Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, October 5, 2001

Makia Malo talks about life in Kalaupapa in this year's
Talk Story Festival at McCoy Pavilion.

Talk of the town

Spooky, goofy and hilarious tales
await audience at festival

By Scott Vogel

THERE are 8 million stories in the Naked City, as we've often been told; still, the Naked City has nothing on Honolulu, a metropolis teeming with compelling yarn spinners both young and old. And never will that be more true than this weekend, when the 13th annual Talk Story Festival, once again anchored by its founder, Jeff Gere, descends upon McCoy Pavilion for three nights of tall tale-telling.

"As my friend says, 'you're a hunter and gatherer of stories,'" Gere proudly exclaimed, speaking of the method by which he assembled the stellar list of 25 or so speakers on this year's program. While "there is a real core of very talented and serious storytellers," folks he invites back to the mike year after year, Gere is particularly excited to include "people I just run across," people like Janet Yap, a librarian with little public speaking experience but an apparently inexhaustible fount of tales of family woe.

"She's kind of this frumpy, local girl who talks in a kind of monotone voice, and one day she just started talking to me about her sister and her weird karma," said Gere, but weird karma hardly begins to describe it. This is a woman who, after getting hit in the head, found that her eyeball had popped out, a woman who -- another time -- had her workday interrupted by the unfortunate news that her hair was on fire. And the weirdness doesn't stop there. Thanks to the deadpan style with which Yap tells "The Dangling Eye and the Flaming Hair," these misadventures become, well, hilarious. "I was rolling on the floor with a mixture of these strange stories and this lady's very flat delivery. For some reason, I'm the guy that people tell these kinds of things to."

Of course, stories don't only provoke laughter. They also amaze us, frequently scare us and sometimes enlighten us. But there's one characteristic that unites all good stories -- the ability to keep us on the edges of our seats.

13th Annual Talk Story Festival

When: 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. today, tomorrow and Sunday

Where: McCoy Pavilion, Ala Moana Park. A live webcast of the festival can also be found at

Cost: Free

Call: 973-7262

"Every year we have this three-night event, so Friday night (tonight) is always Spooky Tales, and it's always huge," said Gere. The cast of ghost conjurers this year includes Makia Malo, "a blind, stumpy-fingered, big mountain of a Hawaiian guy who talks about life in Kalaupapa," and Big Island storyteller/dancer Jack Boyle, "who invented a Celtic Obake story, 'Breath!', which is told in the Butoh style." One of Hawaii's finest deaf storytellers, Ed Chevy, returns with a sign language version (given simultaneous translation) of Poe's "Masque of the Red Death," and Daniel Kelin will share an original story, "Two Boys Who Tricked a Tropical Demon," a tale informed by the many summers he's spent teaching drama in the Marshall Islands.

Saturday's program, entitled Kid Kind Tales, includes everything from the macabre, twisted narratives of Seattle native Bret Fetzer, to excerpts from Aesop's fables set to music and presented by members of the Hawaii Opera Theater, to a puppet version of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" performed by a puppeteer with the intriguing stage name of Milky Way.

"Ed Chun, who basically saw everything at Pearl Harbor as an 18-year-old apprentice pipe-fitter, tells his story ("The Day of Infamy: I Saw It All!"), and he's a funny local Chinese guy who's very lively," said Gere of the festival's final day, Adventure Tales. Audiences will hear accounts of humor and courage in the face of life's ultimate questions, as when Barbara Shirland, the former clinical director of Hospice Hawaii, talks about "The Adventure of Death and Dying," and Pat Masumoto shares the side-splitting tale of how she gave up business consulting for an artist's life. (Hint: It involves a sign from God that comes via a phone sex line.) Needless to say, the power of the story to capture life's challenges in all their complexity should be richly in evidence during Sunday's program.

Cultures have always used stories to explain the unexplainable, to make sense of the senseless, as Gere puts it. And at the moment, with senselessness at the forefront of all our minds, there may well be an added level of urgency to this year's festival.

"In a time when the world is falling apart, with all the calamities of the last few weeks, with war looming and businesses folding, we need to have a context where we can come together as a community," he said. "And stories go right to the marrow. They're the rudder by which we set our sail in life."

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