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Storytelling workshop by Frank Ledwell

by Kumari Campbell

Since the St. Peter’s Courthouse Theatre opened its doors in the summer of 2003, Frank Ledwell, the hometown boy, has been a frequent visitor to its stage. Last summer he gave a series of performances, where he was accompanied by his son Danny who provided musical accompaniment to Frank’s storytelling. Once again this year Frank will be entertaining theatregoers with his humorous stories, although Danny (who is touring outside the province) will be replaced by various other musicians.

Most of Ledwell’s stories, many of them contained in his four books, are about places and characters in eastern Prince Edward Island, and particularly St. Peter’s Bay where he grew up.

This summer, in addition to the evenings of storytelling, Ledwell also conducted two storytelling workshops in July. Since his retirement as an English professor at UPEI in 1996, Ledwell has conducted numerous writing workshops across the Island. At the Courthouse Theatre he tells his small group of students that the fine art of storytelling is at the root of every good piece of writing, be it prose, poetry or song.

He begins by giving them a collective writing exercise. He gives them the opening sentence of a story, “Mary MacDonald was an only child.”, and bids them continue adding to it while bearing in mind the ‘who, what, when, and where’ of the story they are building. As each member of the group adds to the story, Ledwell insightfully discovers the plot and carefully draws it out of the group.

Ledwell talks to the group about the importance of spontaneity, honesty, and humanity in storytelling, telling them that those are the qualities that every audience (be they readers or listeners) seeks. He also gives them helpful pointers such as reading their work aloud in order to test their writing and ‘feel’ the sound of it, and even more importantly, cultivating memory by tasks such as solving crossword puzzles.

During the second half of the three-hour workshop Ledwell invites each participant to read his/her own writing, which include poetry, short fiction, and even a script for a play. His comments on the pieces that are read are not so much critiques as observations on the types of writing that appear to interest the writers. Finally Ledwell reads some of his own stories, using them as examples to illustrate several of the points he had made previously. It is interesting observing the master storyteller teaching others his craft.

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