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Orillia festival helps keep the art of storytelling alive and well

This year's Leacock Summer Festival begins Wednesday; 'Stories are powerful for everybody,' says festival guest
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Guelph storyteller Brad Woods will be at the Leacock Summer Festival in Orillia later this month. Rob O'Flanagan/Village Media

Some people say storytelling is a dead art. Try telling that to Brad Woods.

“It can’t be. We’re always telling stories,” Woods said. “In some ways, you could say that’s what makes us human.”

The Guelph resident will be in Orillia for the Leacock Summer Festival, which runs this week, starting Wednesday and running through to Sunday.

“As a Canadian artist, it’s a real thrill and an honour to be part of anything with (Stephen Leacock’s) name attached to it,” Woods said.

Besides, “any time you can head out of town in the summer and tell stories on someone’s front yard, by the lake, it’s ideal.”

Woods will be at the festival Saturday at 2 p.m. Admission is by donation.

He will also share stories during the Orillia Scottish Festival’s ceilidh at the legion Friday night at 7 p.m.

Woods takes pride in his job as a teacher, but he pursues his passion by way of storytelling. And he’s told many a tale in Orillia.

He has been a guest at a previous Leacock Summer Festival, taken part in one of Storytelling Orillia’s World Storytelling Day events, appeared at the Mariposa Folk Festival and performed a storytelling/music mix with a friend at the Brownstone.

He has also presented his stories at theatres, conferences, prisons and churches across North America and the United Kingdom.

His passion was ignited when, as part of a project while he was in university, he volunteered with the Toronto Storytelling Festival.

“I fell in love with it,” he said.

He hasn’t stopped since, and he has realized there is an appetite for storytelling among people of all ages.

“Often, people think storytelling is for children. Stories are powerful for everybody,” he said. “A kids’ story, a Celtic story, a funny story — I’ll tell those at any event.”

The importance of oral storytelling is greater than ever, Woods said, as technology increasingly offers distractions and, in some ways, erodes the personal connections people have with one another.

“At the end of the day, it’s just a way to get us together to tell each other stories, even if they’re about technology,” he said.

Leacock Museum co-ordinator Jenny Martynyshyn agreed, and that’s why storytelling is included in this year’s festival.

“(Oral) storytelling is the oldest of arts when it comes to relaying a story. We don’t want to lose that aspect, because it’s so important,” she said.

Since the Leacock Summer Festival began in the 1970s, it has drawn authors, poets and speakers from various backgrounds, and variety continues to be top of mind for organizers.

“We want to have a mix. Even Stephen Leacock didn’t write in one genre,” she explained. “He wrote plays, he wrote humour, but he was also writing textbooks.”

One of the new offerings at this year’s festival is “A Night Between the Covers.” Romance novelists Molly O’Keefe and Mary Sullivan will be on hand Saturday at 9 p.m.

“Basically, it’s going to be a night of indulgence," Martynyshyn said, noting a Harlequin cover model will also be there. “It’s going to be a very fun evening.”

One of the staples of the festival is the Humour Showcase, happening Friday at 7 p.m., featuring Dan Needles, J.C. Villamere and Randal Graham.

Needles is no stranger to Orillia and all things Leacock. He won the Leacock Medal for Humour in 2003 and served as the “Mayor of Mariposa” at the annual medal gala for the past decade, announcing his “retirement” at last month’s event.

“We like our humour night to reflect that we’re bringing in not just new people, but friends of the Leacock Museum and the Leacock Associates,” Martynyshyn said. “He’s a good fit here.”

Graham, too, has a connection to the Leacock Medal, having made the long list for this year's prize.

The poetry showcase, with Shane Neilson and Antonio Michael Downing, will also return this year. Josh Poitras, a guest during last year’s showcase, will launch a book he has edited featuring local poets, called Blossom in Winter. That event will take place Sunday at 2 p.m.

Admission to some events is by donation, while others have set costs. Trix’s Bistro, the on-site eatery, will have special hours for dinner service, and there will be a cash bar.

While tickets are expected to be available at the door, those interested in attending any of the events are encouraged to contact the Leacock Museum at 705-329-1908.

Find out more about the event here, or check out the Leacock Museum's Facebook page.

Children's Day

The Leacock Museum's annual Children's Day is happening July 28 at 1 p.m. The theme is comic books. Get details here, or check out the Leacock Museum's Facebook page.