Macklin, who describes her style as dramatic, asserts that "storytelling has to pick you."

"You have to be called into it. It's more than performing, it's connecting with others," she said. "When we're in the moment, race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic factors — they all go away, and we are one village with a common story that connects us all."

'Based on true events'

Booth entered his first storytelling competition 11 years ago when he was 20, though he grew up hearing stories his whole life from his great-grandparents and other relatives in West Virginia, where he can trace his family back to the 1850s.


Sign up to receive our free daily email newsletter: Columbia Today

"I'm on the younger side of the spectrum in storytelling, usually by a couple of decades," he said. "And I don't tell a lot of true stories, but tell stories based on true events."

Booth said he draws upon his college degrees in music composition and musicology to craft his stories. He's working on a retelling of Cinderella set in the early days of country music.

"It can be a challenge to weave music into storytelling without taking the audience away from the story," he said. "And we are so reliant upon our connection to the audience."

Booth says family stories are disappearing because our society is inundated with technology.

"Imagination isn't used as much today, but we can make anything happen in our brains," he said. "When people tell me I took them to another world, that's as much as I can hope for."

'Most important story'

In other settings, Young often shares a 45-minute original story rooted in Jewish folklore that is more serious in nature.

In the story, upon discovering her body has been invaded by a golem — a mud or clay figure that comes to life after a mystic breathes into its mouth — a young woman works obsessively to expel the invader through starvation, excessive workouts and cutting herself.

"A golem acts as a mindless servant, much like the Frankenstein monster, and it needs to be destroyed, though that's easier said than done," he said.

As the story progresses, it becomes clearer to the audience that the golem is a metaphor. He said the cautionary tale is based on his then-teenage daughter's battle with bulimia, an eating disorder centered on bingeing and purging.

"This is a story I've been working on for several years, and it may be the most important story I tell or ever have to tell," said Young, who has two sons with his wife, Judy. He has told it at Towson University in a women's studies class.

He incorporates elements of Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" into the telling, which keeps evolving as his own understanding of the health problem's destructive impact deepens.

Young calls the tale "an example of what the art can convey at its highest." But that's not to discount the equally valuable contributions of humor and joy.

"As a storyteller, I've got to trust that a well-crafted story will exert its own pull if I don't get in its way."

If you go

"Tales of Nature: An Afternoon of Professional Storytelling" will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19, at the Howard County Conservancy, 10520 Old Frederick Road, Woodstock. Admission is $5 per person or $15 per family. Preregistration is required and can be done on the website, hcconservancy.org, or by calling 410-465-8877.