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Storytellers Mesmerize Audiences at All-day Festival in Mohegan Lake

By Brian J. Howard
The Journal News (Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties, NY)
August 10, 2008

Collage of photos of performers MOHEGAN LAKE - Judith Heineman believes few things bring people together like storytelling does.

In fact, the professional storyteller points to a saying among practitioners, that it's very hard to hate someone when you know their story.

"We celebrate our diversity," she said as applause went up from the pavilion behind her, "but we also celebrate what we have in common."

The eighth annual Mohegan Colony Storytelling and Music Festival drew crowds to the 85-year-old leftist enclave where the likes of Paul Robeson and Pete Seeger once performed on a stage near the one Barry Marshall and his wife occupied yesterday.

The colony exists today as a homeowners association that straddles the Yorktown-Cortlandt border and still maintains the pavilion, schoolhouse and tennis courts as well as a portion of beachfront on Mohegan Lake.

Marshall and wife Jeri Burns together comprise The Storycrafters, a storytelling tandem that uses a bongo, a harp and other instruments along with their voices to convey stories like that of the mythological Pandora. The Philmont, N.Y., couple have been performing together since 1991. They married four years later.

The audience erupted at the end of their midafternoon set. Their performances are humorous, political, moralistic and just plain fun. Often the point, Marshall explained, is to make a point, to connect with the audience and sometimes in ways that rile them a little.

"It's nice to be able to take people away and then put them back with a little perspective," he said.

Attendance here has grown in recent years, but Heineman believes it could be much stronger. The art form preserves the oral tradition and at its best is a personal experience for audiences, she said. Festivals like the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Ky., draw thousands each year.

Susan Stone of Ossining enjoyed the chance to come and just focus on the stories.

"It's very meditative to sit here and relax and just tune into the stories and not be too distracted," the first-time visitor said. "It's very peaceful."

Lisa Renda, a Mohegan Colony homeowner has brought her children the past four or five years. Teenagers now, they still come back with her. Still, she was at a loss to describe the appeal of the all-day event, which culminates after sunset with ghost stories by torchlight.

"We love it," Renda said. "Until you come, you can't know. You have to experience it."

"I like how they draw you into the story, said Shannon O'Connor, a friend of Renda's daughter Lauren who tagged along with the family. "They move around the stage so you never lose attention. They really get the audience to participate [an error occurred while processing this directive]