We are all storytellers. We all live in a network of stories. There isn’t a stronger connection between people than storytelling. - Jimmy Neil Smith
Many who love downtown Cary and its vibrance, also love the arts, music, and culture of what makes us a community. All three of those elements came together for the fifth year in a row on November 3rd and 4th at the annual Old North State Storytelling Festival co-produced by the North Carolina Storytelling Guild and The Cary Theater.
We caught up with Steve Tate, president of the North Carolina Storytelling Guild, at The Cary Theater after a sold out Saturday morning showcase that featured award-winning and nationally renowned storytellers including Donna Washington, Lipbone Redding, Kim Weitkamp, Larry Pearlman, and Lona Bartlett. The festival includes different stories told across four unique showcases on Friday night and throughout the day on Saturday.
As patrons filled the lobby exiting the Saturday morning showcase, everyone from young children to senior citizens dawned huge smiles, all commenting to one another about what a fun, energetic, and emotional experience they just had.
“The reason I am so passionate about storytelling is that stories are a pure, direct, intimate way that people connect to their funny bone, to their heart, to their memory, to their spirit,” said Tate. “We promise anybody who comes to this festival, you’re going to laugh, you’re going to cry, you’re going to be inspired, and you’ll be connected to each other, to the story, to the teller, and to your own memory of when something like that happened in my life,” said Steve Tate.
The Old North State Storytelling Festival is in downtown Cary for a reason. The Guild’s annual event used to bounce around the state attempting to serve and access as many North Carolinians as possible. That became somewhat untenable and it was serendipitous that a former Guild president happened to live in Cary and knew of the community’s love for the arts. The festival is made possible through grants from the Cary Cultural Arts Program, Cary’s Lazy Days Festival, and the North Carolina Arts Council’s Spark the Arts program. Numerous downtown Cary businesses are festival sponsors and play an integral part in the festival’s success every year. So in the first weekend of November five years ago, the Old North State Storytelling festival landed in Cary and has been an amazing success every year, even virtually through the pandemic. There are no signs of slowing down and the Guild has big plans and vision to continue to grow the festival in downtown Cary year after year, taking advantage of the new downtown Cary park amphitheater and larger venues as the demand increases.
Discussing with Tate about what makes the festival so unique and intriguing his eyes grew wide and his face lit up with passion.
“No screens, no fancy equipment, just words and enthusiasm and emotion the way humans have communicated the most for thousands and thousands of years. It’s an ancient human, unique thing we do, and we are in danger of losing it because of all the distractions. I am extremely excited about storytelling because I find people experience it as a remedy to all the disruptions, all the noise, all the screens and all the things. So that’s fantastic,” added Steve.
Another passion for Tate and the Guild is to give back to the community and engage all Cary citizens through focused outreach efforts. In 2022, the festival took a ‘Read and Feed’ initiative into certain areas of Cary to connect with citizens through reading stories and a food donation drive. For 2023, the Guild donated 100 festival tickets to 6 different Cary retirement communities to engage and invite in the senior citizen community. All 100 tickets were taken with demand for more!
The North Carolina Storytelling Guild began in 1998 with a vision to communicate the power, joy, and impact of story to every community in North Carolina and a mission to create and nurture a thriving community of storytellers through performance and education. The Guild is focused on serving the storytelling community – storytellers and audiences alike by providing storytelling events like the Old North State Storytelling Festival, continuing education opportunities, and advocacy for the art of oral tradition. The Guild is a tremendous resource for the community keeping the art of storytelling alive and well. They are also an incredible asset for schools, teachers, and students through their Storytelling Directory where you can get connected with a storyteller for any number of needs to learn more about a subject or person you are studying or if you need someone to entertain a crowd, party, or community gathering.