Storytelling Review: Donald Davis & Carmen Agra Deedy in Indianapolis

This past weekend was the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee.  Performance storytelling lovers from all over the country – and even from other countries – gather to swap tales at this annual festival.  I’m talking thousands of people, sitting on folding wooden chairs crammed under huge tents, listening to individuals on raised platforms “just” talking into microphones…and being transformed.

There are now several big storytelling festivals around the country, but the one in Jonesborough is “Mecca.”  You want to hear the best tellers?  Go to Jonesborough.

I haven’t been able to get down to Jonesborough for several years, so I am doubly glad that Storytelling Arts of Indiana continues to bring some of those top tellers here to Indianapolis.

Two of those top tellers are Donald Davis and Carmen Agra Deedy.  (That’s Donald in the photo above.  I’m sorry; I don’t have a photo of Carmen.)

They were both in town a couple weekends ago.  They presented two programs for adult listeners and one for families.  My friend Dawn and I drove down to the Indiana History Center on Saturday, September 25, 2010 to hear one of the presentations for adults, called “The People That We Love.”

Carmen told an original, autobiographical story about getting in trouble with her elementary school principal.  I had never heard Carmen tell before.  She’s wonderful!  What struck me most about her telling was her rich, joyful use of specific language.   That, and her ability to effortlessly (it seemed) produce different accents, flowing back and forth seamlessly between her portrayals of the characters in her stories.

The thing I loved most about her story itself was her saying that you never really know when a personal story ends.  Her warm, funny story about her principal could have ended when Carmen left elementary school, but it didn’t.

I should mention, too, that even though Carmen’s story was autobiographical, it wasn’t just about her, or even about her principal.  It was crafted in such a way as to be respectful to all involved and to have many openings for listeners to enter the story in their own ways.  In other words, it was not like listening to a therapy session or a lecture or a sermon.

Donald, too, told a story that kept going after the first “ending.”  It was about an uncle who encouraged Donald’s adolescent love of chemistry sets and scientific inquiry.  Hah!  I am laughing out loud again, remembering some of the “scientific” experiments Donald performed as a boy in that story.

I have heard Donald tell many times and he almost always tells original, autobiographical stories.  They are always hilarious and poignant, and they are not meant to be told by anyone else but Donald but, like Carmen’s stories, they are respectful of the people involved and of his listeners.

Donald and Carmen are both masters at timing and at being present with their audiences.  It really was a special treat to hear them tell.

Oral tradition storytelling is not quite the same as theatre, but there is a lot of overlap in the two forms of performance art.  I love both!  Storytelling Arts of Indiana has a whole slew of exciting storytelling events planned for this season, with a variety of telling styles and a variety of stories.  Most will take place at the Indiana History Center but a few will take place at the Indy Fringe Theatre or other venues.   For more information, please see

‘See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – and

Update 10/5/10 – I love what Nuvo arts blogger Chi Sherman wrote about these two storytellers:

About Carmen’s telling…

About Donald’s telling…


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