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Tales could have you howlin' at the moon

Sprawled across the grass on a warm summer’s night under the full moon, master storyteller Anne Rutherford’s audience is in for a howlin’ good time.

A professional storyteller for more than a decade, Rutherford will tell her “Tales to Howl at the Moon” at the Walters Cultural Arts Center’s fourth annual Neighborhood Storytelling Picnic Tuesday, Aug. 20, kicking off its monthly Spoken Word Series. The free, all-ages event will include songs and stories of trickery, mischief and adventure.

A mixture of original and classic folktales, Rutherford’s moonlit collection contains a little something for everyone.

When she dons her thrift store jacket, for instance, the audience will know that Rutherford’s alter ego, “Wild West” adventuress Clementine Ryder, has appeared to describe an after-dark adventure she’s had. Clementine recounts tall tales of Northwest folklore as though they have happened to her.

“Clementine will probably tell a slightly scary story about a time she was riding home from a dance [on horseback] and picked up a rider and something very strange happened,” said Rutherford.

For this all-ages audience, however, Rutherford said her stories and songs are more silly than spooky. That includes a country and western vampire song called “Your Blood-Suckin’ Heart,” a cautionary tale about what happens when you date a vampire.

Rutherford will also tell true tales from her childhood, because, she explained, “when you’re a kid after dark, everything gets more exciting.” In one story, she recalls hunting for werewolves in a cemetery when the moon was full. The hunt was fruitless, and they ended up scaring themselves more than anything else.

“And then my mom saved the day,” she added.

Of course, an assortment of “Tales to Howl at the Moon” cries out for what Rutherford calls a “trickster coyote story.”

“I’m not quite sure which one yet, but the plot of every coyote story is the same: everything’s normal, coyote enters, chaos ensues,” she said. The coyote “doesn’t cheat, but breaks the rules in a way that we all want to but can’t. So we kind of get to live vicariously through the trickster. [He] upsets the usual order of things — people who think they’re in charge find out they’re not really in charge after all.”

Guests are invited to bring their own blankets and picnic baskets and participate as much or as little as they want.

“There will probably be some group howling,” Rutherford predicted, pointing out that interactivity is a huge part of her show.

“When you hear your own voice a little bit as a part of the storytelling performance, then I think it really draws you in,” she observed. “I want to do anything that will make people feel like they’re a part of the story.”

Until someone has experienced live storytelling, Rutherford noted, they may not understand what a major role the audience plays in the experience.

“I think sometimes people hear ‘storyteller’ and they picture somebody reading out of a big book, and that’s not what we do,” said Rutherford. “Our eyes are on the audience — there is no book. Books are wonderful, but there’s no book between us and the audience. It’s like the story’s coming from us right out to the imagination of the audience, and the audience feeds that back to us.”



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