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Local, national storytelling festivals: Safer at home?

For the 10,000 and more who have traditionally journeyed to Jonesborough, Tennessee the first weekend in October for the National Storytelling Festival, this year, 2020, and the Festival’s 48th, it has been determined they will be safer at home.

After deep discussion, the Internationally Storytelling Center has decided to shift to a digital format for this year’s event. Kiran Singh Sirah, president of the ICS, said many discussions took place about how to safely produce an event that brings together so many people from around the world in one place with the coronavirus still in play.  The conclusion was that the risks just aren’t tenable.

As always, the National Storytelling Festival will be held during the first weekend in October and some of the world-class storytellers may be enjoyed from the comfort of home.

Mernette Bray of Troy has attended the National Storytelling Festival regularly for 18 years. This year, she will not make the usually highly anticipated journey to historic Jonesborough, Tennessee.

“I’m going to miss going to Jonesborough,” Bray said. “We’ve been going so long that being there is like being among friends. But I understand that the top priority is keeping everyone safe.”

Bray is a member of the Brundidge Historical Society’s storytelling committee that brings nationally acclaimed storytellers to the Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival the last weekend of January each year.

“Several members of the storytelling committee go to the National Storytelling Festival each year, first to enjoy the festival, and also to discover new tellers to invite to our festival,” Bray said. “All the tellers at the Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival have appeared at the National Storytelling Festival. We like to say, ‘if you can’t go to Jonesborough, come to the Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival.’”

But, Bray said there is concern about being able to say that for the 2021 year.

“Although January is still months away and, hopefully, by then the coronavirus will not be in control of our lives,” Bray said. “But, right now, it’s difficult to plan anything, even in 2021. Our hopes, our plans are to have the Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival in 20221.

“Usually, we would have already filled a lot of orders for the ‘Supper and Stories’ event at the We Piddle Around Theater on Friday night and would have filled a lot of all-weekend reservations. But right now, everything is on hold.0

Bray said so many traditional events have been canceled or postponed and each one has left a void in the lives of many.

“It’s true that you don’t miss your water until the well runs dry,” she said. “The hopes of the BHS storytelling committee are that we will soon be able to respond ‘of course’ to the question, ‘Will there be a Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival in 2021.’”