C-U group revives art of storytelling

The Champaign-Urbana Storytelling Guild takes storytelling from children’s bedtime fodder to an elaborate art form.

The Guild, which was founded in 2001, sponsors local storytelling concerts and events and participates in workshops and benefits.

“The whole point of it is to support new tellers as well as bring other storytellers to town for people to enjoy,” said Kathe Brinkmann, founding member, storyteller and one of the organizers for the group.

The group, which consists of about 12 members (although it varies), has meetings once a month to review business issues.

And, afterward, it continues with various activities related to storytelling.

“We share stories, we swap ideas and we swap information in terms of festivals and events,” said Kim Sheahan, president of the C-U Storytelling Guild.

Sheahan said many of the stories told are traditional folktales, especially because of copyright issues.

The group also participates in other social events and holds fundraisers in order to bring in other professional storytellers from nearby regions.

“Basically, we can’t afford to bring in tellers who are too far away or very, very high in the national or international bracket,” Sheahan said.

“We just don’t have that kind of money, but we do have a lot of people like us who are regional tellers who are outside of our immediate area and often people might hear them at other festivals in the area … Many of them are brought from the Midwest to come up and tell.”

However, not everyone who participates in the Guild actually tells stories.

“People who join the Guild never have to tell a story,” Sheahan said.

“We have a couple members who never tell a lot of stories … But they’re story listeners and story lovers, and storytellers need those people who are going to listen, as well as those people who are going to tell.”

The members of the group differ in both age and experience — from a 13-year-old girl just starting out to Dan Keding, one of the main founders of the group who has been telling stories full-time for almost 37 years. He has also been teaching a storytelling class at the University.

“Storytelling is for all ages,” Keding said.

“I think part of the whole concept of storytelling is that it is multi-generational.

“Everyone here is in different stages of learning and talents and it’s a really good opportunity for people to stretch their wings.”

Many of the members also incorporate music into their storytelling by using instruments like the flute, guitar or even the banjo.

The stories can also be changed over the years in order to have greater affect.

“You’ll see lots of twists here and there just to give people something to hang on to,” Keding said.

“Sometimes the stories are so old that you have to bring the language up to date or bring the scene up to date so that people can hang on to it.”

But storytelling isn’t just a hobby or a profession these days.

It can also be used to be benefit others.

Keding said the Guild puts on a benefit concert each year in order to raise money for groups such as Habitat for Humanity and the Rape Crisis Center.

“You can really take it and use it,” Keding said. “For example, it’s very good in health care. It’s used in hospices now to work with people who are dying and dealing with death through traditional stories that deal with death.

“It’s very calming for these people. It’s very freeing to realize that for hundreds and hundreds of years, people have been dealing with it.

“So storytelling can really make a big difference in someone’s life.”

It all just goes to show, maybe a story is more than simply a story.