The Mosaic Storytelling Festival’s diverse cross-section of a traditional practice
By: Alexandra Donaldson
Storytelling has a rich history that spans cultures and ages. It is how we understand our histories and how we lull our children to sleep. Though many have transitioned to reading instead of telling, especially as they grow older, storytelling is an important part of a community’s traditions and the make-up of its identity. The Mosaic Storytelling Festival wouldn’t have it any other way. The event’s fourth season begins at the end of January this year and is stronger than ever. The festival, which runs from January 26 to March 23 showcases storytellers every other Sunday at 3 pm. The event takes place at St. David’s Anglican Church (49 Donlands Ave.) and is an occasion that celebrates the tradition of storytelling, as well as the cultural variances of a city that thrives on diversity.
The festival started in 2011 when St. David’s offered their space for creative projects in the community. Trish O’Reilly-Brennan and Jerry Silverberg suggested a storytelling festival, and with Liisa Repo-Martell’s support the festival was born. They now inhabit an “Aladdin Cave” at the church, complete with couches, pillows and intimate lighting.
We spoke to Trish O’Reilly-Brennan to learn a bit more about this event and she explained that the goals of the event are simple: “To reflect the diversity of our neighbourhood and our city, and to provide rich, cultural events for east-end families right here in our own neighbourhood.” Though the suggested age range for the event is broad (from 5 to 95), O’Reilly-Brennan says, “Our audiences are made up roughly half of storytelling aficionados from across the city and half of local families with children.” She is consistently surprised by how many adults continue to come year after year just for themselves. “There is an appeal of traditional storytelling that goes way deeper than just light entertainment for children.”
Wanting to know more about the process of putting the event together, we asked how they pick their storytellers and O’Reilly-Brennan notes that there’s no shortage of storytellers in Toronto. “We try to go and hear tellers at other festivals … we’re looking for a variety of voices from different cultures and regions telling many different types of stories.” In the past they’ve had stories that reflect Caribbean, African and North American communities as well as Celtic and French-Canadian stories. This year, O’Reilly-Brennan is excited about Sarah Granskou who is well versed in stories of a Norwegian and Swedish background.
Though the storytellers come well prepared with material, the stories often evolve organically and feed off of the audience, “tellers tend to respond to the audience in front of them and, to some degree, make things up as they go along.” Though they allow their storytellers some free reign, the festival will always look for cultural diversity in their stories, seeking them out from different parts of the world. “That’s our mandate,” says O’Reilly-Brennan, “to reflect Toronto’s multicultural reality and to bring different cultures closer through the sharing of stories.”
Although O’Reilly-Brennan can’t pick out a favourite from the many tellers this year, her enthusiastic anecdotes about the previous years and her warm commendation of tellers is more than enough to convince me that this is an event worth going to. So whether you are a storytelling aficionado, have kids who would love some imaginative and diverse stimulation, or if you just want to bask in the long tradition of oral storytelling, The Mosaic Storytelling Festival is definitely one to check out.