Telling Tales

As he wraps up teaching a kids’ drama class, the Family Literacy Centre’s Brendan Wiklund switches gears to talk about Tales to be Told, a storytelling circle for elders and adults over 55, which will launch Tuesday, March 29.

The free, 14-week program, held at the Whitehorse Public Library, gives members of older generations a chance to swap stories in a relaxed, “around the campfire” environment.

At the same time, they’ll pick up storytelling techniques from a number of instructors who rotate through the course.

The workshop was developed by Alan Murray, founder of the Yukon Literacy Coalition, and Wiklund has been working on getting it off the ground since he joined the Family Literacy Centre as program coordinator in December.

Instructors include Celia McBride (personal stories), Sharon Shorty (traditional stories and folk tales), Steve Slade (music and storytelling) and Bernard Walsh (contemporary stories and myths).

McBride is a writer/performer known for co-creating and acting with the Sour Brides Theatre and working with other Whitehorse theatre companies, as well as in film.

She talks with enthusiasm about the workshop, saying she’s always been a storyteller, but wasn’t fully aware of it as a specific art form until she attended the Yukon International Storytelling Festival in the mid-2000s.

After that experience, McBride applied her spoken word skills (honed in Montreal) to storytelling. She soon found herself touring around the Northwest Territories with a group of storytellers, courtesy of Yellowknife’s Northern Arts and Cultural Centre. She’s been hooked on the personal, dramatic, oral form of telling tales ever since.

In her late 30s, McBride says she finds elders and seniors inspiring and is thrilled that Tales to be Told is specifically tailored to that age group. For her sessions she’ll use “prompt words” and writing exercises to trigger stories, focusing on memory and helping people discover stories they don’t think are stories.

“Everyone is a storyteller,” says McBride. “One of the coolest things I’ve discovered about storytelling is that when we share our stories with an audience, those stories trigger new stories in the people who are listening.”

You don’t have to be a senior to enjoy the stories. In addition to developing a repertoire that can include personal narration or more traditional stories and folk tales, the program provides an opportunity for public performance during Whitehorse’s Art in the Park and Canada Day festivities.

For people interested in joining the workshop but feeling shy about the “public” aspect of storytelling, McBride says instruction will also include tips and exercises to help overcome fear of speaking publicly and learn to feel grounded in their performance.

And of course going public isn’t mandatory. But the program is geared to seniors reflecting on their own experiences and values, and Wiklund says sharing those stories with younger generations is an important part of the experience.

In addition to the public performances, he’s setting up some storytelling sessions in schools.

Guest storytellers will appear throughout the program, as well. These include former Yukon Commissioner Doug Bell, writer Ellen Davignon and Nacho Nyak Dun elder and Anglican priest Mary Battaja.

Wiklund says that storytellers of all cultures and languages are welcome to join, and he has been reaching out to various organizations to get the word out to elders and seniors. He echoes McBride, emphasizing that everyone has a story to tell, and this is a fun, social way to do it.

At press time there were still openings in the circle, which will meet from 6:30 to 8:30 each week. The group will be capped at 20 to maximize participation.

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