Local guild explores the art of storytelling

The first time Jennifer Ferris stood up in front of an audience with the Victoria Storytellers Guild she was incredibly nervous.

Jennifer Ferris is one of the members of the Victoria Storytellers Guild.

The first time Jennifer Ferris stood up in front of an audience with the Victoria Storytellers Guild she was incredibly nervous.

She was there to tell her story about the experience of being the volunteer hot dog day coordinator at Quadra Elementary School and all the problems that came along with that duty. The further she stepped into the story, the more comfortable she felt and soon she became energized by the audience.

“I was reliving the experiences, the emotions, the ups and downs of that day. At the end of the story I felt like I had run a marathon and had received a big prize,” said Ferris, who’s drawn to fairy tales, folk tales, myths and legends, along with personal stories and history.

“The action of being listened to is such a generous gift from the audience and I take pleasure in telling.”

Even though she’s been a professional storyteller for years, entertaining audiences of all ages at conferences, schools, festivals, museums, and community events across Canada, England, the U.S., France and Guatemala, Ferris often still questions what she’s gotten herself into the moment the spotlight shines on her.

But everything changes once she begins the art of storytelling — something she believes is an essential part of every culture.

That’s why Ferris is among about 40 people who belong to the Victoria Storytellers Guild (VSG) and gather once a month to share and listen to stories.

Established in 1989, members of the guild tell a variety of stories, from personal experiences and ghost stories to traditional tales, historical and literary stories penned by famous writers. Each one is told with a unique style and interpretation.

Guild president Lee Porteous got involved with the VSG in the fall of 2006 and was drawn to storytelling after hearing a program on CBC.A lover of second-hand books, she’s always on the look out for the next great story to tell, combing through magazines and books at the nearest library.

“You may read 50 stories before you find one that suits you. There’s just certain stories that call to you,” said Porteous, who prefers more traditional stories, particularly ones that come from Scandinavian countries.

“I love stories that have a bit of magic in them one way or another or we think it’s magic and it turns out to be something else.”

As for what makes a good story to tell, both Porteous and Ferris agree that it has to have something that touches people and they can make a connection with; something that reminds them of their own experiences and one that often involves trouble.

Being a visual learner, whenever Ferris tells a story she doesn’t learn the words. Instead, she starts running images through her mind like a movie, painting a description of what she is seeing, smelling and touching for her listeners so they can create their own images in their mind.

“They throw the energy back to me. That’s the way the story builds,” said Ferris, noting it isn’t necessarily about the best storyteller who told the best story.

“There may be something in a story that you made a connection with and will think about and mull over for the evening. There is all kinds of storytellers and all kinds of stories and there’s room for everybody.”

The Victoria Storytellers Guild welcomes the public to hear and tell stories on the third Monday of each month from September to June. The next meeting takes place on Monday, Dec. 12 at 1831 Fern St. Admission is $5 and stories start at 7:30 p.m. For more information visit victoriastorytellers.org.