"A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens – second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives, from the small accounts of our day's events to the vast incommunicable constructs... "
Reynolds Price, American Poet
Stories are intrinsic to the human condition. They've been used to pass on history, explain natural phenomenon and tell tales of gods. Storytelling is the social and cultural activity of sharing tales, often with improvisation, theatrics or embellishment. Stories have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and instillation of moral values.
Good storytelling draws you in, holds your interest and imparts a message. Stories are memorable, which is why they're so enduring and such an effective vehicle for teaching history or lessons.
Our region is filled with storytellers and is home to the International Storytelling Center. One group of storytellers is the Beaver Creek Storytellers.
The group was founded by Irma "Mimi" Rockwell of Bristol, Virginia. She was a member of the Jonesborough Storytellers Guild and thought it would be a good idea to start a group in Bristol. Her husband, Rocky Rockwell, and G. Lee Hearl of Abingdon, Virginia, performed a storytelling program in Abingdon and donated the proceeds of that program to Mimi to help start a storytelling group in Bristol. She sent out letters, put ads in the newspaper and made flyers to announce the meeting. Thus, they began the Beaver Creek Storytellers of Bristol.
"Many storytellers have been a part of the group over the years," Pat Musselman, president of the group, says. "Some have moved away, and some great ones have passed away. We have professional and semi-professional storytellers in the group. Some are just people who like to share a story now and then. We also have clowns and a puppeteer who share stories in our group. We are always looking for new storytellers to join us. We do not have a lot of rules to follow, but the ones we have do have to be adhered to. The storytellers have to be able to share stories with passion, facial expression, body movement and love for their audience. We connect with our audiences through our craft.
"Our goal is to keep the art of oral storytelling alive. We try to help people remember the stories from their ancestors by turning back time to a simpler time. Reminding them of times gone by and how some of the simplest things can mean so much to someone are points we like to share. We want the audience to be able to "see' our characters as we talk about them and to "travel' the roads that we are traveling in our stories.
"Sometimes we write the stories that we tell. Many are of life events we have gone through. Some stories come from things that our grandparents told us. Perhaps a random thought can become a story to share. A historical story can be written to help people understand how a certain event affected the community around it. Jokes can be expanded upon and turned into a good back-slapping story. One rule is that the story must be written so that it is always flowing forward."
Musselman began telling stories with the group in its infant days of 1997. She was attending Northeast State Community College and went to a cultural event at the school given by Anndrena Belcher, a well-known storyteller. When she saw how much fun Belcher was having with her stories, she was hooked. She immediately signed up for a storytelling class given by Keith Young. From 1997 to the present, Musselman has told stories at festivals, civic group meetings, churches, schools, private parties, state parks, retirement homes, Witches Wynd in Kingsport, the Civic Center in Pigeon Forge and many years with the Jonesborough Storytellers Guild.
Beaver Creek Storytellers provide entertainment for the whole family. Their stories range from legends, stories of Appalachia, fables, Civil War stories, Jack tales, personal stories, children's stories, songs, tall tales, inspirational, historical, humorous, family scary tales and outright lies. Performing members are available to tell on a regular basis in the guild's public performances, special venues and special events. Normally, 99 percent of their audiences are adults. However, they are available to do programs for children.
The Beaver Creek Storytellers perform at the Bristol Public Library on the first Sunday of the month. The program runs from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is by donations. In October, the library program is on Oct. 1. On Friday, Oct. 13, they will have their Graveyard Tales (ghostly stories) at Rocky Mount Historic Museum in Piney Flats, Tennessee, at 7 p.m. On Tuesday, Oct. 24, they share stories at the Bristol Public Library for their "Spooky Stories" program at 6:30 p.m. Musselman does not recommend that children 6 or younger attend the ghost stories.
They also perform at festivals, schools, community events, churches, senior centers, retirement homes and club meetings.
"We have different rates for different venues," says Musselman. "Storytelling is fun, but it is also a job. The storytellers have to research stories, get permission to tell it if the story is copy-written, learn the story and practice, practice, practice. If we have to travel some distance to the venue, there is a travel expense in with our regular rates. Our performing members and apprentices are quite proud of what we do, because we put a lot of work into it."
If anyone is interested in joining the Beaver Creek Storytellers, they can contact the group's president, Musselman, at 423-878-8941, firstname.lastname@example.org, or attend one of the programs at the library and meet the storytellers. An audition is required to become a storytelling member.
"One of the reasons BCS has thrived is that each year we have been blessed with new tellers and new listeners who have added so richly to their experience," she says.
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