Years ago, when Diane Ferlatte tried to interest her young son in bedtime stories, she first had to vanquish a formidable opponent: television.
"He was totally engrossed in TV," explained Ferlatte, an Oakland resident. "He literally had no attention span for stories.
"So I started changing what I was reading and my style of reading. I put in more pauses; I became the characters. Ultimately I let go of reading altogether and just started telling them."
Ferlatte's two children are teen-agers now, and she says they don't have much time for her stories. But there are thousands of people across the country who do. Now a full-time professional teller whose credits include the prestigious National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn., Ferlatte is best known for stories influenced by her African-American heritage. County residents can hear her this weekend during the Capistrano Valley Arts Council's Festival '92, a multifaceted arts celebration running Friday through Sunday.
In addition to storytelling, the second annual festival will include theater, dance and visual arts, most of it with a multicultural bent. Other highlights include Andean folk music, Latin American folk dance and a pair of concerts by noted Brazilian musician Rique Pantoja. All events are held in and around San Juan's downtown area, with admission ranging from free to $12.
Festivities begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, with storytelling by Ferlatte, Jim Cogan and Martha Holloway in the courtyard of the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library (31495 El Camino Real). Suggested donation is $2.
Ferlatte, a New Orleans native who says she retained strong ties to her Southern roots, will perform for the first half of the two-hour concert, spinning such tales as "Sapelo: Time Is Winding Up," which focuses on a slave colony in the Old South. The remaining hour will be split by Holloway, who specializes in Southern-tinged folk tales and ghost stories, and Cogan, who will draw from his collection of Early California and Hispanic folklore.
But stories are more than a means of entertaining, says Jim Lewis, a member of the South Coast Storytellers Guild, coordinators of the Festival '92 storytelling events. A tale well told can also provide a vibrant link between family and cultures.
"Stories are a way to keep your culture alive and pass on ethics and family values to children," Lewis says.
To that end, the guild will host "Stories From the Heart," a workshop at the Tony Nydegger Building (31421 La Matanza St.) on Saturday morning from 10 a.m. to noon. According to guild member Jim Lewis, the workshop is designed to teach adults how to make their family tales more "tellable" by showing participants how to "take family anecdotes and put flesh on them" and by sharing tips on how to piece together your clan's history through interviews with senior family members. The workshop is open to those high school age and up; admission is $12. Reservations are recommended.
Running concurrently with the workshop is a free storytelling concert for children featuring members of the South Coast Storytellers Guild with possible guest appearances by Ferlatte, Cogan and Holloway.
On Saturday night at 7 and 9 p.m., the library courtyard will be the site of two concerts by Rique Pantoja and Friends. A Brazilian jazz musician whose music blends European classical, Brazilian classical, bossa nova, American pop and jazz, Pantoja is expected to draw large crowds, so audience members are encouraged to arrive early and bring their own seating. Tickets are $2.
On Sunday at 2 p.m. in the courtyard, three local performance groups, including the Artes Y Culture Andean Music Ensemble, a local ballet folklorico group, and the Coast Ballet Academy of San Clemente, will present an eclectic program of music and dance. Tickets are $2; viewers should bring their own chairs or beach blankets.
Other Festival '92 events include 8 p.m. performances of "The Miracle Worker" in the El Camino Playhouse (31776 El Camino Real) on Friday and Saturday, a student art show Friday through Sunday at the library, arts and crafts demonstrations at the Decorative Arts Study Center (31431 Camino Capistrano) on Saturday and a 150-artist exhibit in the city's Long Park on Camino Capistrano Saturday and Sunday. Family activities at the El Adobe Plaza (Del Obispo Street) and Camino Capistrano) will be held Sunday, including a street-painting festival, children's face painting and a visit from the Orange County Philharmonic Society's Mobile Music Van.
What: The Capistrano Valley Arts Council's Festival '92.
When: Friday, May 29, through Sunday, May 31.
Where: Various sites in San Juan Capistrano.
Whereabouts: To reach downtown San Juan, exit the San Diego (405) Freeway at Junipero Serra Road and drive south. Then turn left on Camino Capistrano.
Wherewithal: Some events are free, others cost up to $12.