Whether it’s a snowy, stormy night or the midst of a pandemic, this storytelling group is waiting for you

The group has been welcoming storytellers for over 40 years, making it one of the longest-lasting in North America

Three storytellers are sharing their stories.
Three storytellers share their stories at St. David's Anglican Church on April 5. 1001 Friday Nights of Storytelling has continued storytelling nights since 1978. (Photo illustration by Haruka Ide/Toronto Observer) 

On the night the massive ice storm hit Toronto, Norman Perrin hurried along an icy road to a church in downtown Toronto. Despite the paralyzed traffic and telephone lines, the weather couldn’t deter him from attending his storytelling night, during which a group of people come together to share their stories.

Perrin used to hitchhike 112 kilometres all the way from St. Catharines, Ont., to join the event in the early days of his participation. An ice storm? That he could handle.

Arriving at the church, he entered and requested the key to the room from the minister, then proceeded to plunk chairs down in a row and light candles on the table to create the right atmosphere for storytelling. As he waited for the other storytellers, he watched a friend of his removing her skis at the door, having skied all the way to the church from York University.

WATCH | Norman Perrin shares his memory of keeping the storytelling night going: 

One of the longest-lasting storytelling groups in North America

1001 Friday Nights of Storytelling, one of the longest-lasting storytelling groups in North America, started in Toronto in 1978. Dan Yashinsky, its founder, stood up and shared his stories at a small café in Kensington Market. The organization has evolved over its lifespan, and has entered a new era since the pandemic. Now, it connects storytellers from all over the world both virtually and in person.

“People are hungry for connections,” said Lynn Torrie, one of the hosts of 1001 Friday Nights of Storytelling.

1001 Friday Nights of Storytelling hosts open-mic storytelling gatherings at St. David’s Anglican Church every Friday from 8 p.m. The stories shared at these events encompass a diverse array of topics, ranging from personal experiences and folktales to songs.

Veteran storytellers such as Perrin, 70, from the Junction in Toronto, who has been attending for over 40 years, are integral to the community, but new storytellers and audiences are also warmly welcomed. The only rule is that storytellers must share their tales from the heart, without reading from a script.

The stories go into the talking stick

The group uses an Indigenous talking stick to indicate whose turn it is to tell a story. Storytellers hold the stick while sharing their stories, and the host explained that the stories are imbued within the stick. The stick is passed from one storyteller to another as the night goes on.

WATCH | Two members explain their reasons for participation: 

“(As a non-native English speaker,) it is a challenge to tell a story for a majority of native English speakers and make sure I am understood, and also I want to grow in the storytelling world,” said Camila Garcia, a new storyteller.

She recently shared The Princess of the Springs, a folktale about the adventure of the princess from Brazil.

“I’m feeling accomplished because it was something that I stepped out of my comfort zone to tell a story, and people were very warm, and they embraced me,” she said.

On April 5, 10 storytellers shared tales, personal stories and songs. Perhaps inspired by the recent eclipse, there were notable stories revolving around the sun.

One storyteller recounted the tale of how night came to be. She vividly described the scene of the creation of night, depicting the moment when the big bag filled with the shadows of night was carried to the earth, accompanied by sound effects mimicking nocturnal animals such as owls and coyotes.

VISIT | Interested in listening to stories? Explore storytellers and groups in Canada:

The COVID-19 pandemic fostered new storytelling styles

There are usually 25 to 30 attendees for in-person storytelling nights, which are held once a week.

The group didn’t let the COVID-19 pandemic get in its way. The hosts adopted an online format and trained storytellers on how to use Zoom.

“It’s given us a lot more opportunities to listen to storytellers from different parts of the world and to learn from one another,” Torrie said.

Read more from the Toronto Observer:

Judith Cohen, an ethnomusicologist, singer and storyteller, said she learned a lot about how storytellers can tell their stories effectively online by watching some change their background pictures to fit the theme of the story and some get closer to the screen and change their facial expressions.

Forty to 50 people join the storytelling night when it’s online.

WATCH | Dr. Judith Cohen explains how storytellers share their stories online effectively: 

The storytelling night has persevered regardless of emergencies, even prior to the pandemic. On an early Friday during the pandemic, Perrin shared stories with other members by sitting outside, maintaining a social distance from each other.

“There must be somebody, or if there wasn’t someone, we’d be the somebody. It was important to know that something will continue, it won’t end,” Perrin said.

What the storytelling night means to storytellers and listeners

The Toronto Observer interviewed four members to analyze what the storytelling night means to them. They were asked, “What does the storytelling night mean to you? What motivated you to attend the storytelling night, and what do you gain from it? In one word, how would you describe your storytelling experience and why?” “Story” and “people” are frequently mentioned.

WATCH | Three members share what the storytelling night means to them: 

It is seen as a chance to hear new stories and meet new people, or reconnect with familiar faces. The distinctive feature is the presence of positive words that convey the significance of having such a place for them.

Norman Perrin sits outside Innis College.
Norman Perrin shared his stories with other members outside during the pandemic. He wants to keep storytelling night going. (Haruka Ide/Toronto Observer)

It is Friday night, and Perrin covers himself with a robe which he got during a storytelling trip in England. He is swaying on the streetcar as he heads to the church.

“Keeping these things going — music, dance, and storytelling — allows us to be humanists,” Perrin said.

WATCH | Listen to Perrin’s story : 

About this article

Posted: Apr 22 2024 12:00 pm
Filed under: Arts & Life Culture and communities Entertainment Features Lifestyle News Performing arts