Story Festival brings together teaching tales

Gioia Timpanelli

Gioia Timpanelli

“Storytelling is an all-purpose wrench — it fits everywhere,” said Woodstocker Peter Blum. “You can use it in therapy practice or working as a bartender. A teacher can capture students’ attention by telling a story. It’s also good to examine what stories we’re living by, and if they’re not productive, change them.”

He has organized the first Woodstock Story Festival, to be held Saturday, April 30, through Sunday, May 1, at Mountain View Studio. From physician and psychiatrist Lewis Mehl-Madrona of the Coyote Institute, to our world-renowned local storyteller and scholar Gioia Timpanelli, presenters will explore the role of story in our lives, how to change our stories, and how to help others through the medium of storytelling. Events will include interactive exercises, lectures, musical performances, discussions, and, of course, storytelling.

Blum is a hypnotherapist, inspired by the work of Milton Erickson, whose “teaching tales” supported a therapeutic style using story to induce a trance that made clients more open to suggestions for change. Blum’s own story includes his escape from New York City in 1969 as a “full-blown hippie” with the goal of starting a rock band. He had a stint as “guru reviewer and poetry editor” for Woodstock Times. In 1970, he helped start Family of Woodstock, where he later worked as a supervisor for ten years. “You hear a lot of stories there,” said Blum. “All people are carrying around their story. Some people are stuck in the same old victimized story. Erickson told his students, ‘Your job is not to get your patients into trance but to get them out of the trance they’re already in.’”


The archetypes of myths and folk tales repeat certain themes, as in the “Hero’s Journey” outlined by Joseph Campbell. “We’re all on a Hero’s Journey,” said Blum. “It’s a story that helps you look at what is yours and what are the challenges you have to face. It includes initiation, resources, magical allies.” This perspective informs the work of presenter Richard Schwab, a mythological consultant who helps people and businesses identify and change the stories that are guiding them.

Folk traditions have power for Lewis Mehl-Madrona, who draws on his Lakota and Cherokee lineage as he links medicine stories with his training in neuroscience to present “The Story of the Story that Found a Home.” The audience will help guide the tale’s development, with the assistance of Barbara Mainguy, a contributor to Mehl-Madrona’s book Remapping Your Mind: The Neuroscience of Self-Transformation through Story (Bear and Company, 2015).

Novelist, interfaith minister, and counselor Elizabeth Cunningham will talk about and read from her series The Maeve Chronicles, which re-imagines Mary Magdalene as a feisty Celtic maiden, in tales rooted in Celtic folklore. Cunningham has remarked, “Both counseling and writing require deep listening and an understanding of the transforming power of story.”

The tales told in dreams will be tackled in a talk by WDST’s Woodstock Roundtable host Doug Grunther, who has interviewed innumerable authors and storytellers for his show. He is also a Dream Work Facilitator, having led dream groups around the region and hosted many radio programs interpreting dreams with internationally renowned dream expert Dr. Jeremy Taylor.

“Kahlil Gibran said a sense of humor is a sense of proportion,” said Blum. “So I invited Paul McMahon, who does the Rock ‘n’ Roll Therapist. He tells people, ‘Shout out your problem, and I’ll write a song on the spot that’s guaranteed to solve your problem — in the next lifetime or two.’”

Blum is currently vice-president of SageArts, a Rosendale-based organization that brings songwriters together with elders to co-write songs about the elders’ lives. He brought in musician David Gonzalez to work with the group. “David’s from the Bronx, and so am I,” said Blum. “He’s a Nuyorican, I’m Jewish, and we’ve both worked with Pauline Oliveiros and Karl Berger. He has a doctorate in music therapy.” Gonzalez will present his theatrical piece “MytholoJAZZ,” which enjoyed sold-out runs at Broadway’s New Victory Theater. It’s described as “the classic Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice set to scat-jazz and dynamic movement, and ‘Three Whiskers of a Lion,’ a trans-national mashup that conjures compassion from chaos.”

Local innovation consultant and speaker Mitch Ditkoff is the author of Storytelling at Work: How Moments of Truth on the Job Reveal the Real Business of Life (Idea Champions, 2015). He will talk about how we can use storytelling to spark creativity and create community in the workplace.

Shelley Stockwell-Nicholas is a California newspaper columnist and the author of 17 self-help books. President of the International Hypnosis Federation, she has been featured on ABC, NBC, BBC, “Good Morning America,” Wall Street Journal, and many other media outlets. Her presentation is entitled “Here’s A True Story I Made Up.”

The festival will close with folktales told by Timpanelli, considered one of the founders of the worldwide revival of storytelling. The winner of many awards, including two Emmys, she observes that folk stories “have a sneaky logic found in poetry, metaphor, and dreams. They believe in balance: what is missing at the beginning will most likely be found at the end.”


The Woodstock Story Festival will be held Saturday, April 30, 1-9 p.m., through Sunday, May 1, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., at Mountain View Studio, 20 Mountainview Avenue, in Woodstock. Admission is $95 per day or $150 for both days. For details and tickets, see