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Tales and Tea
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Settle down and listen as the Savannah Story Spinners weave a tale or two for you. It’s time for that annual international celebration of storytelling, Tellabration!

The local event, Tales and Tea, will be held Nov. 20.

Bess T. Chappas is a professional storyteller and member of the Savannah Story Spinners. This year’s Tellabration! will spotlight a storyteller from Atlanta.

“The difference this year is we’ve got John Beavin of Atlanta as the featured teller,” Chappas says. “Last year, we did only local storytellers.”

Other tellers who will perform include Chappas, Ronni Carpenter, Lois Smith, Beverly Zipperer and The Storystagers. Bill Edwards of WTKS radio will be the master of ceremonies.

“The Storystagers steal the show every year,” Chappas says. “The other storytellers say not to put them after The Storystagers because they’re a hard act to follow.”

The Tellabration! has been held in Savannah for at least a a decade. “I’m the only professional storyteller in the group,” Chappas says.

“i’ve been doing this since I retired 12 years ago,” she says. “I used to be the media specialist at Hesse Elementary School.”

Chappas was born in Greece and came to the United States at age 7. She has traveled extensively, and collects stories from different cultures, which she plans to put in a book.

Recently, Chappas’ CD, Savannah Ghosts and Other Stories, was released. It contains four ghost stories and four humorous tales.

“It’s doing really well on River Street,” Chappas says. “Everyone says we have more ghosts here than any place in the country. It’s also available at Barnes and Noble and on the internet.” Chappas’ first love was writing. “Most of my stories are original,” she says.

“I started out wanting to be a writer,” Chappas says. “I didn’t get interested in storytelling until I started doing it.

“The great thing about storytelling is that it’s one of the oldest arts,” she says. “At one time, that was the only way people had to communicate.

` “There was always a historian in every village,” Chappas says. “His job was to tell the story of the village. Every year, he added to it. When he got too old to do it, a younger person would take over the job.”

Tellabration! was created in 1987 by J.G. “Paw-Paw” Pinkerton, a storyteller from Connecticut. By 1991, the event was being held in 74 communities in 27 states.

Today, Tellabration! is celebrated worldwide. Communities across six continents now hold storytelling events.

Locally, the Savannah Story Spinners is a small group. “We like to have guests come and listen to us,” Chappas says.

“The group is open to anyone who is interested in storytelling. We meet once a month. We exchange stories to each other and get feedback.

“Several of us do volunteer work with children, at churches and at hospitals,” Chappas says. “This is a great training ground.”

Beavin first began storytelling in 1989 when a friend suggested he attend an event called the Olde Christmas Storytelling Festival.

“My family was always the kind that sat on the porch and told tall tales and jokes,” Beavin says. “Our stories go way back.”

Beavin took a storytelling class in 1990 and began telling all kinds of stories, specializing in those with a Southern flavor. Over the years, he has taken an estimated 25 storytelling courses and now teaches them.

East Tennessee State University offers a master’s degree program in storytelling, and Beavin has gone there to participate in seminars. “I love studying about it,” he says.

“Most of what I teach is about presentational skills, the facial expressions, voices, body language,” Beavin says. “It’s not dissimilar from public speaking, but it is dissimilar from acting.

“In acting, you’re more than likely addressing another actor,” he says. “In storytelling, you’re addressing the audience.”

Before a performance, Beavin channels all his energy so he will do his best before the audience. “It’s not about me, it’s about the story,” he says.

“I tell some stories that are my own and classic folk tales,” Beavin says. “My favorites are tall tales. Sometimes people will come up after and ask, ‘Was that really true?’”

In 1991, Beavin won first place in the Southern Order of Storytellers Liars Contest with an original tall tale (although he swears “It’s not a lie, it’s 100 percent true”).

The story concerns an uncle who lived down in the Okefenokee swamp. The uncle got tired of paddling his boat, and caught two baby alligators and used them to power the boat.

Beavin would have you believe that his uncle let him use the boat (and alligators) to travel to a storytelling competition in Atlanta. As the alligators pulled the boat, they stopped along the way to eat the chickens in people’s back yards, making Beavin late for the contest.

A member of Toastmasters International since 1984, Beavin is a member of the Speakers Roundtable Club. He does residencies for schools, teaching storytelling to children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Beavin was born in Macon but grew up in Atlanta. He has been married to the same woman, Dyanne, a teacher, for 38 years.

“She is very, very forgiving,” Beavin says. “I can’t imagine why she is still with me. She does have a sense of humor, but she only brings it out once every eight to 10 years.

“She is really sharp and really good at rolling her eyes,” Beavin says. “When I won the liar’s contest, she said I’d have to give the prize back because the contest was for amateurs.”

Beavin has two grown daughters and three grandchildren. His oldest daughter is a teacher, and he has done storytelling at her school.

You might think storytelling is a dying art, but Beavin says it’s anything but. “It’s actually having an amazing revival,” he says.

“Storytelling communicates culture, lessons, warnings -- Little Red Riding Hood is a warning story,” Beavin says. “Some people have become disaffected with the modern way of communicating, which is so impersonal.

“Storytelling is very personal because of the bond between the storyteller and the audience,” he says. “It’s not found in any other setting.”

Beavin is particularly delighted to be coming to Savannah. “My mom met my dad in Savannah and they were married in Savannah,” he says. “I have a cousin in Savannah.

“My wife and I visit regularly in Savannah,” Beavin says. “I was so happy when Bess called me.”

This will be Beavin’s second performance here. “They must be gluttons for punishment or they couldn’t find anyone else,” he says. “The Savannah Story Spinners are the nicest folks. They make you feel welcome.”

Tellabration 2005: Tales & Tea will be held Nov. 20 at 3 p.m. at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church’s Hoffner Hall on Bull Street at 31st Street. Admission is $5.