Lititz Storytelling Festival Today Features Stivender and More
Ask storyteller Ed Stivender why he will appear at the Lititz Storytelling Festival at the Warwick Middle School this weekend, and he’ll give you a straight albeit amusing answer: “I’m in it for the money.”
Stivender, a storyteller extraordinaire whose first job was shining shoes, returns to the festival stage a polished professional with one goal in mind: trying to not repeat pieces that he performed in town two years ago, when his religious-themed humor was a hit with locals. Even the titles of his books, Raised Catholic (Can You Tell?) and Still Catholic After All These Fears, got a good laugh.
Culling from a collection of stories amassed over his years teaching English and after turning full-time storyteller nearly forty years ago, Stivender will select pieces while on stage to perform with attendees in mind.
“That decision,” Stivender said, “happens when I look at who is in the audience.” That means that each of his sets as one of four featured performers will be a customized reflection of what does, and does not, work for the crowd.
“The audience really tells me where to go,” said Stivender. “Their response–laughter, uncomfortableness–gives you hints. I think of storytelling as a dance.” That interplay with the audience generates a rhythm for the performance.
“One of the skills that a good storyteller has is cuing the audience when to laugh. That cuing back and forth makes a sweet dance,” said Stivender. “For me, that’s the joy.”
Stivender sometimes asks the audience to provide ideas that he incorporates into impromptu stories, while the majority of the stories he’ll share this weekend will be his own version of traditional folk tales. Pieces by O. Henry and Mark Twain he repeats from memory.
A collector of stories, Stivender recalled that the most unexpected source of material is a piece of cowboy poetry he received from a friend and fellow storyteller. Stivender may perform the piece written in iambic heptameter this September weekend. After teaching a workshop this morning, he will perform at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are still available for both performances.
Despite his best efforts, Stivender acknowledges that sometimes in the course of the storytelling dance, he has been known to step on toes.”
“The worst stepping on toes is when they walk out on me,” he said, which happened during a performance for families this past summer at an Ocean City, Maryland library.
In one story, Stivender repeated a line threatening to “slit your throat” four times throughout a story in the voice of the wizard character. The language proved too much for one young listener. By the second time he uttered the line, a little girl about eight years old in the audience covered her ears; by the final time he uttered the threat, she had been escorted out by her mother.
“It was too late for that person,” Stivender said, recalling how he tracked down the pair outside the library after the performance to provide a complimentary CD of his stories to the girl.
While many enjoy his performances, Stivender still has his critics, who sometimes question his storytelling intentions.
“One woman accused me of working for the devil because of my religious humor,” he said. “Two weeks later I performed for cloistered nuns in Langhorne,” where he was reportedly a hit. “You certainly can’t please everyone,” Stivender said.
Stivender noted that he performed his first comedy routine that got a laugh in high school, in Mr. Jones’ first-year history class. For him, it was a pivotal moment, simultaneously earning him the reputation of a performer and putting a halt to the beatings he endured from a school bully until that time.
It is Stivender’s real-life story that demonstrates just one of the motifs that he says festival-goers will encounter at the sessions: going through a period of trials, overcoming a giant, virtue rewarded/evil overcome, and more.
For those in the community who may consider attending, Stivender holds out a metaphorical hand of invitation.
“Come, have a good time,” he said. “Come for the dance.”
Tickets are still available online and at the door for the 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday performances. Ticket Prices: $15 for Adults, $5 for Students. Content advisory: Stories may feature mature or frightening themes and violent language, and may not be suitable for young children. Stories may feature content considered morally objectionable by some. For a listing of festival performers and to purchase tickets, click here. The Lititz Storytelling Festival takes place at the Warwick Middle School Auditorium, 401 Maple Street, Lititz, PA 17543.
Register to receive FREE email updates of breaking news in the box next to this story (below story on mobile). Lynn Rebuck covers arts, entertainment, and every other beat for LititzDailyNews.com, which she solo-publishes. Email her at editor@LititzDaily.com. Follow LititzDailyNews.com on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.