What to expect at the 30th annual Bay Area Storytelling Festival

Storytelling has been around since the dawn of humankind. A bold statement, but it’s probably true. It’s also the most common form of entertainment today, though it’s usually disguised as film, music, dance … stand-up comedy is probably the most recognized form of direct storytelling that we’re used to experiencing. But if what you’re looking for is raw, unadulterated, next-level storytelling, and you live in the Bay Area—you’re in luck.

The 30th Annual Bay Area Storytelling Festival takes place from April 29th through May 1st. It is also, at this writing, slated to be the last, but we’ll get to that later. For years it was held in El Sobrante, then in Point Richmond, and is now being held at the Orinda Community Center as of last year. If you don’t quite know what to expect, a professional storyteller may provide you with an experience you’ll never forget.

“The stories often will stay with you,” said Linda Yemoto, a co-chair of the festival who attended the first one as a guest 30 years ago and has remained involved ever since. “The stories will get to your head through your heart. You sort of take it in and think about it; often there’ll be a story that really hits you.”

Experiencing a storyteller is a bit different than other forms of entertainment. “It’s a direct communication,” said Yemoto. “Not like a player performance where there’s a fourth wall, that doesn’t exist in storytelling. What makes it so special is that connection between the teller and the audience.”

Subject matter for these stories comes from as broad a range as Yemoto and her team can find. “When we put our lineup together we’re looking for diversity,” she said. “Diversity in culture, but also diversity in style of storytelling and the types of stories that the tellers tell.” To scout for new talent she’s attended the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee about every year. Professional storytelling is actually a pretty big deal as there’s also a National Storytelling Conference and a whole circuit of storytellers that are part of the National Storytelling Network organization. Storytellers are touring the country all year round it seems. This particular festival is also a project of the Storytelling Association of California.

“There are people that can make their living as professional storytellers,” said Yemoto. “And they do it so well.” If you’ve never been to such an event before, she adds, “You’ll be blown away at the quality. It’s something that most people don’t expect.”

Upcoming tellers for the 30th anniversary festival include Bil Lepp, an internationally known storyteller and humorist who is a 5-time champion of the West Virginia Liars’ Contest; Antonio Rocha who incorporates the art of mime into his unique storytelling; Elizabeth Ellis who is a veteran family-friendly storyteller with more than 35 years in the game; Eth-Noh-Tec who specializes in “Kinetic Story Theater”, and many more amazing individuals.

Older kids are encouraged to attend, the younger ones may struggle with their attention span as some stories can end up lasting a whole hour. Also, not all of the content is family friendly. “We do have a kids concert on Sunday that we gear toward younger kids,” said Yemoto. “This year on Sunday we’re going to dedicate one of the spaces for family-oriented stories.”

Performing storytellers are booked up far in advance, but if you feel you’ve got what it takes, there will be some opportunities to both hone your technique and put it to the test at the festival. Friday morning you can sign up for a 3-hour workshop led by one of their professionals to help any potential storyteller—from those looking to get their start to those looking to hone their art. There may be some other learning opportunities, but as this is the 30th anniversary festival they’re packing it with as many performances as possible. Plus, watching the experts is a great way to learn any skill, especially if you’re in search of inspiration.

If you feel ready enough for an audience, the festival will have some open mic opportunities! Or as the festival calls them, “Story Swaps,” complete with an emcee and all. You can sign up to tell stories of either 5 or 10 minutes and maybe get yourself started on a new career path! Or, ya know, just do it for fun. Signups are done on-site only, not in advanced, and names will be drawn out of a hat. So if this interests you, start getting the wheels churning about what you’d like to share with the world.

If you’ve been attending regularly over the last 30 years, you know how much the Bay Area Storytelling Festival has added to the community. “People who have come for many years have gotten such a broad education in terms of different cultures, different stories and different styles of storytelling,” said Yemoto. “I’m going to miss it…” Which takes us back to the fact that this is slated to be the last Bay Area Storytelling Festival of its kind.

“We made a commitment a couple years ago that we would see the festival to it’s 30th, and let our community know that was going to happen in hopes that if people were interested, they would step up and take it over,” said Yemoto. At this point nobody has done that, so with a heavy heart, she and her team are planning to make this last festival the best one ever. “I know people are going to miss it,” she said, but they’ll never forget it. “Some of what they’ve gotten over the years will just stay with them forever.”

To get tickets, to get involved, to inquire about taking the reins for next year, call (510) 869-4946 or visit Last year’s event pretty much sold out, so get your tickets soon! Happy listening.

20150518 Matt Larson in a chair pic









Matt Larson is a writer/actor/comedian native to Vallejo who travels back and forth from Los Angeles way too much. He’s desperate for attention and urges you to follow him on all social medias @MarsLegstrong. He lives for likes, please keep him healthy.