The Grapevine Storytelling Series

The Grapevine Storytelling Series, by Tim Livengood,

The Grapevine is a monthly storytelling program on the second Wednesday evening of each month from September through June, run by Noa Baum and Tim Livengood in Takoma Park, Maryland. We’re in the middle of our 4th season, the second at our current location. Our typical audience number is 30-50, with a peak of 87 the night that we hosted the incomparable Elizabeth Ellis. The Grapevine is presented at Busboys and Poets (BB&P), a small local chain with an arts and literary focus, named in honor of poet (and one-time busboy) Langston Hughes. The restaurant provides a dedicated performance space with food service.

I couldn’t claim to be an authority on what makes a successful, For the Florida Storytelling Association, “InSideStory” storytelling program, but I know what we do, and why we do it, and what level of success we’ve had. We have divided the labor to produce the Grapevine, by accident and by inclination, so that Noa has provided the artistic direction and Tim has handled organization and promotional materials. Noa and Tim swap hosting duties from one evening to another. The program opens with up to three open-mic tellers (five minutes each), followed by usually two (but occasionally just one) featured teller. Total performance time is about an hour and a half. We aren’t very specific in instructions to our tellers. We ask for whatever they are inspired to tell – fiction, nonfiction, myth, legend, autobiography, folk, or literary stories, in whatever mode they want – but no reading! We are supported by audience donations and by sponsorships. The program is free to anyone who wishes to be there, but we ask for donations of $15 per person if they can do it, and the collection shows that most people are able to pitch in for the full request. The collected donations are split between our featured tellers for the night. Our biggest single sponsor at this time is the Folklore Society of Greater Washington, which provides a reliable baseline payment for our artists in addition to the donations and which also accepts donations directed to the Grapevine by commercial sponsors, passing them through to the tellers and enabling the sponsors to take a tax deduction, since FSGW is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. FSGW covers the venue fee and the cost to produce promotional materials, and advertises the Grapevine through communications to its membership. BB&P is our other largest sponsor, as they give us a big price break on the venue fee, they feature the Grapevine on their monthly online performance calendar, and promote it in-house. Tellers are able to sell merchandise at the show.

We have learned a few lessons. We were advised from the beginning by Loren Niemi that in hosting a show, it is not the host’s show, although it took a little experience to believe him fully. The host introduces the program, keeps it moving, reminds the audience of the mechanics (what they can expect, please donate, please turn off your cell phone, please donate, honor our sponsors, and please donate), runs the open-mic program, and introduces the featured tellers. Hosting is not a call to tell stories of our own each night, although we do reward ourselves by each appearing as a featured teller one night per season. Starting the program with the open-mic session, instead of at the end or middle, is intentional. Audience tends to trickle in, no matter what you do, and it’s tough to tell a long and intricate story while the room fills and half the audience missed the beginning. Starting the program with the open-mic encourages audience to come in, get settled, and support their friends for the open-mic, and it encourages new tellers to come up and tell a story without embarrassment from following a seasoned professional.

A really big lesson has been the importance of food. We started in a lovely auditorium with great sound, appearing on local public-access TV as an arts program sponsored by the City of Takoma Park. The facility was great, but audience was small. We were in a noncommercial area with no food service, forcing potential audiences to choose whether to eat early, eat late, skip dinner, or skip us. We sought and gained a member grant from the National Storytelling Network to make the jump from the Community Center to cover the venue fee at Busboys and Poets for our third season. Having set the plan, we worked with FSGW to expand the budget for the fourth season, with additional support from commercial sponsors who receive recognition during the program.

The Grapevine is drawing a good audience (although we cherish dreams of growing just… a bit… bigger). We have had autobiographical storytellers, traditional tellers, local and out-of-town tellers, Griot tellers, bilingual tellers and musical tellers, funny tellers and serious tellers; we have tellers coming who tell through movement, and tellers who tell in group performance. Soon, we will be scouting for tellers to fill the program for our fifth season, September 2017 through June 2018, looking for every flavor of story and every mode of live-performance storytelling. Come hear it (and tell it) through the Grapevine!

Submitted by Tim Livengood, written for the Florida Storytelling Association, “InSideStory”

VITG Monthly Story Swap at the home of Margaret Chatham, March 18, 2017

Six storytellers and a couple of additional listeners, gathered on March 18, at the home of Margaret Chatham in Falls Church VA, to hear folktales from around the world. Margaret Chatham began the telling with an Irish tale, The Fairy Spancil.

Bill Mayhew followed up with another Irish tale, How the Plow Came to Ireland.

Elsa Stecher took us to China with The Young Head of the Family.

Eve Burton told The Firebird from Mythical Birds and Beasts from Many Lands, by Margaret Mayo

Miriam Nadel told Tia Miseria.

