Storytelling festival planned for Winchester Thurston North Campus in Hampton

Deborah Deasy
| Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Good storytelling takes more than speaking clearly and making eye contact with the audience.

“You have to use your entire body for storytelling,” said Sara Walker, 15, of Reserve Township, one of eight Pittsburgh-area youths set to perform during the Three Rivers Storytelling Festival on Aug. 8 and 9 at the Winchester Thurston School's North Hills Campus in Hampton.

The festival will offer workshops, free performances by national artists, a liars contest, a concert of ghost stories, refreshments, books, CDs and a luncheon performance for senior citizens.

Sara will tell the story of “The Farmer's Fun Loving Daughter” by Taffy Thomas, based on a British folk tale, at 4 p.m. Aug. 9 as part of a concert by young local storytellers.

“It's about a challenge between siblings for the inheritance of their father's house and farm,” said Sara, daughter of Gavin and Janette Walker.

Shaler Area High School 10th-graders Kara Jans and Becca Helfrich will perform “Tye May and the Magic Paintbrush” by Molly Bang, based on a Chinese folk tale.

Winchester Thurston School students Avi Kopec, Rose Irwin, Alexandra Price and Margee Dever, all 9, will perform, too, along with Elizabeth Irvine, who attends of Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts High School.

The girls' coach is Joan Schenker of McCandless, a former North Allegheny School District educator who once used storytelling to connect children from many lands when she taught at schools in Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia.

Schenker urges aspiring tale spinners to practice telling stories and to avoid memorization.

“Their job is to paint a picture and give that painting to the audience,” Schenker said.

Unlike a lot of people who dread public speaking, Sara Walker draws comfort from storytelling “when you can see the audience likes what you're telling them, and they want more,” she said.

Sara's upcoming performance is part of the Three Rivers Storytelling Festival Youth Program funded by the Grable Foundation.

More than 500 children are expected to attend the festival's additional storytelling sessions for young audiences from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. Aug. 8.

Four nationally-acclaimed storytellers — Andy Offutt Irwin, of Covington, GA; Charlotte Blake Alston, of Philadelphia; Megan Hicks, of Media, PA; and Gregory Gibson Kenney, who lives in Bethel Park — also will perform at the festival.

Alston specializes in African-style storytelling and often accompanies her tales with the sounds of African musical instruments. She is a past recipient of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Artist of the Year Award and the Zora Neale Hurston Award from the National Association of Black Storytellers.

Irwin, a Georgia-born master of sound effects and dialects, received the 2013 National Storytelling Network Circle of Excellence Award.

“In storytelling circles, he is especially known for relating the adventure of his 85-year-old-widowed and newly minted physician aunt — Dr. Marguerite Van Camp — a woman who avoids curmudgeonship by keeping her finger on the pulse of ….well, herself, but also the changing world around her,” according to Irwin's online biography.

Hicks' awards include a 2005 Parents' Choice Silver Award for her CD “What Was Civil About That War” about the Battle of Fredericksburg from two points of view.

“What Was Civil About That War” also was a finalist for the 2005 Best Original Work award from the Audio Publishers Association.

Kenney, a professionally trained actor, specializes in first-person portrayals of notable African Americans. He won the 1998 YWCA Racial Justice Award.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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