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Sticking to the Stories

Originally published on Friday, November 21, 2008, Daily Freeman, Kingston, NY

Karen Pillsworth, storyteller laureate of Kingston, suspects that some people will attend Saturday evening’s "Tellabration! Sisterhood of the Traveling Stories" at City Hall to learn some juicy tidbits about her.

They will be revealed in her comedic story "The Permanent Record," gleaned from her school days when — you guessed it — teachers threatened to list any of her unacceptable behavior in the permanent record.

"It gives you a little insight into the many troubles I got into growing up," Pillsworth, 52, said.

In addition, money raised will benefit The Children’s Home of Kingston at 26 Grove St. Every $8 taken in, the price of tickets, will go directly to the home, Pillsworth said. Nothing will be deducted.

Pillsworth, also master of ceremonies, will be joined by other storytellers: Lorraine Hartin-Gelardi of Salt Point; and Lauretta Phillips and Corda Ciampa, sisters from New Hampshire. In addition, Myra Dirnfield and Elisa Geliebter, the musical duo called Split the Bill, will round out the evening.

The local event, part of 20-year-old worldwide endeavor, is meant for grown-ups only, Pillsworth said, meaning anyone 16 and older. She stressed the word "grown-ups," not "adults."

"We’re always getting teased," said the storyteller of more than 25 years.

"People say ‘Adult storytelling. What could that mean?"

Although some material may allude to sex and other adult topics, the women do not tell any X-rated stories.

"We don’t," she said. "We want to make that very clear."

"Kids wouldn’t appreciate (the program anyway) because it’s all about grown-ups."

The evening is produced by Pillsworth and Hartin-Gelardi, of Tall Tale Short Story Productions, a duo that also makes the tickets, decorates, sets up and accomplishes everything else that needs to be done.

"She (Hartin-Gelardi) would be the ‘tall tale’ and I would be the ‘short story,’" said Pillsworth, who stands about 5- feet, 1-inch, about 5 inches shorter than her partner.

Pillsworth, chosen as Kingston’s Storyteller Laureate in 2002, is regularly featured at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, and she has shared stories on WAMC, Northeast Public Radio. She also has taught "The Art of Storytelling" at Ulster County Community College in Stone Ridge as well as "Discovering the Stories Within Us" in the Expanding Horizon’s Art and Education Center of Ulster Performing Arts Center in Kingston.

Hartin-Gelardi, author of "Wisdom in the Telling: Finding Inspiration and Grace in Folktales and Myths Retold," has entertained audiences across the United States with her stories.

The two women will open Saturday’s program, the fifth "Tellabration!" out of six that they have produced, in the Common Council Chamber of City Hall in Kingston. Ciampa and Phillips will follow after music by Split the Bill.

Pillsworth said storytellers choose their own material for these occasions, so she usually does not know who will be telling what. The exception Saturday evening, including her own disclosures of youthful misadventures, is Ciampi’s rendition of Cinderella on a motorcycle.

"It’s such a phenomenal story," she said, "that we just begged her to do it, and she said she would."

Pillsworth said she will not be retelling a story she told recently on the Saturday radio show "Speak Out" on WKNY in Kingston. She is still gathering material from listeners and others, she said, to fill out a sentence that begins with "You know you live in a small town when …."

Her own conclusion to that phrase goes something like this: Pillsworth, a kindergarten teacher at Harry L. Edson School in Kingston, and other educators were attending a gastronomic event called "The Taste of Kingston," when one of the women went into labor. They took her to The Kingston Hospital, then, knowing some time would pass before the birth, returned to the "Taste" for dessert.

That teacher, whose name Pillsworth chose to keep confidential, will likely attend Saturday’s storytelling event, she said.

Pillsworth said attendance generally ranges between 80 to 120. And lest anyone think people who practice the art of storytelling are easily dissuaded by challenges of fate, they should think again. The 2005 "Tellabration!" fell on the same day that white supremacists staged a rally in front of Kingston High School in response to what they perceived as a racial incident at the school, across from City Hall. Nevertheless, the storytelling ran as scheduled.

"The FBI had to clear the building before we set up," Pillsworth said. "We had to wait for clearance, but we did not back down."

Audience size suffered because of the day’s events and the necessary rerouting of traffic, but everyone who showed up had a wonderful evening, Pillsworth said. That experience leads her to believe the blocked front steps scheduled for repair at City Hall will deter no one from Saturday’s performance. Attendees can simply enter a side door. The site is handicap accessible.

As for any "grown-up" hesitant about attending an evening of storytelling, Pillsworth said a similar event in which she took part recently at Proctors’ Theater in Schenectady, drew 170 people. Adults or "grown-ups" love to both hear and tell stories, she said, and she wants to spread the word.

"We want to have a bumper sticker," Pillsworth said, "that says ‘Storytelling is not just for kids anymore.’"

  Karen Pillsworth
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