Tales to tell

Sally Cole
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Award-winning storyteller Donna Washington is looking forward to sharing her stories during her first visit to P.E.I. Her performances are March 7, Confederation Centre Studio Theatre, 7:30 p.m., and March 8, Harbourfront Theatre, Summerside, 2 p.m.

On P.E.I. for two shows, American storyteller Donna Washington has advice for people entering the profession

Everyone has a natural ability to tell stories.

And no one understands that more than Donna Washington, an award-winning storyteller /recording artist.

“We do it all the time. If you tell somebody what you did yesterday, you’re telling a story. Or, if you sit down and relate something you saw in a movie, you’re telling a story.

“But, can everybody be a professional storyteller? It depends on how comfortable you are standing in front of people,” laughs Washington, who will ply her craft during a performance at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown today at 7:30 p.m. and one on Saturday at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside at 2 p.m.

She advises anyone interested in getting into the profession to decide which performance style suits them best.

“There are different kinds of storytellers. There are those who sit very still and talk. There are storytellers that sing. Others use puppetry to tell their stories. I don’t do that either. I’m an animated visual and vocal storyteller,” says Washington, during a telephone interview from Durham, N.C.

In a YouTube video, she uses hand gestures and makes monkey sounds as she moves across the stage telling The Monkey’s Heart, a story about a crocodile that uses her tears to try to get her way.

“In workshops I tell people that you have to do what you’re comfortable in doing and you have to do it full out. There’s no halfway about it. If you’re a monkey, take it as far as you can take it. The audience will accept anything you give them but if you look uncomfortable, they will be uncomfortable too.

“So if it’s uncomfortable for you to roar or make really big motions, there is a place for you to tell stories but it might not be with children because they can get really bored if they stand there, watching you talk,” she says.

Another consideration in storytelling is safety.

“Don’t do anything that’s going to hurt you on stage,” says Washington, who will be following her own advice when she makes her first visit to P.E.I.

“It’s the first time I’ve performed in Canada and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m really anxious to find out how my stories will play out. I’m looking forward to sharing the kinds of stories that I tell with the audiences there, some of whom may not have encountered storytelling, some of whom may know a lot about it, which is great. That’s an audience that I get to play with.”

After the show, during the meet and greet and CD signing, she’s looking forward to hearing other people’s tales.

“Stories are the way we understand the world. So we are actually the product of the stories that we know and the stories that we believe.”


Sally Cole is a features writer with The Guardian. She welcomes comments about her column as well as suggestions for future columns from readers. She may be reached at scole@theguardian.pe.ca or by phone at 629-6000, ext. 6054.

Organizations: Confederation Centre, Harbourfront Theatre, The Guardian

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Summerside, P.E.I. Canada

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