After declines in attendance, Cape's storytelling festival mulling reorganization

Thursday, May 3, 2012
Jessica Carleton tells a story to the audience at the River Campus Tent of the Cape Girardeau Story Telling Festival on Saturday, April 14. (ADAM VOGLER)

A turnout far below last year's crowd at the Cape Girardeau Storytelling Festival has organizers rethinking their approach.

The festival committee has disbanded and will reorganize to try to fix sinking attendance numbers and falling interest. Although they represented 17 states, just 350 people purchased passes to the festival. Attendance has actually fallen over the last three festivals; last year more than 630 people attended the storytelling festival, which was fewer than the 745 who attended in 2010.

The Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau, which was key in organizing the event, will no longer be a part of the festival. But the event could still continue in some form.

"The Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau is the event sponsor and producer for local storytelling events, and as such, has made the decision to not hold a Festival in April of 2013. After a five-year run and comprehensive evaluation, the decision was made to step away from the multiday, festival format," said Chuck Martin, executive director of the bureau, in an emailed response to questions. "Given the decline in attendance over the years, organizationally, we felt that this change was not only warranted, but necessary. The multiday festival just requires a great deal of logistical resources."

However, two one-day storytelling events will be held as planned. "An Afternoon and Evening of Ghost Storytelling" will take place Oct. 13, and "An Afternoon and Evening of Humorous Storytelling" will be held Jan. 19.

Co-producer Joel Rhodes said he is hoping for expansion of activities at the April festival, but nothing is set in stone yet, including whether he will remain an organizer of the festival.

"Right now, I'm exploring some options to expand the April storytelling event to reflect a true 'festival' atmosphere," said Rhodes, a history professor at Southeast Missouri State University. "I should have a much clearer idea of what a larger, more artistically diverse festival should look like in the next couple of months."

Martin said presold tickets were actually up 24 percent versus last year. However, gate sales failed to materialize.

"We will discuss and decide in the coming days how we're going to reorganize and proceed. The low turnout did cause us to tap into our festival reserve, but the needed funds were there," Martin said. "This was a very difficult decision to make. Those that attend our festival are passionate about storytelling, and their loyalty over these years has been noted and greatly appreciated. However, the bottom line is that there just wasn't enough of them to continue forward in this manner, so we need to look at some options that might increase our draw."


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