Bobby Norfolk’s innate ability to read and connect with audiences of all ages makes him one of America’s premier storytellers. He is an internationally known “story performer” and no stranger to the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, having performed here five times previous to his performance on Saturday afternoon.
Norfolk began his career as a stand-up comedian in 1975 at local St. Louis comedy clubs and as an actor with the Black Rep. He then worked ten years at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis as a National Park Service Ranger. In 1979, Bobby made his first appearance as a storyteller at the St. Louis Storytelling Festival, and discovered that through storytelling he was able to combine his theatre and stand-up comedy background to become a story performer.
His stories promote such positive character traits as respect and responsibility, as well as cultural diversity and literacy. He inspires and motivates kids and adults telling stories that can be shared through the oral tradition. “No fancy electronics, just teller, listener, and the imagination,” he says.
Norfolk’s essentials to a great story consist of setting, cause and effect, and a beginning, middle, and end. “The moral-ethical value is very important,” Norfolk goes on to say. “The basis, or origin, of storytelling is to teach adults a lesson, and then pass it along to children. Even in the fairytales,” he adds, “there’s always a moral-ethical ending in my storytelling.”
Norfolk’s storytelling practice fits well among the works on view at CAM. Contemporary art often reflects the salient issues of the present day, as does the weaving of stories. “In the 70s,” Norfolk recalls, “I attended and graduated from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. I was a part of the black student union there, the Associated Black Collegiates. I was becoming politically conscious while attending UMSL. I took those concepts and thoughts and put it into storytelling. People need to be aware of issues happening in the community,” Norfolk shares. “I like to think of myself as an, ‘edu-tainer,’ where I am not just entertaining but also educating.”
RE: Storytelling with Bobby Norfolk will be held on Saturday, June 30 at 1:00 pm at CAM. The event is free and open to the public.