Doris Jones | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Doris Jones

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Oral storytelling is the oldest form of media and entertainment in human society. Since the introduction of spoken language, man has entertained, educated and informed with stories told from generation to generation.

Former biology major, chemical lab technician and librarian Doris F. Jones found her calling about 20 years ago in mankind's original media--face-to-face storytelling.

"I didn't really know what I was meant to do until I had my own children and started reading to them. And it was like a whole new world opened up," Jones said.

As a storyteller, Jones has entertained and enthralled children and parents across Mississippi with her vibrant, engaging performances. This Saturday, Jones will perform at the Mississippi Children's Museum as part of the Storytelling Festival, an event designed to promote literacy and storytelling.

Whether she is telling a story from a classic fable, a new children's book or an original story, such as "Buster the Bird," Jones is never the only actor in her performances.

"You never know what the audience is going to give you. And I interact very closely with my audience," Jones said. "I will go around and make faces at the children and stuff like that. So I am very much interacting with them. They are in the play."

It is that connection with her audience on a personal level, Jones said, that gives her art form an audience. While television and smart phones provide super-fast transfer of information and movie screens tell stories with big-budget production value, video screens don't provide close human interaction.

"I see a real hunger for connection--human-to-human connection--in our society," Jones said. "Screens do work, but they don't relate well. And we're losing that person-to-person contact. When I go into a school and work with a class, the teachers are really excited about what I'm doing, because a lot of the children I work with don't get a parent reading to them at home."

Don't expect to find someone sitting in a chair quietly reading to her audience, though. And don't expect to get to see the illustrations, either. Jones puts the books away and uses her voice, puppets, audience members and costumes as well the imaginations of everyone listening to bring the stories to life.

For new stories, Jones usually goes to the public library in Madison, where she worked for several years. She said she knows when she has found a story she wants to perform when it just speaks to her. She said the fun starts for her in finding how to get her audience involved.

"I look in that story for the points of connection--how you can make your audience not just listen, but participate. They get to play with you. And that's a lot of fun," Jones said.

The Storytelling Festival will also feature a performance of "Sahara Zoo," a Puppet Arts Theatre show. Mississippians and Emmy-Award winners Peter Zapletal and Keri Horn will bring African folk tales to life with in their puppet show that is fun for all ages.

"He has helped me out a whole lot with my work," Jones said of Zapletal. "He is a creative genius. He really is. He is so gifted and so talented. He's just got such a wealth of creativity."

The Mississippi Children's Museum's Storytelling Festival will begin at 11:30 a.m. Saturday. "Sahara Zoo" will cap off the festival beginning at 3 p.m. Admission is $8, or free for museum members and children under 1 year old. Visit mississippichildrensmuseum.com for more information.

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