RICHMOND -- Before movies, plays, even the printed word, there were stories told verbally to share images, history, moral lessons, humor and drama.

One of humankind's oldest art forms is celebrated annually at the Bay Area Storytelling Festival, which returns May 17-19 at the Craneway Pavilion, 1414 Harbour Way South in Richmond.

The story practitioners and the mental images they create provide the kind of entertainment and exercise of the imagination that electronic screens can't match.

The three-day event opens with the traditional Friday event with a study trip and workshops for area students.

The main events are 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 18 and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 19, when some of the biggest talents of the storytelling craft will be weaving tales and creating images in the minds of listeners with the panoramic Bay View from the Craneway as a backdrop.

These are not fairy tales for small children but most suitable for ages 8 to 108, as the promoters say. There are events tailored for older children and adults, as well as events oriented to families, with a Sunday afternoon family concert for children under 8.

Headline storytellers are Len Cabral of Rhode Island, Megan Wells of Illinois and Kevin Kling of Minnesota, each award-winners. Cabral is a veteran teller of folk tales interspersed with personal experiences. Wells uses her theatrical background to make stories come alive. Kling is known for his imagination and ability to draw emotion from his audience.

There are also showcase tellers Yvette Brady of Los Angeles and Will Hornyak of Oregon, and both days will have workshops, musical interludes and story swaps where anyone can share a 5- or 10-minute tale.

An invitational teen spoken word slam will be held from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets are available for a single event, all-day passes to all events on Saturday or Sunday, or an all-weekend. Tickets and more details are online at www.bayareastorytelling.org.

Contact Chris Treadway at 510-262-2784 or ctreadway@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/christreadway. Stay up-to-date on West Contra Costa news at IBABuzz.com/westcounty.

IF YOU GO
What: Bay Area Storytelling Festival
When: May 17-19
Where: Craneway Pavilion, 1414 Harbour Way South, Richmond
Details: www.bayareastorytelling.org; email info@bayareastorytelling.org; 510-869-4946