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Have They Got Stories to Tell You

by Phil Drew, The Record

"We've been telling together for five or six years," says Carol Connolly of the four-member storytelling ensemble called Four Stories High.

"Actually, it's getting to be almost seven years, now that I think about it. One of our members had a daughter who's 7 now."

Thereby, no doubt, hangs a tale

The foursome, two women from Albany and two from Niskayuna, all members of the Story Circle of the Capital District, have turned up together in that span of time at museums and cafes and colleges, at Victorian Strolls and First Nights and at the Sharing The Fire Storytelling Conference at Simmons College.

Saturday, they will be piling the tales four stories high at Niskayuna High School Aduitorium, collectively and, for three of the foursome, as solo stemwinders at the fifth annual Tellabration, of which Connolly is a co-producer.

It's the Capital Region contribution toward a worldwide celebration of the oral tradition, principally organized by the National Storytelling Network.

Launched in 1996 at Schenectady's Unitarian Church, it moved to GE's R&D Center Auditorium a year later to accomodate the crowds and to Niskayuna last year for the same reason. "This is the fourth time I'll be co-producing it," says Connolly, "and the third I'll be telling at it."

Connolly explores folk tales, fairytales, myths, "a few family tales, but by and large my repertoire is folk tales for around the world, and a few literary tales" - like the one she'll be delivering Saturday, "a sweet little story about stopping to smell the roses," she says.

Stopping to smell the roses seems an apropos thought coming from as member of the Story Circle, sponsor of Tellabration, which is actually a benefit supporting storytelling programs at local libraries, a dozen of them in all in the last year.

The Circle was launched 16 years ago and now meets in alternating months at Colonie's Willaim K. Sanford Library (third Tuesdays of odd months) and Glenville Public Library (third Wednesday orf even months). Fifty-members strong, "We have members who come from as far north as Tupper Lake, south as Greene County, west to Schoharie and east to Vermont," says Connolly of the group.

Connolly got her start filling in at an all-day kindergarten classroom.

"When I moved up in terms of curricular content to second and fifth grades, I used stories to enhance the lesson content," she said.

Looking to hone her skills, she saw newspaper notices of the Story Circle's gatherings. "I thought, I should do that, but of course it took me two years to actually make it to a meeting. But once I got started, I was hooked."

Do tell

"It really is a wonderful thing, to go out and tell a story and see in the eyes of your audience and on their faces that they're as caught up as you are," she says. "That audience/teller connection is wonderful. It really is much more personal than a movie or even going to the theater."

The Troy native first met Jane Ainslie, one of her partners in Four Stories High, through the story circle, and they began storytelling together a few years back. Jane was working at the Sage Library in Troy when Mary Murphy came into the library and conversation turned to their mutual interest in the art of the oral story.

"Eventually she said, hey, we should work together sometime, and the rest is history," says Connolly. Murphy brought along her own storytelling chum, Barbara Palumbo, to complete the foursome.

They begin their programs with an ensemble story - "with each of us talking a separate part" - then each tells individual tales before wrapping up in ensemble again.

"I think we're the only ones in the area who perform like that," she says. "It's unique, because each of us has our own performing style. Gail Ryan of the Williamsville Inn, where we perform a lot, said we're the perfect embodiment of what storytelling is all about -individual voices blending together."

Joining them at Tellabration this weekend are fellow Story Circle regulars such as Glenville's Joe Doolittle, Clifton Park's Kate Dudding, "story walker" Kathleen Gill of Schenectady, and David and Gregory Rubin of Niskayuna, among others. Many of the tellers are participants in the library programs that Tellabration helps to fund.

And their tale-telling is finding new forums all the time. Last year they launched occasional "Story Sundays" at Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia, consisting, Connolly says, of "two tellers, a three-course meal and three courses of story. It's quite a deal."

The most recent, in October, drew 120 fans to the mansion, and in the coming year, starting January, the events will be booked almost one a month.

"People come back time and again, as they do for Tellabration," she says. "They come back year after year, so we must be doing something right."

Audiences, she says, seek something deeper than just entertainment: "The connectedness of teller to an audience is something we're missing in our lives."

Tellabration 2000 is set for Saturday at Niskayuna High School Auditorium, 1626 Balltown Road, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door. For information, call 370-3700.

Originally published in The Record on November 15, 2000.