September 15, 2021

Community Park Amphitheater Hosts Annual Storytelling Festival

TELL ME A STORY: The annual New Jersey Storytelling Network Festival, which comes to Community Park North Amphitheater on Saturday, September 25, is not just for kids. Ken Karnas, shown at a previous festival with a group of rapt adults, is among those scheduled to appear at the upcoming event.

By Anne Levin

After holding its annual gathering virtually last year, the New Jersey Storytelling Network Festival is going live again. The location, on Saturday, September 25 from 2-4 p.m., is Princeton’s Community Park North Amphitheater.

Several practitioners of the art will be on hand to tell all manner of tales, geared to all ages of listeners. During the last half hour, participants can drop their name in a hat to tell their own stories of connection (in four minutes or less). The theme of the event is “Stories that Connect Us,” said Princeton resident Kathryn Weidener, president of the New Jersey Storytelling Network.

“A professional storyteller is someone who, while not reading a story [aloud], has done a great deal of reading and listening,” she said. “They can weave a story through their own brain, and tell it in a way that engages the audience. It’s more than something just written on a page. It’s told to an audience, and it creates a back-and-forth.”

The festival has been around for more than two decades. Previous locations have included the Grounds For Sculpture, Howell Farm, Waterloo Village, and Allaire State Park. This year’s event was originally planned for Howell Farm, but due to COVID-19 restrictions was relocated to Community Park, where it will be held concert-style.

Among those who will “tell” are Princeton resident Maria LoBiondo, whose specialty is folk and fairy tales.

“I feel that these tales have been passed down for generations, and hold the wisdom of generations of people,” she said. “No matter how old you are or where you live, you have to deal with sibling rivalry. You have to deal with going out into the world to find your fortune. You have to deal with what it means to be generous and kind. These folk tales address all of these ideas. It just fascinates me. It’s worldwide. These stories are from every continent, and they hit similar themes. I find that very compelling.”

Weidener started storytelling some three decades ago. “I am a speech communication major who was born talking,” she said. “I never realized that more Americans fear public speaking than dying. I developed an interactive multi-sensory storytelling thing, when my kids were little, and then expanded into senior adults, camps, and festivals. I discovered the New Jersey Storytelling Network 20 years ago, and have been a part of it ever since.”

LoBiondo’s involvement with storytelling dates from her days as lifestyle editor at the Princeton Packet. “Susan Danoff, a master storyteller, kept dropping off these press releases about holding a course. I was intrigued,” she said. “I finally took one of the courses, and fell in love with the genre and with telling. I have been doing it ever since.”

Having begun her career as a teacher, LoBiondo was familiar with folk tales. “They originally weren’t children’s stories,” she said. “They were told inter-generationally. I find that you take from the story what you need for wherever you are. A child and a teenager and an adult and grandparents will think about different things. I am a vehicle for these stories. I find, again and again, the listeners who create the stories in their minds with me take what they need from the story. It’s an ephemeral moment we all create together. That communal aspect is wonderful, and we don’t have many of those any more.”

Along with Weidener and LoBiondo, featured festival tellers will include Ken Karnas, Ken Galipeau, Judy England-McCarthy, G.K. Jayaram, Mike Agranoff, and Joey Novick. Story titles include “The Ballad of Captain Crunch,” Summer Reading,” “The Corpse Watchers,” and “Beaver Tail Lighthouse.”

Admission to the festival is free. “It’s for everyone. It’s not a little kid thing,” Weidener said. “Everyone can learn and enjoy something.”

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