Finally, Bill Mayhew enticed Roger Metcalf to tell his first story ever, No News. Roger even did the hard part! We’re all proud of him for it.

The storytelling was followed by delicious snacks including homemade peanut-butter cookies.

Submitted by eve burton

VITG Monthly Story Swap at the home of Cricket Parmalee, February 12, 2017

Nine or ten tellers were joined by an additional three or four listeners, depending how you count, at the home of Cricket Parmalee in Silver Spring, MD, for the February Story Swap. Jane Dorfman began the telling with Svetlana and Davit from Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World, edited by Kathleen Ragan.

Next up was Bill Mayhew with a tale of an acorn, a squirrel, a fish, and an explanation of why Bill never lies.

Margaret Chatham followed with The Day the Sun, in Rising, Got Caught in a Tall Tree, a story about the first bat.

Walter told a fisherman tale with frogs, a snake and a shot of Jack Daniels.

Linda McGivern told a charming story about a floating lake from The Golden Hoard: Myths and Legends of the World, by Geraldine McCaugrean and Bee Willey: The Lake Flew Away.

In keeping with the approach of Valentine’s Day, Harold Feld, after reminding us that Jews don’t celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day, told the tale of Nathan the Adulterer, about the faithfulness of Nathan’s wife Rachel, against all odds and a suspicious husband.

Cricket Parmalee shared two tales of romance: Nasruddin’s Search for the Perfect Wife, and Yonjiwa Seeks a Bride: A Folktale from the Congo, retold by Margaret Read MacDonald,  found  in The Healing Heart – Families: Storytelling to Encourage Caring and Healthy Families, edited by Allison M. Cox and David H. Albert, New Society Publishers, 2003.  (And it says it’s reprinted from The Storyteller’s Start-up Book by MRMcD, from August House, 1993.) We all loved that the bride was chosen for being strong and large.

After Bill Mayhew sneaked in a quick telling of The Clothing Merchant, I told one of my favorite romantic tales, Fortune, inspired by the book of that title by Diane Stanley. Fortune includes two romantic couples: farmer’s son and another farmer’s daughter, and prince and princess; as well as a dancing tiger, a wicked enchantress, and a tale-within-the-tale.

Jennifer Hine closed storytelling, but not the evening, with two poems: Sneezles by A.A. Milne, and The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll.

Stories were followed by a table laden with goodies: Roger’s home-made peanut brittle, lemon custard pie, Tim’s homemade bagels with cream cheese, fresh bakery bread from Walter, and a plethora of chips, cheese, crackers and cookies. Yummm!

Tim Livengood, who had been too tired to tell a story during the first part of the evening, sustained, no doubt, by all the good things to eat, regaled us with tales of Alcibiades, Nicias and Nicaratus.

submitted by eve burton

FSGW MidWinter MiniFest February 4, 2017

Tim Livengood hosted another excellent line-up of storytellers on the Storytelling Stage at the FSGW MidWinter MiniFest again this year: Bill Mayhew, Jane Dorfman, Nick Newlin, Eve Burton and the Twinbrook Tellers, Chris Potts, Walter Jones, Cricket Parmalee, Jennifer Hine, Bob Rovinsky, and Candace Wolf.

I did not see/hear all the stories; I have still not mastered how to be in two places at once (though Jane Dorfman told a lovely Chinese folktale on that topic, Chien Nang). Some of the other highlights that I was able to enjoy:

Marren and Bill Mayhew telling No News together

Nick Newlin’s personal tales about school in Mexico,  travels in Thailand and hiking in the Himalayas


Of course, the Twinbrook Tellers were there. Celia told The Fox and the Horse. Lily told The Frog Who Became Emperor, a traditional folktale from China, learned from a Jim Henson graphic novel.


Noah told Katcha, the Shepard and the Demon, adapted from the telling by Jane Yolen. I rounded out their program with The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, adapted from the book of that title by Eugene Trivizas.

This year, besides stories on the Storytelling Stage, there was also an hour of storytelling in the  “Family Room.” Michael Fleming, Barbara Effron, Margaret Chatham and I told stories to an appreciative audience in a room full of parents, grandparents, and children of all ages.

The storytelling day ended with  Tim Livengood regaling us with tales of the Ancient Greeks, admonishing us all to do what we know is right, even when the odds of success are against us, followed by the annual swap at which Margaret Chatham and I told the tales we’d prepared, but had not had time to tell in the Family Room show.

Thanks to FSGW for another great festival and to VITG for providing storytellers to keep up this particular folk tradition! And thanks to all the listeners who came to enjoy the telling!

submitted by eve burton


VTIG Story Swap at the home of Starr Kopper January 14, 2017

Eight storytellers and an additional four listeners, we started the New Year right  at the home of Starr Kopper in Washington D.C.

