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October 09, 1992 - Image 117

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1992-10-09

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Renee Brachfeld: Curative and comforting.

The Story Of Her Life

Renee Brachfeld believes in the healing power of stories.


Assistant Editor

nce upon a time there
was a woman who
loved to tell stories.
Any kind of story would do,
from real-life adventures
about her family's escape from
the Nazis to parables from
Africa to 150-year-old fairy
tales. The only stipulation: the
story must be told from the
heart and be captured by the
heart of the listener.
`That's what makes a story
really good," says profession-
al storyteller Renee Brachfeld.
"Whether it's a folk tale or a
personal experience, it needs
to honestly and truly resonate
something inside the listener.
That's what makes it com-
Ms. Brachfeld, of Atlanta,
Ga., will bring her storytelling
talents to Detroit this week,
performing Saturday night for
Storytelling 92 at Henry Ford
Community College.

A New Jersey native, Ms.
Brachfeld majored in psychol-
ogy at Wesleyan University in
Middletown, Conn., then went
to Atlanta for an internship as
part of her master's degree in
social work.
"It was a dreadful intern-
ship, but I liked the city a lot,"
she says. So she stayed in At-
lanta, working as a therapist.
Her secret passion re-
mained storytelling. It was a
tradition she had learned from
her family — her father and
unde are excellent storytellers,
she says — then cultivated
when she saw how it affected
others, and because she loved
"Stories are a powerful
medium for touching lives,"
she says. "They're curative —
people experience a release
when hearing them — and
they're relaxing. And in a way,
they're comforting, too."
When not working as a
therapist, Ms. Brachfeld often
entertained children with jug-
gling performances. But jug-

gling dubs carried a one-hour
act only so far. She soon began
incorporating stories into her
After a show in North Car-
olina, Ms. Brachfeld met up
with a member of the audience
who told her, "You're not real-
ly a juggler."
"Then what am I?" she
"A storyteller."

"Stories are a
powerful medium for
touching lives."

— Renee Brachfeld

"I knew immediately he was
right," she says today.
In 1987, Ms. Brachfeld de-
cided to make storytelling a
full-time profession.
She chose the work because
"it's where my heart is," she
says. How many others can
follow their heart in the field
is anyone's guess. Though a
professional storytelling asso-

ciation exists, Ms. Brachfeld
says she's unsure as to how
many full-time storytellers are
out there.
Today, Ms. Brachfeld both
performs and teaches story-
telling. She has served as an
artist-in-residence and ap-
peared at synagogues and
schools throughout the Unit-
ed States, where her audi-
ences range from small
children to senior citizens.
The stories she tells are the
same, but the "quality of lis-
tening is different" between
adults and children, she says.
This doesn't mean the adults
are any less interested.
"Adults are captivated — it's
total, rapt attentiveness."
Ms. Brachfeld insists story-
telling should not be left to pro-
fessionals. She always
encourages audiences to con-
tinue telling stories on their
"I look at what I do as pre-
serving a tradition," she says.
"And in this technical age, peo-
ple tend to forget how power-

ful and wonderful that is."
A key to her success as a sto-
ryteller is choosing the mate-
rial. "For every one story I tell,
I've heard several hundreds,"
she says. Some come from folk
tradition (she spends count-
less afternoons at the library);
others are from friends and ac-
quaintances (she spends a lot
of time visiting with the el-
derly). Her own life stories are
rarely material for her perfor-
mances, though Ms. Brachfeld
is in the midst of compiling
material about her family,
who escaped to Belgium dur-
ing World War
Ms. Brachfeld's library of
stories is kept only in one
place: her head. She pulls
them out just before, and
sometimes during, perfor-
"Storytelling," she says, "is
like a dialogue between the
tellers and the listeners." And
unlike television, it demands
participation. "With story-
telling, you get to create all
your own images," she says. Ell

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