For storyteller Steve Otto, history is really nothing more than a collection of stories -- stories that must be told.
"History isn't dates and names," said Otto, "it's a collection of wonderful stories about what people did and didn't do, and about things we shouldn't do in the future. Storytelling is a fun way of bringing history to life."
Otto, who is labeled by many as a "master" storyteller, works in that craft full time and serves as the Missouri liaison for the National Storytelling Network.
On Jan. 24, he is bringing his entertaining view of history to Cape Girardeau, as he kicks off a series of storytelling events sponsored by Old Town Cape, the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Generations Family Resource Center at Southeast Missouri Hospital.
"The idea was to make a family event in which we can preserve our heritage and tell the tales of the historic river district," said Marsha Toll, coordinator of the new storytelling program. "We want people to understand storytelling as a way of preserving history, heritage and family lore.
"There's a lot of heritage and history here that hasn't been told yet."
The program that kicks off this month will feature a different storytelling event every month, culminating in a special storytelling focus at July's Libertyfest. Sponsors hope the events will spark an interest in storytelling in this historic Mississippi River town and encourage locals to tell their own stories at the July festival.
"History is just far more exciting when it's packaged in stories and tales," said CVB director Chuck Martin. "We're hoping the community will take advantage of this opportunity we have with a famous storyteller visiting."
But the renowned storyteller didn't start out that way. A theater major at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Otto worked in insurance and held state and federal government jobs working with Medicaid for many years. When he took an early retirement 11 years ago, he decided to practice his storytelling full time.
Otto now has more than 450 stories in his catalogue, and loves to use them as a teaching tool.
"I tell them from nursery schools to nursing homes," he said. "I love the feel I get out of seeing audiences respond as they see their own images of the story in their own mind. And they make the story their own."
In his work, Otto has done seminars for teachers, other storytellers, librarians, churches and even lawyers. It's an especially powerful tool for teachers, Otto maintains.
"The retention level from these stories is phenomenal," he said. "It's a great learning tool."
The program in Cape Girardeau will teach visitors how to tell stories and Otto will present some stories about the great New Madrid earthquakes in the 19th century. "Those you can't make up," he said. "They're really fun to do."
The program starts at 7 p.m. at the Conventions and Visitors Bureau located at 100 Broadway. Space is limited, so reservations are required.
For more information call Toll at 335-3302 or Martin at 335-1631.
335-6611, extension 182