Margaret Chatham started the telling with a Japanese folktale, The Wife’s Portrait  from Folktales of Japan, Keigo Seki.

Eve Burton followed with another Japanese folktale, The Ronin and the Tea Master, from The Sword of the Samurai by Eric Kimmel.

Wishing to extend her Christmas holiday celebrations and tell this story one more time before having to tuck it away until next year, Cricket Parmalee gave a very dramatic presentation of the Mole Family’s Christmas based on the book by Russell Hoban.

Starr, who had intended to tell James Thurber’s Many Moons, instead enchanted us all with a series of personal tales about Mary Shepherd, illustrator of Mary Poppins.

Returning to the theme of “moles”, Jonathan Metcalf-Burton began a telling of the first chapter of Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. He has promised more of the story soon.

After a small amount of prompting, Jane Dorfman told a Grimm tale, The Seven Ravens.

Walter shared a personal story about cleaning out the attic of his 90-year-old father. He had found a piece of twisted metal and wondered what it was and why his father had kept it. Turns out, it was a piece of a  V rocket from WWII. Walter wondered what other objects he might find in his father’s house, thinking to toss them out without ever knowing why they’d been saved.

The final tale of the evening was told by Adam. He recounted his experiences during Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, when floodwaters burst into his basement, destroying his computer on which was the only copy of a book he was writing, and damaging years of journals.

After that, we all needed a cookie, a homemade chocolate truffle, some cranberry bread, and of course, some of Starr’s delectable chocolate cake with chocolate-sour-cream frosting. There were also healthy sweets: clementines and grapes: and crunchy veggies and dips.

submitted by eve burton





VITG Monthly Story Swap at the home of Jane Dorfman on Dec. 3, 2016

Eight tellers and four listeners gathered at the home of Jane Dorfman in Bethesda MD for a lovely evening of shared stories and potluck snacks on Saturday night, December 3, 2016.


First teller up was Margaret Chatham who told The Frog Princess opening a gorgeous set of nesting dolls, piece by piece, as the tale unfolded.

Next, was Miriam Nadel with a version of a tale often known as Clever Manka, but also as The Dearest Thing or The Inkeeper’s Wise Daughter.


Miriam was followed by Elsa Sellmeyer who told a different version of the same story called Katherine, Sly Country Lass.


Keeping to the theme of spunky women, Jane Dorfman told Weave of Words.


After much encouragement and a reminder that not everyone present had, in fact, already heard all the stories he tells, Tim Livengood shared How Little Dragon Learned to Fly, a charming tale about a young dragon who not only learned to fly but also became a responsible older sister.

In preparation for an upcoming performance, Cricket Parmalee wanted to practice Clement Clarke Moore’s beloved T’was the Night Before Christmas with the help of whoever cared to join in. Between the lot of us, we enjoyed a passably consistent group recitation.

Starr Kopper nested the Liberian folktale How Sense Came to the World in an account of a visit she made to her friend Ashley Bryan with the hopes she’d be the first to tell him this story. She was disappointed to find that he’d heard it before, but we weren’t disappointed at all in her telling.


The final tale of the evening was Herschel and the Hannukah Goblins, based on the book of that title by Eric Kimmel, told by eve burton. She wanted to tell just before the snacks since the story is well-followed by good things to eat. We didn’t have sour pickles, hardboiled eggs, or delicious potato latkes, as they did in the story, but the snack table was full of other tasty treats: Tim’s fruity bread, muffins, chocolate-chip cookies, cranberry bars, cheese and crackers. . . Yummm!

Submitted by eve burton

photos by Roger Metcalf






Gary Lloyd Visits the Twinbrook Tellers


On Sunday, November 13, VITG storyteller Gary Lloyd came to visit the Twinbrook Tellers of the Dogwood Dogs 4H Club. He talked about how he became a storyteller, gave the young tellers tips on storytelling, and told some of his favorite tales. His stories included an historical tale from the U.S. Civil War; a “pourquoi” tale, How Rabbit Came to have Long Ears; and a “true or false” story after the telling of which we had to guess: was it “true” or “false”?

The children enjoyed learning about different kinds of stories and how to learn, introduce, and tell them. The parents were happy to hear some of Mr. Lloyd’s ideas about how to tailor one’s telling to a particular audience, such as offering programs that fit with the curriculum of the different grades in the public schools. Everyone was delighted to hear the stories.

Our thanks to Mr. Lloyd for coming to our club meeting and sharing his knowledge and tales with the next generation of storytellers!

The Twinbrook Tellers of The Dogwood Dogs 4H Club