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Motoko, who tells evocative stories of a Japanese childhood with subtlety and restraint
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Downtown’s other festival celebrates the art of tale-telling

While guitars squeal and beats bump along Hickory Street this weekend, a quieter and simpler affair will be going on just two streets to the north.

The Texas Storytelling Festival begins today and ends Sunday, bringing some of the highest-profile storytellers in the country to the Denton Civic Center to make magic out of words, silence and song.

The annual festival is staged yearly here by the Tejas Storytelling Association, a Denton-based network of Texas storytellers. Now in its 28th year, the festival is the same as ever. Professional and rising storytellers share all-ages stories, starting with ghost tales tonight, and when they aren’t performing, the tellers will lead workshops and master classes for both established and beginning storytellers.

Each day ends with a concert with the featured tellers.

Two featured performers are returning guests. Willy Claflin returns with sidekick and hand puppet Maynard Moose. A regular at the National Storytelling Festival, Claflin tells original stories and, of late, has a one-man show telling the story of his great-great-aunt Victoria Claflin Woodhull — the first woman to run for president in 1872.

Also returning is DeCee Cornish, a touring artist with the Texas Commission on the Arts. His specialty is African tales and African-American history and folklore. Based in Dallas, Cornish has traveled to Denton for the festival often over the last 10 years.

One of the festival’s newer faces is Georgia native Andy Offutt Irwin. The humorist and musician has a way with voices — imitating an old aunt and her late husband with ease. Irwin might not accept the label of human beatbox, but he’s known for making a surprising number of sound effects with just his mouth.

Motoko, a native of Osaka, Japan, will also appear at the festival. She came to the U.S. as an exchange student and eventually worked as a Japanese instructor at the University of Massachusetts. Her partner, Eshu Bumpas, a jazz vocalist, initiated her into the tradition of American storytelling. She tried the craft for herself, and has become known for her stories of Japanese girlhood and for her stage movement. Motoko studiedwith the late master mime Tony Montanaro and uses the art form to communicate from the stage. Her performances are lauded for their expressiveness as well as her restraint. Motoko performs quietly and with subtlety.

Most concerts are suitable for families, though some stories shared during the opening night ghost tales concerts can be unnerving.


The Texas Storytelling Festival includes extra story performances selected by a lottery. This year, the fringe performances are on Saturday. Stories are appropriate for all ages unless otherwise noted.

Fringe Concert 1: 1:30 p.m.

•  “Tea in Tripoli,” Bernadette Nason. Between the Mediterranean and the Sahara, in a dangerous land of strict rules and rule-breaking expatriates, a naive Englishwoman can get into trouble. Adult subject matter and mild language.

•  “The Cowboy Life of Mayhem,” Connie Meeker. Stories from a childhood of shadowing her father and other older cowboys.

•  “Growing Up Only,” Joyce Ormond. Tales of growing up as an only child on a small rural farm in Northern California in the 1940s. Hear tales of juicy watermelon, troublesome turkeys, outings with Uncle Slim and other timeless childhood experiences.

Fringe Concert 2: 3:15 p.m.

•  “The Intrepid Adventurers: Catch ’Em Alive and the Boys,” Jaye McLaughlin and Fred Peters. A tandem telling of the life and times of the Abernathys in Texas and Oklahoma.

•  “Wyrd,” Lorene Stilwell. Through the voices of the Norns, the Fates of Norse mythology, learn a brief history of time, the workings of the universe and everything. The Wyrd sisters knit, gossip, sing and spout poetry about what is, what was and what will be.

•  “Every Day Is Basil Hoopis Day,” Robin Bady. Bullying Basil Hoopis was recreational sport in childhood. But when does it stop? And what is our part in stopping it?


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