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Cornelius storyteller spreads her art from Australia to Hillsboro

Holly Robison got her start on the stage, now uses kids as audience

COURTESY PHOTO: HELLO NEIGHBOURHOOD - Holly Robison of Cornelius leads a workshop at the Australia convention on body language.For many, stories are things told around campfires, to children before bed, or on fishing trips. For storyteller Holly Robison, stories are all these things — and much, much more. Robison, who lives in Cornelius, is a professional storyteller, and attended an international storytelling convention in Sydney, Australia, from May 27-29.

At the three-day convention, which gathers together storytellers from around the world, she attended story slams and breakout sessions and presented a workshop on body language. Now, she’s working to bring storytelling onto center stage back home.

Robison says she fell in love with storytelling while a student at Brigham Young University in Utah 14 years ago. But she nearly missed the experience entirely.

“I was a young mom,” she said, “and the class just happened to fit into my schedule.” Initially, she wasn’t wild about the idea. Once in the class, though, she fell in love with the art form and she’s been a storyteller since.

But what exactly is a storyteller? According to the National Storytelling Network, which claims more than 1,600 members and affiliated organizations, storytelling comprises five tenets: storytelling is interactive, uses words, uses actions, presents a story and encourages the imaginations of listeners. From there, the rules are flexible.

According to Robison, storytelling is much like acting. In fact, she was an actress before discovering storytelling.

“I’d done theater all my life,” she said. “I grew up on the stage.” But her children couldn’t be involved with her there.

In storytelling, Robison found a creative outlet that allowed her more time with her children, who are her inspiration and her ever-present practice audience.

This fall, she will bring her stories to other children, too. With money from the Hillsboro School District, she will serve as a storyteller-in-residence at W.L. Henry Elementary School, teaching students the art of storytelling and planning a school storytelling festival.

Robison considers storytelling a particularly effective way to engage children, who are naturally drawn to it, and hopes the festival will eventually grow to include schools throughout the area.

Storytelling is already on the rise. The Portland Storytellers Guild, affiliated with the National Storytelling Network, meets at the Multnomah Arts Center and maintains a crowded calendar of events, including workshops, a festival in June and a concert series that runs from May-October.

Robison moved to Oregon three years ago and found the storytelling organizations here “very rich and full of activity.”

“It’s truly the oldest art form,” she said. “Storytelling is everywhere. It’s part of every other art form.”

When done well, it becomes a cooperative effort, she said.

“In its truest form, with a teller and listeners sharing the spoken word, there’s nothing more powerful. You can see the light in their eyes. They’re learning to love themselves.”