Cape Girardeau Storytelling Festival draws people from nine states

Sunday, April 5, 2009
Andy Offutt Irwin tells a tongue-in-cheek story Saturday at the Cape Girardeau Storytelling Festival. (Fred Lynch)

Storyteller Andy Offutt Irwin entertained the crowd at the Cape Girardeau Storytelling Festival for 45 minutes Saturday without music, props, bells or whistles.

He simply spoke about Aunt Marguerite, an 85-year-old Southern woman trying to keep her driver's license, adjusting to using a debit card and dealing with the loss of friends.

For Booth Chapman of Cape Girardeau, the storytellers' characters "are like the people we know."

Including Chapman, the second day of the downtown festival drew 489 people, up slightly from last year.

Friday's attendance was 2,916, up from 1,198 last year.

Andy Offutt Irwin entertains Cape Girardeau Storytelling Festival guests with several Southern characters Saturday morning in the Drury performance tent. (Kit Doyle)

"Last year a little over 700 in attendance were schoolchildren. This year we had 2,550 schoolchildren from the local area, Poplar Bluff and Jonesboro, Ill.," said Chuck Martin, festival organizer and Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director.

The festival drew people from Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Iowa, Arkansas, Indiana and Mississippi,. according to Betty Roth, Convention and Visitors Bureau administrative assistant.

The event will not make a profit and even lose money for the first couple of years, according to Martin.

"It takes time to build it," Martin said. "But I look at it as an investment that has the potential to be self-sustaining. I look at this as a destination event. People are coming from all these other states and then telling others of the uniqueness of this event. The folks that can make this successful for us are the storytelling aficionados."

Jonesboro, Tenn., where the national storytelling festival is held, now draws about 10,000 people annually.

But that festival is "getting too big for the aficionados," Martin said. "They're looking for an intimate setting that allows them to be six rows from their favorite storyteller, as opposed to 100 rows -- and maybe even have a conversation with them."

The storytelling festival included a recording booth set up for the public to record their stories on CD for free and be posted in the future on the WSIU Radio website, www3.wsiu.org/radio/storyteller. Currently 14 people from last year's festival in Cape Girardeau can be heard telling stories.

"This is part of the cultural heritage of our region," said Vickie Devenport, education and outreach coordinator for WSIU. "Storytelling is a very special art form. We feel this is a very important opportunity for people in the Cape area. People love to tell their stories. We want to share them."

From planning to implementation, the event takes about 100 people to operate, Roth said, and most of those are volunteers. The volunteer pool includes retired schoolteachers, sorority and fraternity members and Boy Scouts who spend the night in the tents safeguarding equipment.

The festival continues at 9 a.m. today and concludes at 3:30 p.m.

cpagano@semissourian.com

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Want to go?

What: Second annual Cape Girardeau Storytelling Festival

When: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today

Where: Downtown Cape Girardeau, Southeast Missouri State University River Campus

Pertinent address:

Cape Girardeau, MO

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