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Word of mouth: Gather 'round for Storytelling Circle in Westport

Updated 2:34 pm, Wednesday, March 19, 2014

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  • John O'Hern, one of the leaders of the Storytelling Cirle that meets monthly at Westport's Toquet Hall, tells a story about childhood scars at the group's February meeting. Photo: Staff Photo/Gretchen Webster, Staff Photo / Westport News
    John O'Hern, one of the leaders of the Storytelling Cirle that meets monthly at Westport's Toquet Hall, tells a story about childhood scars at the group's February meeting. Photo: Staff Photo/Gretchen Webster, Staff Photo

 

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Bob Marcinuk stood up in a circle of people surrounding him in comfortable chairs and sofas on a recent night, and he had a story to tell. And those gathered had come to listen.

The Westport man began recounting a traumatic experience he had when he was 7 years old when his mother forced him to take tap dancing lessons. When the big day came for the tap dance recital he discovered he was the only boy scheduled to perform. If that wasn't bad enough, his mother had listed his name as Robert "Twinkletoes" on the program -- a reference to the famous male dancer Fred Astaire. Young Robert locked himself in a closet for two hours, and refused to perform.

"It was 40 years before I ever stood on a dance floor again," he told his listeners. "I didn't even dance at my wedding."

It was storytelling night at Toquet Hall and the theme of the evening was childhood scars.

The Storytelling Circle, organized by Lisa Jacoby and her husband John O'Hern meets monthly to share the timeless art of storytelling. The group ranges from 10 to 20 attending each month, and participants vary in age. Some are storytellers, some are listeners, and each time there is a different theme for the shared experiences.

John O'Hern's childhood scars were physical, he told the group as he began the first of several stories he would tell that night. His stories told of accidentally setting himself on fire with his chemistry set, and running into an iron lamppost -- resulting in one of his many boyhood concussions, he said. O'Hern, an actor, tells his stories expressively, with many hand motions and body language, and has the audience laughing much of the time.

"The more I thought about it, the more scars I remember," he told the group.

One woman, who said she might some day tell a story, Antoinette Martignoni of Fairfield, asked whether women's stories about childhood scars would be as physical and sometimes as violent as the men's.

"I am wondering about the feminine version of these growing-up stories," she said.

It was a good question and it prompted a discussion around the circle on the differences both in the past and the present between raising girls and raising boys. And then the discussion turned to the art of storytelling itself.

"We all have stories in us -- we all do," Marcinuk said.

An electrical engineer, Marcinuk found that storytelling releases a creativity that his job doesn't offer. After the session, he said that he likes the supportive environment of the storytelling circle.

"It's something that we all look forward to," he said.

Jacoby had another description of storytelling: "It's magical; it's healing."

She and her husband began a storytelling circle in Newtown in 2009, and moved the circle to Westport's Toquet Hall in October of last year. They are interested in making the circle inter-generational, and are working with a Staples High School teacher to have high school students join the group. At February's storytelling circle, the participants were from all over -- Westport, Fairfield, Trumbull, Redding and Milford.

Each month a different theme is set for the storytelling, and storytellers can get guidelines for their stories from the circle organizers. They can discuss the outline of the story ahead of time with Jacoby and O'Hern or get up spontaneously in the circle to tell a story. Both storytellers and listeners are welcome to come to the informal monthly get-togethers, said Jacoby, herself a listener.

"We welcome anyone. People shouldn't not come because they're afraid of speaking -- we will inspire them," she said.

Some participants were new at the February meeting, some had been telling stories for years, but all came to enjoy the shared experience and to relax in a comfortable environment.

"In this age of techno-distraction, it's a great way for people to have a connection with other people," Jacoby said.

The group's next Storytelling Circle will be at 7 p.m. April 10 in Toquet Hall, 58 Post Road East. All are welcome to the free sessions. For more information or for storytelling guidelines, visit www.thestorytellingcircle.com; e-mail info@thestorytellingcircle.com, or call 203-981-7092.