Tellebration returns for 20th year

Tellebration tellers and sign language interpreters at a past Tellebration at Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave. -Judith Heineman
Tellebration tellers and sign language interpreters at a past Tellebration at Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave. -Judith Heineman

Staff Writer

On the weekend of Nov. 19 and 20, 18 separate events will be held both nationwide and worldwide in celebration of the art of storytelling for an annual event known as Tellebration.

This year marks the 20th annual Hyde Park Tellebration that was created by professional storyteller and renowned MOTH and Oracle award-winner, Judith Heineman. Heineman was the first to bring a Tellebration event to the city of Chicago in 1997 and now, there are eight total events in the Midwest region throughout the month of November.

“[Tellebration] was traditionally funded to educate adults about what storytelling is,” she said. “It provides an opportunity to have real face-to-face storytelling without the electronic barriers of communication.”

Both regional and nationally renowned storytellers perform at Tellebration, as well as those who just want to tell their story. Stories run the gamut of personal accounts, cutting edge narratives and classic folktales.

For those that are not familiar with storytelling, Heineman describes it perfectly as “an art-form that is beyond expectations.”

“Imagine an actor in your living room regaling you with well-told stories from his or her life, as well as reaching back from world folklore, all without reading from a book,” she said.

For this year’s special 20th anniversary celebration, Heineman reached out to storytellers who have performed at past Tellebrations as almost an alumni reunion of sorts.

Storytellers like Nestor Gomez, Jim May, Ann Shimojima, Megan Wells, Loren Niemi and famous deaf storyteller, Peter Cook, are all on this year’s roster.

Heineman said that they have always had sign language interpreters for every “storytelling concert.”

“The sign language interpreters are as interesting as the storytellers themselves,” she said.

The Chicago Folklore Ensemble will also be performing, which Heineman promises to be a great concert featuring a string quartet of world music combined with oral history. Heineman said many of the storytellers incorporate music within their storytelling.

The children’s concert will feature a number of storytellers such as puppeteer, Nitsana Lazerus, and 10-year-old Ancona School student, Natasha Friedman.

While some of the storytellers for this Tellebration have performed at big fringe festivals or at the National Storytelling Festival held every October in Jonesborough, Tenn., some hail from right here in the community.

Heineman said that a number of Chicago Storytelling Guild (CSG) members are going to be performing at the Hyde Park Tellebration this year.

“The guild gives people a safe space to take a risk,” said Heineman, who runs the guild that happens on the third Tuesday of every month in Hyde Park. “People are able to expand their repertoire in genres they aren’t used to.”

What is especially significant to Heineman for this year’s Tellebration is that this will be the last Tellebration event she will be producing. She said it has been a labor of love for the past 20 years and that moving on is bittersweet.

“I’m very proud of the growth I have seen among storytellers and the way storytelling has burst onto the scene, especially here in Hyde Park,” she said. “Now I can spend my time on one-woman shows and performing at fringe festivals…I will go wherever the storytelling takes me.”

Heineman’s goal for this year is to fill the event to capacity and make year 20 a successful one.

The Hyde Park Tellebration will take place on Sunday, Nov. 20. The family program will be from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave., and the concert for adults will be held at the Logan Center Penthouse, Room 901, 915 E. 60th St., beginning at 7 p.m.

Registration is recommended, and suggested donations are $10 for adults, $5 for children, $25 for families and $20 for the evening concert. For more information or to volunteer at the event, contact Heineman at 312-925-0439 or at