“Storytelling is the best tool we have at our disposal for creating change in our society,” Ivan Coyote says.

Coyote is in town for The St. John’s Storytelling Festival, which wraps up this weekend with workshops and Storytelling sessions happening all over the city. They have created four short films and are the author of eleven books including Tomboy Survival Guide, which was released earlier this fall. Despite their prolific, award-winning work in other mediums, Coyote might be best known for their live storytelling performances.

“Storytelling is kind of the first medium, everything begins with storytelling. Writing begins with storytelling, poetry is often a form of a story, lot of the time a good movie starts with a script which is basically an outline for a visual story. So I like it because it’s the root of all those practices,” Coyote says.

Their work as an activist using storytelling to cultivate social justice has been bringing them into schools all over the country for over fifteen years. They tell intimate stories with humour and swagger to create understanding about issues like homophobia, transphobia, and classism.

“You can’t legislate compassion, you can try but you can’t actually make someone feel compassion … The only way to get someone to understand someone who’s different than them is by presenting the ‘other’ person as human. So whatever helps us access each other’s humanity is best and to me that’s storytelling,” Coyote says about how they use storytelling to incite social justice.

However, Coyote says if a story is too didactic it loses the power to help people empathize, “That’s why I utilize things like humour, that’s where performance elements come in. You have to teach someone to care and listen in the first place, that’s a no brainer.”

Coyote will perform along with other local and visiting storytellers at an event called Tales From Near & Afar, happening at Rocket Bakery on Saturday night. The performers will showcase a wide variety of storytelling styles.

Coyote will also be hosting a workshop on Saturday morning designed to help participants hone their storytelling techniques including advice on how to utilize body language in a performance and how to select material.

“I enjoy life, I’m engaged. I’m interested in the people around me. I’m interested in what makes them tick and what doesn’t make them tick. I like to find humour in the darkest and scariest places. Subjects are all around us if you’re open to them,” Coyote says about how they choose subject matter for their performances.