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Azalea Storytelling Festival to hold smaller, semi-virtual event in March

In 2021, Azalea Storytelling Festival was supposed to hold its 25th annual festival. Due to COVID-19, a festival will occur this year, but with only one storyteller, strict safety protocols and options to stream the show. 

They’re calling it “Donald Davis – Stories From The Azalea, v.24.5,” with plans to hold a proper 25th anniversary celebration next year.

In a normal year, the festival would take place at LaGrange College’s Callaway Auditorium (capacity — 770), span a whole weekend and feature four storytellers. 

Davis, a North Carolina-based storyteller who has been coming to LaGrange since the festival’s inception, will perform twice on Saturday, March 6 in First United Methodist Church’s Wesley Hall — once at 2 p.m. and once at 7 p.m.

“I think the community and the world are hungry to be able to do something,” said Joyce Morgan Young, one of the festival’s co-chairs and co-founders. “So, following every protocol that we can think of and being very, very safe, we are going to be able to have this.”

Young explained that about 100 people will be allowed to attend each show. Guests must wear masks the entire time. They will have their temperatures checked upon entry and be escorted to their seats.

People from the same pod, such as family members that live together, can sit together, but each pod will be socially distanced. The plan is for seating to be pre-assigned based on these pods, Young said, so that people can be escorted to their seats before the show. If you ordered one of Davis’ CDs or books, it will be waiting on your seat, already autographed. Programs will also be on seats. 

“We want it to be open and friendly, but we value safety far more than anything else,” Young said. 

LSPA’s Carol Cain is emcee for the events, and John Beyers of First UMC will welcome the guests. Pre-recorded cameo appearances will also feature three storytellers who plan to perform at the 2022 festival — Ed Stivender, Kevin Kling and Josh Goforth.

Tickets are on sale now and can be bought at LSPArts.org or by calling (706) 882-9909. Tickets for the 2 p.m. show are $20 per person; tickets for the 7 p.m. show are $25 per person. The 2 p.m. show will be one hour; the 7 p.m. show is 1.5 hours.

A $40 ticket for both shows is also available. 

The festival has also incorporated options for people to watch at home. A $20 ticket will give you access to a livestream of both shows. They can be watched live and are available for three days after, similar to a movie rental. The videos will remain on the festival’s website, so you could even buy the livestream through June and access it for a three-day period. 

Young said this also allows people who usually travel to LaGrange for the festival to view it from afar. 

“Our following is probably as many, if not more, outside of Troup County and LaGrange and even a 50-mile radius,” Smith said.

A friend of Smith’s in Dublin, Georgia, for example, plans to host a small get-together of couples to watch the shows. In the past week, the festival has mailed out fliers to 787 people, at least one person in every state in the country, Young said.

Davis, Young said, is known for his storytelling workshops. He plans to return to LaGrange this summer to give his sixth workshop here.

In an interview, Davis said he was delighted to be participating, and that the festival is one of the best known in the country, attracting people from all over. 

“It’s a very well-known event and when we have a full-scale event … it’s always a very strong program,” Davis said.

Davis, who has participated in other virtual storytelling events over the past year, called this year’s event “kind of a compromise between doing something that we can’t do, and canceling it. We’ve got a middle ground here.”

Davis said he’s been storytelling before audiences for more than 50 years. He thinks the virtual options at festivals are here to stay, even if we go back to some sense of normalcy. 

He hasn’t yet decided what the topics of his shows will be. It depends, he said, on the “mood of the day” in LaGrange — what’s going on in the news, whether the crowd is more adult or occupied by children and other factors.

“The fun thing for me is to tell a story that reminds somebody of something that happened to them, that they wouldn’t have thought of,” he said.