write."

He started storytelling with kids at a day camp while in college, and it grew along with his interest in folk music and oral traditions.

"Most of my stories start with a kernel of truth from an experience of mine or someone I know," he said. "I am an unrepentant bender of what happened to get to the truth, but I will not run for office, nor will I insist that my version of the truth was received on stone tablets."

He was raised in a quiet family with a mother who had a very dry sense of humor and wrote for kids, he said. He admits to using his sons, Noah and Dylan, as sounding boards over the years--and as material for his work.

Brian Bremel, director of the festival, said he hopes people realize that the Ojai festival is not just for kids--and that there is a real art to the genre.

"Storytelling is different than the theater in that it's not just a rehearsed piece that's the same every time," he said. "The tellers have the parameters of the story, but they change whenever they are in front of a live audience--stories move in different directions, according to the audience. It is more interactive and I find that really good tellers get lost in their stories. You forget anybody else is there and it's like you are in the story."

Other performers at the festival will include Judith Black of Massachusetts; Izzi Toolinsky of California, who uses juggling and visual gymnastics to tell his stories; and David Novak of Florida, who uses props to weave his tales. The Healing Force combines drumming, dance and story in its performances--a musical experience with the stories in the African American tradition.

Friday night's concert, "Tales of Mystery and Suspense," is geared for adults; Saturday night's event, "Under the Oaks, Beneath the Stars," includes all the tellers sharing their favorite stories. A special Sunday morning children's concert will feature Bill Harley and Judith Black, and a Sunday finale, "Sacred Tales," will involve all the tellers.

Call 646-8907 for a schedule of events and information about weekend passes and tickets for individual events. Storytelling Web sites are at http://www.storytelling.org or http://www.storytellingfoundation.net.

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The written word can be seen in a new format at Ventura County libraries with E-books on display.

The E-book is a hand-held portable device that stores several books. Sixteen books have been downloaded onto the E-book, including Stephen King's "Riding the Bullet" and Christopher McGinnis' "Unofficial Business Traveler's Pocket Guide." They will be available for checkout beginning June 1. Call 662-6757 for more information.

HAPPENINGS

* Today: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in association with UCLA, at the UCLA campus. Admission free, parking at UCLA is $6. Call 1-800-LA TIMES, ext. 7BOOKS or visit http://www.latimes.com/festivalofbooks for more information.

* Today: 8 p.m. Readings by the poetry workshop group. Ventura Barnes & Noble, 4360 E. Main St., 339-9170.

* Tuesday: 7 p.m. The First Tuesday Contemporary Book Group will focus on "Girl With a Pearl Earring" by Tracy Chevalier. Borders, 125 W. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 497-8159.

* Friday: 1 p.m. The Creative Gatherings group, using the core book "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron. Borders, 497-8159.

* Friday: 1 p.m. Imagination: A Creativity Workshop using the core book "The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards. Borders, 497-8159.

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Information about book signings, writers groups and publishing events can be e-mailed to anns40@aol.com or faxed to 647-5649).

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