Taos Storytelling Festival celebrates 20th anniversary

Event brings masters of the storytelling art to local stages

By Ariana Kramer
Posted 10/9/19

Everyone loves a good story — one that makes us shiver in our skin, laugh out loud or cry. A good story reminds us of our baggage and blessings. We feel it in our bones ...

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Taos Storytelling Festival celebrates 20th anniversary

Event brings masters of the storytelling art to local stages


Everyone loves a good story — one that makes us shiver in our skin, laugh out loud or cry. A good story reminds us of our baggage and blessings. We feel it in our bones. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Taos Storytelling Festival. Produced by SOMOS (Society of the Muse of the Southwest), the festival draws together storytellers of national, regional and local prominence. This year brings back Antonio Rocha (pronounced Haw-sha) and Cisco Guevara and welcomes for the first time the poet and story spinner Olivia Romo.

The festival takes place  Friday and Saturday (Oct. 11-12). It starts out with a StorySLAM on the theme of water on Friday night. Sign-up is at 6:30 p.m. and the stories begin at 7 p.m. at the SOMOS Salon & Bookshop, 108 Civic Plaza Drive. Storytellers have six minutes each to tell their tales. The winner will be invited to share their story at Saturday night's Grand Finale Show at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Admission is $10 and free for youth ages 18 and under.

On Saturday (Oct. 12), a free workshop for youth ages eight and older is offered from 11 a.m. to noon by festival director James Navé. The workshop is an introduction to the basics of storytelling, and takes place at Twirl Discovery Space, 225 Camino de La Placita.

Antonio Rocha teaches "Hidden Gems," a storytelling workshop on Saturday (Oct. 12) from 12:30 to 3:15 p.m. Rocha's workshop description states, "Transitions — the moments in a story where we shift between one thought and the next -- are hidden gems tucked away in a story well told. Whether you're your family's unofficial historian or a professional teller, learning to master these moments will give your stories extra polish and finesse. This workshop will teach you how to identify and develop the transitions within your stories by practicing techniques with voice and body language." This workshop takes place at SOMOS. Admission is $35, $25 for SOMOS members.

On Saturday, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., Dr. Dawn Nordquist hosts a Story Swap for storytellers of all styles and ages. There is a six-minute time limit per storyteller. Sign-up is at 3:30 p.m. and storytelling begins at 3:45 p.m. The Story-Swap is held at SOMOS and free to attend. Nordquist teaches linguistics at the University of New Mexico.

Finally, the Grand Finale Show featuring stories by Antonio Rocha, Olivia Romo, Cisco Guevara and the winner of the StorySLAM takes place on Saturday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Taos Community Auditorium. Tickets are $20 and available at the door.

For Taos Storytelling Festival Director James Navé, the act of telling stories is a humanizing one — for both the teller and the listeners. He said there are two main reasons why it is important to tell stories.

"One, it's important to tell stories because when you tell a story you invite people to intimately know who you are, and that invitation allows them to have a deeper understanding of who they are. Two, because we all have powerful stories to tell. When we tell them from our truth we provide our community with a sense of softness, a sense of belonging, a sense of relief, a sense of purpose."

Navé is a former SOMOS board member and one of the founders of the Taos Storytelling Festival. He remembers serving as host of the first festival held at Kit Carson Park in 1999. This is his fourth year of directing the festival, a position which entails curating the programs and workshops and organizing event logistics, as well as serving as an emcee and workshop facilitator.

Each year, the festival highlights a nationally recognized storyteller. Navé explained that this is someone who has been featured at the annual National Storytelling Festival held in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Antonio Rocha is a returning featured teller at the Jonesborough festival. He also came to the Taos Storytelling Festival in 2014.

"What I look for is someone who is relaxed, animated and friendly," said Navé. "Someone who has easy, confident movements. Someone who, even though they're telling a complicated story, sounds like they're talking to me - where even though it's a stylized conversation, the beats are authentic."

Rocha certainly fits the bill. His storytelling seems effortless, but he has perfected it over a lifetime. Rocha grew up in Brazil before moving to the United States three decades ago. He recalls storytelling as an important aspect of his cultural upbringing.

"I grew up in Brazil and we were always telling stories of things we did, that we shouldn't have done. It's a culture of joke telling. In a typical gathering in Brazil … you start with family stories, try to fix the politics, then finish the night with jokes. My parents told me a lot of stories," recounted Rocha.

From a young age, Rocha said, he liked to imitate things - using gesture and his imagination. He went on to study mime under Tony Montanaro, a student of the great French mime Marcel Marceau. At one point in his career, Rocha studied directly with Marceau for a two-week invitational intensive. Rocha has also studied theater arts. He integrates these disciplines into his dynamic style of storytelling. Rocha says he promises "a splash" of a performance for Saturday night's water-themed Grand Finale Show.

Taos native Olivia Romo will be combining her talents in storytelling and poetry for the Grand Finale Show. Romo is a 2011 Slam Poetry Champion of New Mexico and an advocate for acequia culture. She worked for four years with New Mexico Acequia Association after earning a dual degree in Chicano/a Studies and English at UNM. She has been a featured poet at the National Cowboy Poetry Festival in Elko, Nevada. In high school, Romo was coached by teacher and poet Anne MacNaughton, one of the founders of SOMOS. Romo now serves on the SOMOS board of directors.

Francisco "Cisco" Guevara "probably knows more stories about Northern New Mexico than anybody you could possibly meet," said Navé. "He is an encyclopedia of cultural references."

Guevara owns Los Rios River Runners, a Taos-based river rafting company. He is a beloved and familiar face of the Taos Storytelling Festival. His decades of experience telling stories while navigating groups through rushing waters has resulted in a fluid storytelling style as polished as a river stone.

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