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Rocky Harbour hosts first Storytelling Festival

Francois Trepanier on opening night. — © Rosalyn Roy / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter — with files from Rosalyn Roy ROCKY HARBOUR — Storytelling is a time honoured tradition all around the world, and Newfoundland and Labrador is no exception. With its beautiful and rich culture and history, the province’s hometown storytellers have more than enough material to weave intricate tales for their audiences. The Rocky Harbour Storytelling Festival is a brand-new event presented by the Rocky Harbour Business Association that brings people together to listen to captivating storytellers over the course of two days. For its first year, the event took place on Sept. 29 and 30 at the Anchor Pub at the Ocean View Hotel, Community Hall, and the Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse, and admission was by donation. There were numerous events to entertain audiences, and the scheduled was designed to offer a little something for all ages and interests. “Well, we had been trying to put together a business association here in Rocky Harbour and we finally managed to do it in April, and get incorporated as a not-for-profit, and then after that we were able to go after funding from the province and the federal government because, without being a proper organization, I guess in a sense an incorporated organization, non for profit, they were not even going to look at us for funding,” said Francois Trepanier on opening night. “That incorporation came about in April and then the month of May we kind of looked at what we could do this season and came up with this idea and then kind of four months between the first of June and today, we put it all together and it’s happening now.” This may have been something entirely new for the Town of Rocky Harbour, but they had plenty of assistance and guidance to help them through their first foray into this type of festival. “Karen Carroll, who’s the President of the St. John’s Storytelling Festival has been coaching me all along about every two weeks,” said Trepanier. “Karen and I meet on Zoom, and I said, ‘okay, I’m thinking about doing this. I’m thinking about doing that’. I had a lot of questions for her, so she helped me as well as Christine Henneberry.” There was naturally a hiccup or two, but the festival proved enormously popular right from the start. Seats proved scarce at the pub. “We have three main events. So this evening (Sept. 29), tomorrow afternoon, tomorrow evening, each main event has a host, who is also a storyteller and five other storytellers. So we had ten altogether, but Mark Cormick contracted COVID a couple of days ago, so he had to be cancelled. He was very sad about that, but I got some of the other storytellers going to step in and cover,” said Trepanier. A member of the business association was the one who approached the venues to hold the events in their establishments. “We’ve been working together on this. So we said, ‘let’s have it here Friday night’ and tomorrow afternoon, where it’s animal and children’s stories. That’s more of a family-oriented event, at the community hall, and tomorrow evening it’s a spooky, scary story at the Lighthouse,” said Trepanier. “I thought the three venues would be perfect and then we added two more one-hour stories, at two restaurants here in town, Buoy & Arrow at 3:00 p.m. and Fisherman’s Landing at 5.00 p.m., so I think it’ll be good.” The funding came through just in the nick of time. “Right away, when I talked to Karen in St. John’s, she said, ‘send me a little blurb about what you want to do,’ and she said, ‘send it to all storytellers that we know, and we’ll get them to respond to you right away’. The response is like, ‘yes, I want to be part of the first one. Keep in touch, let me know,’ so we stayed in touch with them all along, but even three weeks ago, we still didn’t have a penny,” said Trepanier. “I had set a date for go / no go, and it was a week later, because at that point, people from the province are saying look, the money is coming, the money is coming, just give us another week’ and it came through Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. I got an e-mail saying, ‘here’s a letter from the minister,’ and that was awesome. It was a bit of a nervous time because we had everything sort of on standby until then. We had to deploy everything. So it was good.” When they first started planning the festival, no one had any idea how overwhelmingly positive the response would be, and now there are already more ideas in place for a bigger festival next year. “We’ve already got plans for next year to grow it into, probably, a three or four day event. I’m not sure yet, but we have ideas. There’s a lot of storytellers that have been videotaped over the years or filmed, so we’re talking about maybe doing a movie storytelling event. I’d like to have an event where we involve youth as well. So youth telling stories for all ages, that’s another idea, and then we’re thinking about a shanty because a shanty is really a story kind of thing,” said Trepanier. “We’re hoping to attract people who would otherwise never go in front of people and tell a story or sing a shanty, so that’s where I want to go. I’m relying on these four local guys that have done this before, but I’m hoping next year we’ll bring more and more new blood, so people get hooked on it, and then basically you want to come back year after year. There’s plenty of people interested. I would say in the last ten days, I’ve had about seven people reach out to me, saying, ‘hey, how do I get in?’ I want to come tell stories. I already have names for my lineup next year.”

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