Diane Ferlatte comes to the Hop next week

by Alexis Starke | 11/25/98 6:00am

California-based storyteller Diane Ferlatte will give performances at the Moore Theater at 7 p. m. Friday, Dec. 4 and at 2 p. m. Sunday, Dec. 6, in addition to hosting a storytelling workshop at 4 p. m. Sunday, Dec. 6.

Ferlatte composes her repertoire primarily from Southern and African-American lore, from family histories of a dying culture of a Georgia sea island, to ancient African fables and myths from the American Northwest Coast. She conjures entire casts of characters, casting spells with language, facial expression, gesture, lighting, costume and music.

Drawing on her studies of folk history and contemporary civilization, she identifies and highlights the morals, values and ethics common among her multiple traditional sources.

As a child in Louisiana, Ferlatte gathered with relatives and neighbors upon the porch of her grandparents' home to swap stories. To compete with her dazzling father, Ferlatte enhanced her own storytelling technique by incorporating her skills of playing the piano, singing in church choirs, acting and communicating in sign language.

Ferlatte polished her technique to the professional level that now situates her as a nationally recognized player in the contemporary oral-tradition renaissance somewhat by accident. Her young son's lack of interest in her story-telling pushed Ferlatte to cultivate a style that soon bloomed.

The enthusiasm of potential paying audiences allowed Ferlatte to devote full-time energy to story-telling ... or as she says, "I started telling stories to get out of work to tell stories."

Ferlatte has found genuine meaning in her pursuit, "There's a need for it: people like stories. It's something we did before we had television and books. People don't talk to each other anymore and stories don't get passed on."

Her hunger for material drove her to Georgia's sea islands and the tales of the 80 Hog Hammock residents. Ferlatte tenderly recalls her conversation with the octogenarian story-teller of the last remaining community on the marshy isle of Sapelo, "Finally he tells me, 'I'm sorry baby. I can't remember. You should have come 10 years ago.'"

The narratives Ferlatte harvested from this island of fishers and farmers helped satisfy her craving to incorporate dying cultures into a living oral-tradition.

Although Ferlatte performs at festivals and conferences globally, and at universities, theaters, museums, churches, rest homes and youth facilities nationally, she invests most emotional energy in the performances at schools and libraries dear to her.

With pride, Ferlatte received a commendation from the mayor of Oakland for co-directing the Sixth National Festival of Black Storytelling and performed for Bill Clinton's first inaugural "Salute to Children" along with Mr. Rogers and Kermit the Frog among others. She adapted her performance from a Skagit tale on the theme of "the presidency and leadership."

Dramatizing this theme of leadership, Ferlatte enacted a uniting of mythical Africans to cope with the confusing circumstances of an excess of languages and a sinking sky.