The Olympics and the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival

The Olympics and the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival

What did you love most about the 2020 Olympics? While it’s thrilling to watch the close wins and cheer for your team, it’s the stories we remember most. We love hearing the stories of overcoming personal trials and hardships, stories of triumph in spite of family and personal challenges, and stories of the incredible amount of work that goes into winning an Olympic medal.

While stories may be the obvious connection, here are some other things the 2020 Olympics and this year’s Timpanogos Storytelling Festival have in common.

Both events bring people together and connect them emotionally and socially with no regard to color, nation of origin, or socio-economic backgrounds.

The 32nd Olympiad, held in July 2021, was a highlight, not just for the athletes who trained and worked tirelessly to reach personal goals, but also for their families and friends who shared their journey.

The 32nd annual Timpanogos Storytelling Festival (Sept. 9-11, 2021) also represents the dreams and ambitions of people who communicate stories of love, courage, and humor一causing the hardships of a pandemic, unrest, and global confusion to fall into the background for just a little while. We celebrate coming together through common goals and find joy in the everyday triumphs and small victories.

The Olympic back stories of sacrifice, mentoring, and guidance remind us that everything worth achieving is remarkable and of significant worth一the parents who paid for lessons and practice time, the coaches who taught athletes to get back up and try again, the achievements over injury and pain.

The Olympics started in 1896 in Athens, Greece, and this year drew an international television audience of 15.1 million.

The Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, which began in Alan and Karen Ashton’s Orem, Utah backyard with an idea discovered by Karen at a national festival, drew a few hundred participants. Last year’s audience, combining virtual attendees and in-person listeners in schools and community conferences, numbered in the thousands.

Like the athletes who join those from other nations at the Olympics, listeners at the Festival are transported to all parts of the globe, gaining experience and understanding of cultures and people they may never have the chance to know in person. And that brings us all a little closer together.

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Andy Offutt Irwin

Andy Offutt Irwin

Andy Offutt Irwin really likes to tell his fictional stories involving his 85-year-old, widowed, aunt, Marguerite VanCamp, a newly minted physician. He talks with humor and candor about aging and growth, even amongst the aged.

Since he is from Georgia, he also likes telling stories about the area and the people, addressing the issues that pertain to the “New South” and the social changes occurring therein.

His stories are flavored with humor and framed on truth. “Good fiction must be framed in truth, even if one is not dwelling completely in fact,” he said.

“My characters are developed in such a way that they inform me of what they need to say. This is truer than you can imagine.”

Fellow storyteller Ed Stivender told Irwin he loves how he protects and takes good care of his characters in his stories.

Irwin started out in a comedy troupe that provided shows to Walt Disney World: SAK Theatre. He performed, wrote and directed with them but failed to find the connection there he wanted with people.
He started working as a teaching artist with “Young Audiences of Atlanta” when he met storyteller Carmen Agra Deedy. She pitched the idea of storytelling to Irwin. He had done some stand-up and performing but hadn’t considered storytelling. He tried it and was soon invited to the National Storytelling Festival which turned out to be a life changing experience.

He describes himself as a humorist who listens to his audience and is working on his “funny.”

“I utterly live on the reaction of an audience,” adds Irwin. “Although I have dabbled in radio and television, I have been a live performer all my life. The audiences’ reactions inform me as to what is working, what is heard and understood, and what needs adjusting. The laughter I listen for tells me that the people are present with me in the story.

“Laughter is “the sound of comprehension,” he shares.

He was awarded the 2013 National Storytelling Network Circle of Excellence Award.

Sheila Arnold

Sheila Arnold

Sheila Arnold took a leap of faith “with a trampoline in place” when she decided to try storytelling as a career. She was a single mom with a young son when her parents offered her financial support and a safety net if she wanted to give it a serious go. They took care of her bills and her son who also offered his unconditional support.

“When God opened the door in 2003, I told my parents ‘I should do this.’”

She had been telling stories at her son’s daycare center. That was almost 20 years ago, in fact, it was 18 years on Sept. 3.

Since that time she’s become a successful, full-time storyteller, traveling all around America sharing songs, stories and historic character presentations.

She enjoys writing, telling, directing and helping others learn to enjoy stories. She doesn’t put herself in a niche.

“If I like a story, I tell the story,” Arnold shares. “I tell several original stories, inspirational and Christian stories. I tell whatever feels good in my mouth!”

She’s a history buff as well as a story lover.

She brings to life 13 different women from history, including her favorite representative of the early slave people, tavern slave “Ol’ Bess.”

