These Mason Students Have a Story to Tell
Posted: October 18, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
By David Driver
Kristina Downs heard one flush. Then she heard a second one.
Downs had just returned to her dorm room at the College of William and Mary, a room she shared with just one other student. After hearing those sounds, Downs thought her roommate was using the bathroom.
She then heard cries coming from the bathroom. Concerned, she opened the bathroom door after calling out her roommate’s name. When Downs opened the door, the sobbing immediately stopped – and no one was there.
Her roommate, who had been studying elsewhere, came back to the room about an hour later. People had told Downs, now a graduate student at Mason, that her room at William and Mary was haunted. She was skeptical until that night a few years ago when she heard the strange noises.
Downs has told a version of this story as a member of the George Mason University Storytellers Club, where she is the treasurer. Erica Wilmore is the president, and Laura Ek is the vice president.
The club, which was approved by the university in 1997, was dormant for three years before Downs and Wilmore got it started again in 2004, says Peggy Yocom, an associate professor in English who provides guidance to the club. The club gained university funding this semester and presented during the Fall for the Book festival at Mason.
The group is open to everyone, including faculty, staff and people in the community. The storytellers usually meet at 8 p.m. on Thursdays in Student Union Building II. They have tentative plans to do a storytelling presentation at Mason sometime around Halloween.
“We want it to be a homey place. We are trying to reach out,” says Wilmore, who adds that a person needs no storytelling experience in order to attend the meetings. Those who attend the meetings can tell a story if they wish, or simply listen to the stories of others.
Downs and Wilmore are both working on master’s degrees in interdisciplinary studies, with a folklore concentration. Both had little or no storytelling experience until a few years ago.
“It never occurred to me it was something I could do,” says Downs, who has been acting since elementary school.
Downs adds, “It is funny, because I have been performing my whole life. But I have always been a character performer. When you tell a story, you are not a character performer.” That is because, for Downs, most of her stories deal with her own experiences, including a summer when she lived in Peru.
While Downs enjoys personal narratives in her stories, Wilmore relies more on traditional folktales that have been handed down over generations. A newcomer to the storytelling tradition, Wilmore has told stories locally at a library in Prince William County and at Flint Hill Elementary School in Fairfax County.
Downs and Wilmore attended a storytelling festival in Williamsburg in 2005. They both hope to one day attend the National Storytelling Festival, which is held annually the first full weekend of October in Jonesborough, Tenn.