Telling Tales: WordFest Two celebrates a multitude of storytelling arts



At left, a gesturing Josephine Rood and standing Lyn Davidge reheasrse for WordFestTwo.. Right: Bob Brill, Rood, Patti Smith, Lorelle Otis, and Davidge. Photos by Greg Napoleon.

What do the performers and writers for WordFest Two -- "a spoken word variety show, (with) original works by local wordsmiths" -- have in common? A limited investigation revealed overlapping histories that include performing on an Ann Arbor Civic Theatre stage, participating in the Ann Arbor Storyteller's Guild (AASG), or having written, then recited, poetry in public, doing improvisation, or producing small theater events.

Although the performers come from varied backgrounds, they all seem to have one thing in common: the desire for a live audience, which WordFest performers will get August 25 and 26 at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre (AACT).

"Live performance is about communicating -- sharing with the people in the room," says Catherine Zudak, one of the participants with extensive theater experience. "With film -- I've been in films, it's completely different. You lose a lot of intimacy. Facebook, YouTube -- it's like candy. Not very nourishing."

Retired University of Michigan librarian and WordFest Two organizer Lyn Davidge came under the sway of live performance later in her life. "I discovered the storytelling and theater worlds of Ann Arbor almost simultaneously about 14 years ago," she says. "Over the years, I’ve been fascinated to observe how the various spoken word arts complement each other in illuminating universal elements of the human experience and in fostering human connections that seem so lacking in today’s world."

Davidge was inspired to create a spoken word variety show on her own dime by two AASG members who collaborated on a short play. "We did the first table reading in my living room," she says, "with both Guild members and actors of our acquaintance reading the various parts. At that point, I decided to develop a show around the play and WordFest One was presented in August 2016. It included two play readings, a monologue, a story, a fiction reading, and stand-up."

While WordFest Two won't feature "anything way too political or dark" because "a lot of us have enough of that," Davidge says, she is proud of the variety offered up this year: storytelling; a play by Josephine Rood, directed by Andy Jentzen, where an ordinary woman meets a very unusual man in a tree and the encounter changes her; improv by The Push Ups and The Resplendents; and a reading of flash fiction by Bob Brill, a former Fortran programmer, who captures romantic, lustful anticipation, and the persistence of memory in the transitory, tracelessness of life, channeling Gabriel Garcia Marquez into the taste of a grapefruit. And Davidge will be telling a tale that recreates a scene with a young mother-to-be just before the 1917 Halifax disaster and follows one of its consequences, which eventually touches her own life.

For WordFest live shows, Davidge stresses the importance of eye contact and encourages experimentation. But, she says, "The main difference between WordFest and many other events around town is that it consists of acts from various spoken word arts, unlike poetry slams, for example; or AACT, which produces plays; or The Moth and AASG, which give public performances of storytelling -- albeit with quite different approaches to the art."

In other words, WordFest shows feature a stage full of varied storytelling and theatrical styles that share common bonds, not unlike the performers themselves. "With both storytelling and very short plays increasing in popularity," Davidge says, "why not let audiences sample a little of everything in one show?"

Greg Napoleon has worked as a newspaper editor, book reviewer, and software engineer.

WordFest Two runs Friday, August 25, at 7:30 pm and Saturday, August 26, at 2 pm and 8 pm at the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre Studio, 322 W. Ann Street. Additional performers include Andy Jentzen, Halla Motawi, Jimmy Dee Arnold, Jim Sullivan, Kathy Matthews, Lorelle Otis, Patti Smith, Sanders Hamson, and Tiffany Morningstar. $10 suggested donation at the door. All proceeds will go to Washtenaw Literacy.