She has been heavily involved with the Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, presentations as a character. She has been a featured regional storyteller at the Williamsburg Storytelling Festival. She is the CEO and a lead performer of the television series History’s Alive!

She’s been successful enough to be able to pay her parents back for their financial support and her proud son is now a high school senior.

He has told her, “Mom, this is what you’re supposed to be!”

Arnold is happy to be telling stories because she believes storytelling is truth-telling, creating a community.

“It may be just between you and your grandchild,” she says.

She acknowledges that stories entertain but stresses that storytelling is truth-telling.

“Take some of the funniest stories and you realize you are also getting some truth. Look at Bil Lepp’s stories, Arnold said. (Lepp is also a storyteller at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival.)

“It’s also illuminating. I love that moment when you realize the story is about more than the story. I love that part!”

This is her second year at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival.

Rev. Robert Jones

Rev. Robert Jones

Robert Jones, also known and ordained the Reverend Robert Jones, was invited to be a
storyteller at the 2020 Timpanogos Storytelling Festival.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, It turned out to be a virtual festival only but he still found it
to be a highlight experience as the storytelling community accepted him without reservation.
(The 2021 festival is both live and virtual.)

“It was wonderful. It’s such a welcoming fraternity,” he said.

He is just one of several storytellers on the circuit who have been or currently serve as
ministers.

“The two things are connected,” Jones said, “preaching truth and telling meaningful stories.”
He points out that the Bible is actually the ultimate ancient way of telling stories and of
transmitting information.

Jones said society today is so divided that people need stories more than ever.

So he’s intent on telling stories that teach cultural diversity and tolerance.

The really great stories bring us together, he said.

“Tolerance?” That’s something we do when we’re in pain, something that we bear, like a
toothache.

“Cultural diversity is the story to celebrate. We celebrate the things that enhance your life,” he
said.

Jones started telling traditional African American and American humorous and powerful stories
to go along with his music.

He’s a self-taught blues musician and a longtime DJ.

“People would tell me they enjoyed my stories as much as my music,” Jones said.

He has entertained audiences of all ages in schools, prisons, churches, libraries. and colleges.

He was invited to the National Storytelling Festival. He told stories there and determined right
away, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up!”

This year will be his and his wife’s first visit to Utah.

He’s anxious to be here.

“I’ve heard nothing but good things about the Timpanogos Festival,” he said.

Andy Hedges, Cowboy Poet and Songster

Andy Hedges, Cowboy Poet and Songster

Andy Hedges is new to the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival this year, but his brand of storytelling is not. He joins a select group of cowboy poets and storytellers that have graced the stage at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, so we asked him to introduce himself and his Texas brand of storytelling.

“I come from Lubbock, Texas and I recite cowboy poetry and I sing old-time cowboy songs. Cowboy poetry is an oral storytelling tradition and I think it will be a great fit at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival.

Would you consider your stories to be more timeless (traditional stories) or timely (personal narrative)?

“I would say more timeless traditional stories. My performances are centered around traditional cowboy poetry recitations and the folk songs of the working cowboy. Many of these poems have been passed down for generations and the roots of cowboy music go all the way back to the British Isles.”

Where can we go to hear more from you?

“I’m on all of the social media sites but a great way to hear more from me is to listen to my podcast Cowboy Crossroads. I do in-depth interviews with poets, musicians, and working cowboys. My guests have included Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Waddie Mitchell, and Colter Wall. It’s available on my website (www.andyhedges.com) and on podcast providers like iTunes and Spotify.”

Thanks Andy. We’re looking forward to having you join us at our 30th annual festival. To see Andy, get your tickets to the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival September 5-7 at the Gardens at Thanksgiving Point.

Our own Daniel Morden, recently received a prestigious medal for literature

Our own Daniel Morden, recently received a prestigious medal for literature

Last year, our international teller DANIEL MORDEN was presented with the Hay Festival Medal by Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall.

 Awarded every year since the 2012 Olympic Games, Hay Festival Medals are given for exceptional work in literature. 

It was a surreal day. I didn’t know this medal existed. I’d just finished telling stories to 1200 people when I was whisked off to a marquee and suddenly I was in the presence of royalty, being given this award. 15 minutes later they’d all moved on and I was alone.”  

Other recipients of this prestigious award have included Margaret Atwood for Prose, Alan Bennett for Drama, and John Le Carre for Fiction, among others.Congratulations Daniel!

To see Daniel’s mastery of language and storytelling, come to the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival this weekend, September 6-8 at the Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, UT. Tickets are available at the gate or online at timpfest.org 

Timpanogos Storytelling Institute
957 East 70 South
Lindon, UT 84042

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