A couple of weeks ago, a friend said to me, “Haven’t you been with the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival since the start? Why?” I stammered for a few moments and finally gave a pretty lame answer, “I just really like it.”
Now that I’ve thought about it for a while, I’d like a do-over—you know, a second chance to answer and maybe sound like a grown up. I have attended every Festival, and have worked on the committee, in some capacity for 28 of its 29 years. If you’re doing something for that long, you better have a really good reason—or two.
When the Festival began, I was a young mother juggling an 11-year old, a 9-year old, and 2-year old twins. I was swamped with the everyday work of raising a family and I was losing myself somewhere between the laundry and the dirty dishes. My good husband saw an article in the newspaper about an event in the Ashton’s yard and offered to take a day off so we could go. My mother watched the twins for us and on a sunny August Friday morning in 1990, we went. As I sat in the front row, storyteller Judith Black told a story I can repeat to this day about a rabbi who, when faced with accounting for his life, was chastised because he had not become his own true self.
The story was, for me, like a shaft of light from above. Becoming my own true self! That concept changed my perspective, my goals, my outlook on life. I had to be a part of this, this . . . group of people. Storytellers? Well, whatever. This is where I belonged. So I volunteered.
As my children grew, so did my involvement. The children began to hear the stories as we came as a family. It became Our Annual Event. We referred to it simply as ‘The Festival.’ Our family lexicon referenced stories we had heard together like other families reference movie quotes. We talked about storytellers as if they were part of our extended family. We quoted them, we sang their songs (thank you so much, Bill Harley, for “Black Socks!”), we laughed at their jokes again and again and learned about other perspectives and cultures. Slowly and surely, the stories provided a safe framework for our family discussions and conversations.
And the children grew up. They tend to do that. Without my permission, they became teenagers. Who wants to go to a storytelling festival when you’re a teenager? They did! Who knew? They brought friends and they’d take off, listening to stories and finding their own adventures. At the end of the first day of stories, we’d compare notes and plan our schedules for the next day.
Then they had the nerve to grow up and leave home. What were they thinking? But guess what happened? They came back. First with boyfriends (we have four daughters), and then with husbands who have also learned to speak Storytelling. And now, even grandchildren. Three generations of us speak Storytelling and reference story quotes like other families reference movies.
So, why have I stayed with the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival for 29 years? Why have I faithfully followed from the Ashton’s yard, to the Olmsted, to Mt. Timpanogos Park, to Thanksgiving Point? Because of family—the family I have raised, and the family I have gained through these annual “family reunion” storytelling festivals. I belong here—these are my people; my tribe, if you will. The people who are willing to put down the electronic screens, look in human faces, and hear hearts speaking. People who will sing along with strangers, laugh with people they’ve never met, and cry a little sometimes with someone who is just about to become a friend. People who will talk to others in line, people who will help just because, and people who are storytellers both onstage and off. I come back, I volunteer, I look forward to The Festival because it is family—that “sittin’ on the front porch with yore folks” feeling that is so strong no matter where The Festival is held. Because of love and family, frankly. Well, that and the peaches and ice cream!
Join us at the 29th annual Timpanogos Storytelling Festival September 6-8 at the Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah.
I was fortunate to attend a writing conference here in Utah recently, and while I learned heap of valuable information and ways to improve my own writing, I was excited to see a professional storyteller had been invited to teach a number of classes. Of course, I made it a point to attend them.
The name of the storyteller in question is Julie Barnson, a local of these parts. The first class of hers I attended was all about the process of telling a great story. And it was wonderful. One of the main things she discussed in this class was how to go about learning a story. For me, this was valuable for both telling my own stories as well as incorporating these tactics into my writing to be able to craft more vivid images for my readers.
According to Julie, telling a story is taking a picture in your head and painting it in the listener’s ear. Image by image, scene by scene. If you know the story you want to tell, you more than likely have images in your head associated with that story. Describe them! Make it real.
She also warned against memorizing the entire thing (which I am guilty of doing). Instead, memorizing the first line as well as the last line will help you get going (have you ever stood in front of a crowd and had your mind go blank? Me too. Hence memorizing the beginning to help get your brain in gear) and help your ending retain the power you want it to have. Of course, a few other things such as in-story poems, chants, rhymes, and the like should also be memorized. And that’s it!
Thankfully I don’t have to memorize beginnings and endings when I’m writing (as I can simply scroll back to the top to see what the beginning is), but this is a great tip for oral storytelling.
The second class of Julie’s I attended was her telling Greek myths—ones everyone ought to know but probably don’t. She told the story of Perseus, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and the story of the Trojan War. Now, I’ve read these stories before, and had learned them in school, but never had I heard them in such a riveting way as she told them.
And there is power in knowing these old myths. After all, a lot of our lingo stems from them. For example, when we talk about someone’s Achilles’ heel, we’re referencing a Greek myth. Knowledge is power—especially for storytellers—and as they always said during Saturday morning cartoons in the ’80s, “Knowing is half the battle!”
I encourage you, fair reader, to learn the myths of old, if not to tell then to gain a greater appreciation of the world around you (but let’s be honest, you’ll most likely end up telling these stories to your kids and grandkids as well). I also encourage you to find a story you love and practice telling it. Find the images that encapsulate the story, that invoke powerful emotions, and practice telling that story to your reflection in the mirror, your spouse, your kids or grandkids, and anyone else that will listen.
