Allison Downey is a singer-songwriter, an associate professor of elementary education at Western Michigan University, and a renowned storyteller. Downey will be one of about seven storytellers at this year's storytelling festival at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum on Saturday.
She’s even told a few of her stories on NPR’s The Moth. One of those stories was about how what was supposed to be a romantic evening with her high school crush turned into an embarrassing night watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
“He and I had just made it for the very tail end of the dance. And he suggests we go to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which I knew nothing about," Downey says. "And I was a little overwhelmed by the subject, by the costumes around me. And it’s just a…one of the things I like about that story is because it…I think everybody can relate to feeling out of place.”
This weekend Downey will be telling more family friendly stories at One World, Many Stories, the 2nd Annual Storytelling Festival in Kalamazoo.
“I’ve got a song that I wrote about a little girl named Leila and it’s called 'Little Leila Knows.’ And it’s all the things that kids do that they know they’re not supposed to do and why they do that," Downey explains. "It’s a silly song and then sort of fun. It’s silly and then poignant.”
A lot of Downey’s stories are about travel. She’s gathered tales from five continents around the globe. Downey has so many travel stories that she recently helped organize a storytelling event for the Ann Arbor travel agency Journeys International.
“And the story that I told was about a backpacking trip that I took across Europe. It was my love of travel and my motto that I would travel at all cost for no cost. And essentially the story takes me through enough experiences that at the end I decide that sometimes no cost is too much cost. And so I end up on a beach in Nice covered with garbage from a street cleaner, soaking wet. And it wasn’t a pretty sight, so we moved on from there.”
Downey says you don’t have to see the world to become a good storyteller. She says no story is too insignificant to work with—it just depends on how you tell it. Downey says good storytellers are believable, authentic, and they connect with their audience.
“When I watch somebody on stage, to me what draws me in is that they’re engaging with me. That they’re actually, authentically connecting with me," says Downey.
"I’m not as interested in a big ‘fourth wall’—which in theatre is what we call sort of the separation between the stage and the audience. Which is one of the reasons that I like storytelling ‘cause you are just talking to people and sharing with them something that you have to tell—a story you have to tell. So to me that authenticity is really important.”