The art of storytelling: Tales of life shared through music


Victoria Phelps will bring her musical storytelling art to Harvest Vineyard Church in Camden this fall during the series, “252 Bible-Telling Cafe.”


By Kesha Williams

Sunday, September 16, 2018

This fall, Victoria Phelps will bring one of the oldest forms of communication to Harvest Vineyard Church in Camden — storytelling.

Through a new series of lessons, Phelps hopes participants will develop their skills as storytellers for live audiences. The series, “252 Bible-Telling Cafe,” is open to the public, and Phelps expects teens and adults who recall Biblical characters from lessons learned during their childhood to quickly advance in this form of storytelling.

The series had been scheduled to begin last Thursday, but due to the expected impact of Hurricane Florence, it has been rescheduled to Oct.11, Nov. 8 and Dec 13.

Phelps, a Pasquotank County resident who relocated from Chesapeake, is relatively new to storytelling. She describes her past 20 years as that of an educational entertainer who has used the combination of music and information to please her audiences.

She earned a bachelors degree in liberal arts years ago. She’s now taking theater classes at COA to satisfy her interest in theater. Phelps also has participated Encore, a local community theater company. As a result, her current title as a storyteller has been a lengthy transition she did not expect.

“I’ve been using music and movement for young children for years. I’ve been on clown teams, I’ve worked with ‘Jester for Jesus’, and used other skits and puppets to entertain children,” Phelps explained.

“Several years ago I worked through an agent who would book me to perform in Sandbridge, a community of Virginia, Beach, when they held Beachstreet, a series of live shows performed along the oceanfront. I would tell him I wasn’t a storyteller; I do puppets, I do music and I do improv and theater,” Phelps said.

Phelps didn’t think of her past performances as storytelling. Yet, there were similarities in the production methods. She described her strength as an ability to play the guitar while sharing meaningful information with her audiences. Initially, her presentations were intended for children. After meeting and hearing a selection of storytellers, she realized adults also enjoy hearing captivating stories.

Her plans for “252 Bible-telling Cafe” is for the audience to discover the joy of interacting with an audience while telling Bible stories. One of her favorite references for participants in this series is the book, “The Art of Storytelling” by John Walsh, an author who has spent years teaching people in Christian ministries how to tell stories. Phelps says learning to hold the attention of an audience while relaying a story they are curious about is the key.

As she learned from friends and colleagues with the Virginia Storytelling Alliance, storytelling is a craft that can be developed to suit audiences with different interests. There are categories that storytellers work from then use their unique skills and talents to deliver their stories.

“There are personal stories, fairy tales, Bible stories, stories related to history. The goal was for me to move from behind my guitar. Three years ago I started going to storytelling festivals, learning about storytelling events through a friend, Sheila Arnold. She has coached me through stories, and taught me how to present them. Now I want other people to learn how to become storytellers,” Phelps said.

Sheila Arnold is a current member and a past vice president of the Virginia Storytelling Alliance, the regional group closest to Harvest Vineyard Church, the site of “252 Bible-telling Cafe.” Arnold is a national storyteller who said she has performed in England, Vietnam and Malawi and at area schools.

Arnold said she has been encouraged to see how participants have developed their skills over the years by taking storytelling classes and attending related workshops and conferences. As a teacher she has witnessed students develop their skills after taking classes and attending events such as “252 Bible-telling Cafe.” Those events were the launching pads for participants who had more potential than they realized.

“Are you the kind of person who saw something new and you just had to tell friends and family, and when you did they were interested? Do friends prompt you to tell stories because they enjoy hearing you do so? People are desirous of storytelling, desiring the human connection that’s associated with it,” Arnold explained.

“Social media reveals a need for people to talk and communicate together. Storytelling is a means of that communication happening in a positive way as storytellers share their experiences. When I go to perform at middle schools I have probably 250 kids seated at different programs and they sit, enraptured by stories. Teens are not alone, adults love stories too.”

Phelps recalled how common storytelling has been a tradition in our nation and around the world. Over time, this means of communication became a form of entertainment promoted by guilds and associations across the country. Some storytellers perform for the enjoyment of family or at public events. Others have advanced so much they perform for hire. Today, she noted, some storytellers work alone while some work in teams.

“One of the techniques is to do it in pantomime. Someone can pantomime while one person tells the story. With 252 Bible-Telling Cafe we will use simple story techniques and perhaps weave into other techniques. We may eventually have open mic night,” Phelps said.

“We are all oral learners. That is how other cultures have passed down history, speaking orally. It is important that we tell stories,” Phelps said.

For more information about the series, contact Harvest Vineyard Church at (252) 338-1764.