When doing so, keep this in mind: how do you speak when you’re excited about something? Do you move your hands in grandiose gestures? Do you contort your face when telling scary tales? And what about body language? Hands on hips for petulance, chin up for pride, and other ways help portray the message along with your words. Experiment with facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language to help your story come alive.
So go on. Indulge in the gift that is storytelling.
Can you think of the first really scary story that you heard? Perhaps it was a ghost story at a sleepover, or an urban legend around a campfire. Do you remember how you felt? If you are like me, you probably felt fear and excitement simultaneously. What is it that draws us to these stories? Is it just the adrenaline rush, or is there something we can learn about ourselves in these dark corners?
Tonight is the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival’s Hauntings Storytelling Competition and I can’t think of a better way to treat yourself this Halloween than with some spine-tingling stories. Forget those gory slasher movies, give me a good old-fashioned cerebral scare any day.
Here are a few things that we can learn from a good scary story:
1. Dragons do exist, but they can be defeated. This applies to monsters, demons as well. If we have the courage to find their weaknesses, we can prevail.
2. Stories can be scary but predictable, which life rarely is. Like a roller-coaster ride, there is anticipation, drama, a predictable climax and then the satisfying conclusion. For the adrenaline junkie, it is a safe thrill.
3. Often, scary folklore is created by cultures to warn people against bad behavior. Think of the ghost stories in which someone returns from the dead to settle unfinished business because they did something wrong in life or someone did something to them. Think of the scary fairytales warning children to stay away from strangers or not to go into the woods alone. When these stories were originally published children were often facing very real and perilous dangers every day. There are real dangers today that we must be on the watch for.
4. We can gain a sense of control over our own demons and monsters when we take the time to stare them down.
5. We stumble into closeness when sharing a good scare with someone else. The shared screams, gasps, and nervous laughter cause us to cling to one another and remind us that we really aren’t alone.
Contemporary myths, urban legends, ghost stories, folklore and fairytales can not only provide us with entertainment but with insight as well. A good scary story will take you to dark places in order to enlighten you. Whatever it is that draws you in, surrender yourself and come to the Haunting’s Storytelling Competition on Monday at 7 pm at the Orem Library. It’s free, it’s frightening, it’s fun and you might just learn something about yourself.
Haunting Contest 2014
Rev up your appetite for the upcoming Festival with some films that celebrate storytelling. At the end of this article is a list of movies that pay homage to the art of oral storytelling. If you want to find out about upcoming movies and get scholarly with your study of film and storytelling, read on. If you would rather just look through the movie list, skip forward. Either way, enjoy the celebration, and we’ll see you at the Festival!
Story as performance art began with oral storytelling, which is still the most immediate, intimate and communal form of conveying stories. But storytelling has branched out to include many genres such as dance, music, visual art, theater, commercials, video games, and film. Many of these genres have embraced and celebrated the elements of the traditional story such as the archetypes, story arcs and themes that we see in our fairytales and folktales.
In fact, the film industry has had an obsession with fairytales in the last few years. Not only have we seen animated movies such a “Frozen”, “Tangled”, and “Brave”, but also live-action adaptations such as “Snow White and the Huntsman”, “Mirror Mirror”, and “Maleficent”. And the trend will continue with films that are in production, including “Into the Woods” starring Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp due out at Christmas, and a new Disney version of “Cinderella” directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter due out in 2015.
While some films adapt familiar fairy tales, others are based on original fairy tales such as “Shrek”, “How to Train Your Dragon”, “Ladyhawke”, and “Willow.” And others draw upon storytelling motifs. “The Croods” is a retelling of the Greek legend of Prometheus. Arguably, some of our most epic fantasy films such as “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”, and the sci-fi fantasy “Star Wars” draw from elements of fairy tales, folktales, myths and legends. J.R.R. Tolkien once said that “The Hobbit” was inspired by Grimm’s “Snow White” (1) and it can be argued that the story is basically a retelling of the Old English poem Beowolf. “Star Wars”, in turn, draws upon mythological elements such as oracles, prophesies and mentorship.
Not only do many films borrow from classic story elements and archetypes, but many also pay tribute to the art of oral storytelling itself. In “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” there is an animated sequence where Hermione is reading aloud an old and familiar fairy tale told to wizard children. While she reads, the scene is brought to life with shadow puppets. This story within a story serves not only to explain the origins of the Deathly Hallows, but is also a stunning reminder of the beauty of story. J.K. Rowling once stated that this folktale was inspired by The Pardoner’s Tale of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.(2 ) In an interview published in the LA Times on January 28, 2011, animation director Ben Hibson explained, “In a moment that takes our central characters to a world of ancient fables, the titular tale of the Three Brothers, found in the book ‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard,’ has an eerie undertone, reminiscent of the timeless Grimms’ fairy tales, which I found particularly relevant for us.” (3)
Our tradition of oral storytelling and our literary canon has created the platform in which modern film makers can build their craft. Let’s look at some of the family friendly films that pay homage to this tradition. Perhaps you will find one to peak your interest and get you excited about the Festival coming up at the end of this month.
10 films that celebrate the art of storytelling:
10 films that celebrate classic fairytales and folktales:
Multiple movies based on a single fairy tale:
Is your favorite storytelling movie on the list? Tell us about it.
1 Tolkien, J. R. R. (2003) . Anderson, Douglas A., ed. The Annotated Hobbit. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-713727-3.
3 Bloomsbury Online Chat, http://ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com/. Retrieved 30 July 2014.