If you head into a maximum security men’s prison to tell stories, take along your sense of humor, and it’s a top idea to bring along an electric teapot and a variety of teas and sugar!
That’s what Geraldine Buckley—one of the storytellers slated to be on the roster at the 32nd annual Timpanogos Storytelling Festival—advises.
Buckley has been telling stories and serving tea at prisons in the United States and New Zealand for years.
In the prison, she made it a point to remember the inmate’s favorite and how many sugars to add.
“I go where angels fear to tread,” Buckley says. “Some of the scariest things reap the greatest rewards.”
British-born Buckley has told stories, held workshops, and coached for 30-plus years in the United States, Canada, England, South Africa, Holland, Spain, and New Zealand.
Until 2010, she was the Protestant chaplain at the largest men’s prison in Maryland.
“Was I ever scared? I was terrified! I thought, ‘What on Earth am I doing? I wanted to appear cool. So I said, ‘There are not murderers or rapists here, are there?’”
She was told there were about 200 of them! Two hundred prisoners who brought her tea from their daily rations.
So she brought her teapot and started serving tea, hundreds of cups of tea, over the next five years.
She brought in bottles of bubbles and big, beefy men joined in the bubble-blowing.
“We became a community,” she said. “Something happened to me then. I wanted to go in bringing love and laughter—without fear, without judgment. I am so glad I did it! It was my season.”
Her stories of telling stories in prisons are compiled in her CD: “Tea in the Slammer.”
She’s also written and told stories about observing patients in hospitals with COVID-19 in “Pandemic Parables.”
She’s popular at festivals in the United States, England, South Africa, Spain, and New Zealand.
She has a Master’s degree in Communications from Regent University.
If you listen to Bil Lepp long enough, you know he changes tires on planes while they are in the air. He can pick up a bit of conversation and turn it into a tale that wraps itself around the world.
And he comes by it naturally.
“I come from a long line of people who stretch the truth. As far back as I can remember, people in my family lied . . . in a good-natured way,” says Lepp.
“In the 1990s, I entered the West Virginia Liars Contest, having no idea that a person could be a professional storyteller. I just liked doing it.
“Around 1998 I saw Ed Stivender perform and was blown away. As soon as I saw Ed, I knew I wanted to be a professional storyteller.
“I did a 15-minute spot at the National Storytelling Festival in 2000, and the first big festival to sign me up as a full-blown teller was Timpanogos (Storytelling Festival), in 2001. The rest is history.”
“I love storytelling because I love taking an idea, creating a story around it, and then watching the audience enjoy it.”
Lepp says all good storytelling is conversation.
“I’m not talking at the audience, I’m talking with them.
“That’s why I like to see my audience, so I can gauge my pace, style, jokes, and story choice based on how the audience reacts.
“My stories come out of my mouth in a direct reflection of the audience experiencing them,” he said.
That’s why online telling during the Pandemic was hard for him.
“I so loathed online telling during the shutdown. I couldn’t get a handle on how the audience was reacting,” Lepp explained.
He uses common experiences and builds on audience response, sometimes taking a story in several directions before he comes back to the original thought, with hilarious and deliciously surprising results.
“I try to tell stories about topics my audience has something in common with. It doesn’t matter if you grew up in a big city or a small town or on a deserted island—we were all kids once. I try to start at a point that has as many opportunities as possible for the audience to connect with what I am saying, and draw on their own experiences.”
Lepp is a favorite at the Festival which is in its 32nd year scheduled from Sept. 9-11 at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah.