NEW LONDON — What happens when a proofreader fails at the one job she has to do?
“I would wake in the night in a sweat, wondering, is ‘kick off’ one word or two words? With a hyphen or no hyphen? And which one did I use? Oh my god, I don’t know!” ChaChanna Simpson told a rapt audience at the “Cabaret,” the first event of the 40th annual Connecticut Storytelling Festival at Hygienic Art Park Friday night.
When her boss asked her to check an important logo for a major event, Simpson was mortified when she found out she had spelled “the” with two t’s instead of one and the logo had already been printed on merchandise for the event.
“I started cleaning out my desk, cleaning out my cabinets, and I’m thinking, I’m going to miss working here, and how embarrassing it is,” Simpson told the crowd. “I filled three shopping bags with stuff I had accumulated during my nine years with the company and on the way home I started thinking, are they going to fire me? How much money do I have until I have another job?”
Simpson paused. “On Monday I get into the office and I sit at my desk and I wait to be called into the senior vice president’s office… and I’m still waiting. Thank you.”
The audience, many wrapped in blankets and sitting near outdoor heaters, applauded and whistled. Simpson was one of four performers on Friday night who featured personal stories, followed by open mic.
The festival will continue throughout Saturday with performances and workshops for teens and adults, plus a family concert from 4 to 5:30 p.m.
“What most people don’t understand is that storytelling is not reading a book to little kids,” said Ann Shapiro, who has been executive director of the Connecticut Storytelling Center for 20 years and began as an educator at the center’s inception in 1982.
“It’s performance art that is for all ages. And at the festival in particular, we’re focused on adults — we have one concert for children — everything else is for adults. It is really a sophisticated art form,” she said.
Shapiro said storytelling encompasses a broad range of expression, and that’s what she loves about it.
“People who tell personal stories, people who tell folk tales, people who tell stories from books — and that everybody has their own style, their own way, their own culture they’re bringing to it and it’s a great way to just learn about other people and connect.”
The storytelling center offices and the festival moved to downtown New London this year, creating new opportunities, she said.
“For 40 years we lived at Connecticut College and had the festival there. And this summer we moved to [the Thames Club] in downtown New London and so everything is happening downtown this year, which is exciting,” she said. “ It sort of feels like the first festival all over again.”
Schedule and registration for performances, workshops and the family concert are available at https://www.connstorycenter.org/festival.htm. Ticket prices for sessions are $25 for adults, $12.50 for students, and $10 per family for the family concert.