A Brief History of Community Storytellers
In 1981 Peggy Prentice, a secretary in the aerospace industry, was looking for an outlet for her creative energy. She did two things that were to have a lasting impact on her life and on the lives of countless others. First, through UCLA extension she took a class in storytelling taught by Nancy Schimmel; second, she attended a conference in Northern California run by the American Storytelling Resource Center. At both the class and the conference, Peggy met other Southern Californians who were interested in storytelling. Already Peggy was busy organizing; she had the foresight to keep track of names and addresses. In October 1981, she invited everyone on her list to an evening of storytelling in her home. Six people showed up.
For the first few months the group continued to meet at Peggy's house. The group at first was known as West Side Storytellers and then more inclusively as Community Storytellers. As the group expanded it moved to the Story Room of the Santa Monica Public Library, a warm, intimate space whose walls were lined with hundreds upon hundreds of books of stories. The library was a good place to meet but it had two limitations: a 9 pm curfew and a ban on collecting donations. Peggy thought it was important, particularly for a fledgling group, to have guest storytellers perform from time to time. She wanted to pay guests an honorarium but was unable to collect money in the library. So the group moved again in December 1983, this time to Wildwood, a small, private elementary school in Santa Monica where Kathleen Zundell, who by then had joined Peggy as a co-sponsor of the group, was a teacher.
At that time, Community Storytellers numbered about 15 people (listeners, novice tellers, and emerging professionals). The group was big enough for a meeting but too small to be assured of its long-term survival. Enter the press. In May 1984, the Los Angeles Times ran an article about the group on the front page of the View Section, with photos. At the next meeting, 80 people showed up. Not all of them returned for a second visit, but for the next two years, newcomers continued to trickle in, attracted by that article. The influx of energy did wonders for the continued health and liveliness of the group.
The group has moved four more times. In 1993, when Wildwood moved to its new facility in Mar Vista, they could no longer accommodate the group. So the group then briefly moved to Harvey Erlich's A Child's Place in Culver City until he passed away from cancer in December 1993. Then in January 1994, under the auspices of Hank Greenberger, the group moved to Temple Beth Torah in Mar Vista. After Hank passed away in July 2005, and with other changes at the Temple, the group's future there became uncertain. Fortunately Rich Bolin, the pastor of the Culver-Palms Methodist Church, had been attending the group's meetings and invited the group to meet at his church. Then in 2011, after 30 years of meeting continuously every month, Community Storytellers had to cancel its August meeting. This was due to ongoing Church activities that precluded the group's use of the meeting room in August of each year. The group met there from January 2006 until September 2017 when changes at the church necessitated another move. So in October 2017 the group moved to the Culver City Julian Dixon Library. This move also necessitated another change to 3rd Thursdays at 6:30pm after 36 years of meeting on 2nd Thursdays at 7:30pm.
With the change to the earlier time and increased traffic on the Westside, attendance began to dwindle, and by July 2019 only two members were attending regularly. Karen Golden then stepped up to the plate to revive the group. Under her stewardship, the group began meeting quarterly at the Robertson Branch Library on Sunday afternoons from 3:00pm to 4:30pm. Then in March 2020, due to the coronavirus, the group began meeting virtually via Zoom and went back to meeting on a monthly basis again.
The group has no official membership—"We would rather be an organism than an organization," Kathleen once said—but there are 197 people on the mailing list. The form of the meetings is an open story-swap: everyone is encouraged to tell a story, with a suggested time limit of eight minutes (originally ten) to limit the damage from wandering tongues. Longer stories can be told in the second half, if few want to tell that night. Sometimes there's a guest teller. Each month a different member acts as MC. Refreshments are served during the break. From time to time the group will produce a concert, called a Tellabration or a Bash, featuring regularly attending members.
Peggy started a newsletter of storytelling articles and events. Penny Post took it over in 1988 when Peggy moved to Palm Springs. When Audrey Kopp took it over in 1993 it became a calendar (StoryCal1993-2009.pdf). The final issue was mailed in September 2009 having been completely supplanted by the group's e-mail list, started by Leonard Ellis in February 2003, and the group's website, also started by Leonard in July 2009. In December 2019 the e-mail list transitioned from YahooGroups to Groups.io and in August 2021 the website transitioned from classic Google Sites to new Google Sites.
Both Peggy Prentice and Kathleen Zundell are no longer with us. Peggy passed on in March 1995 and Kathleen in May 2009. But Community Storytellers continues to meet.