Some of the stories told may one day be as old as time, but even after 25 years the Azalea Storytelling Festival continues to bring laughs and smiles.
Last weekend, the festival celebrated its 25th anniversary, and after a pandemic-impacted event in 2021, it was also a return to normal.
The three-day event, held at LaGrange College Callaway Auditorium, featured the minds of renowned storytellers Josh Goforth, Kevin Kling, Ed Stivender, Carol Cain and Donald Davis.
Cain, who is also on the planning committee for the Azalea Storytelling Festival, said the full weekend was a resounding success.
“It was so obvious that people wanted to laugh,” Cain remarked Monday. “They were so ready to be there together, to hear stories, to forget everything. You could hear that in the audience.
Storyteller Stivender acted as host for the first night of the event and told a brief history of the festival in the form of a banjo string choir, dissing the traditional lyrics featured in the program to sum up the last year’s event, which was held semi-virtually. .
“How can they call it the 25th, wasn’t it the 25th last year?” he sang jokingly. “I wonder if anyone has anything to say about last year? For two dozen years we watched the stories blossom, then COVID came and spread around fear. Donald Davis held [down] the loud, but the festival played opossum… but this year, with the help of the Lafayette Society for Performing Arts, we are shouting – Lafayette, we are here.
Storyteller Kling acted as the lead storyteller, reciting stories from his Minnesota-bound childhood and many of the misadventures he had early in life. Kling was born with a birth defect that left his left arm shorter than his right. His right arm was injured in a motorcycle accident earlier in his life and he currently has no movement in it. Kling spoke humorously about his illness and associated it with some of the events that happened earlier in his life.
“When I was a kid there were two kinds of fairy tales, fairy tales I hated and fairy tales I hadn’t heard yet,” he said. “Because it always ended badly for the handicapped guy. But my grandmother would say a story can go any way you want. That’s why they’re called folk tales because they change with people.
A story his grandmother told him involved the tale of a broken, talking pot that spilled water when its master carried it. When the pot asked its owner why he didn’t throw it away, the owner replied that the spilled water had caused the flowers to bloom along the road, creating a spectacle for the owner on his journey.
“The man said, ‘Every day you make my difficult journey easier. I think I’ll keep you,” Kling said.
Cain followed suit and shared how she stayed in the Troup County area to continue her high school education and how her time in LaGrange College’s theater program helped her hone her storytelling skills.
Cain, a Hogansville native who has starred in educational roles such as Rosie the Riveter and Mrs. Claus, opened up about her early college days in the drama department as she tried to decide what career she wanted to pursue. Although she was an education student, her days were filled with short-lived theatrical roles and the constant mentorship of her acting teachers, Dr. Max Estes and his wife, Martha Estes.
“While he was always messy, he had his hair done perfectly,” Cain recalled, noting that the pair acted as mentors to her and her fellow theater students and basically made the department feel like home for all. “I didn’t necessarily declare myself a theater major from the start, I just found a place where I liked to be.”
Featured storytellers alternated their time throughout the Saturday and Sunday sessions, bringing new stories and perspectives throughout the event.
One session attracted up to 300 visitors, Cain said. Visitors came from LaGrange and other areas of Georgia and states such as Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi.