Sheila Arnold Q&A

By Benjamin Kocher

Sheila Arnold doesn’t just tell stories; she lives them. As a professional historical character interpreter, Ms. Sheila takes on the role of historical characters and tells stories through their eyes. She has also written poems, stories, fiction, and plays, starting when she was in the seventh grade. With a life seeped in storytelling, Sheila enthralls her audience of students of all ages with her character portrayals, motivational speeches, workshops, and storytelling. You can also bet on her watching football and basketball when she has a chance to, and working with youth and reading legal mysteries are also up there on her list of interests. A woman with a wide range of talents, interests, and abilities, Sheila’s storytelling is certainly one to experience.

We had the privilege of asking Sheila a few questions, and we have her answers for you in our interview below. We’re excited for you to get to know Ms. Sheila better before the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival begins, so without any more preamble, we present to you an inside look at Sheila Arnold.

Q&A with Sheila Arnold

Our theme this year is “Pathway to Story.” How would you describe your pathway to becoming a storyteller. Was it a road, a back alley, a fast track, or a meandering trail?

My pathway to story has been a rambling road with dead ends and no outlets, and then an autobahn. I have been telling stories since I was a kid, and was on the Forensics team and in Drama in high school and my first year of college. Then all my performance stuff stopped! I came back to storytelling when my son was in his second daycare and I was working a job that allowed me to come and tell stories at his day care facility. From there my name was given to others, I presented in each of my son’s classes, and finally arrived at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (VA) where I became a paid storyteller in their evening programs.  That is where the autobahn came. I was strongly encouraged to do more and more storytelling and in 2003 I left my full-time job to be full-time, self-employed professional storyteller. There was a bit of a storm on the road where I had to pull over in late 2003 and early 2004, but after the storm passed, it’s been wide open road. I love my job, and at each rest stop along the way, I get to meet more people, learn new things and am given new challenges for the road ahead.

Could you tell us about someone who has influenced you on this journey as a storyteller? 

My son is my greatest fan, and I started everything because of him. When I left my full-time job, he was a senior in high school. I talked to him first and told him that his senior year might be seriously financially impacted, and my son looked at me and said, “Mom, this is the job you were always meant to do. We’ll be okay.” And with that love, and my parents’ love and initial financial assistance, I am doing the job I was always meant to do and the everything is okay.

In the storytelling community there are so many stories of folks who have helped, but it would be my friend, Mary Lovell from Kentucky, whose words of belief that I was a storyteller worth hearing, worth seeing on a national stage, worth having a CD made, she would be that push that led me to go further than I ever would have thought.  

When I first started storytelling, I wanted to “grow up to be like” Charlotte Blake Alston, and she told me it was okay to be myself. Diane Ferlatte took me under her wing to help me know there was more to storytelling than being at festivals. In regards to my personal stories, which was not how I began storytelling: Donald Davis began the process of looking at personal stories; Milbre Burch encouraged me to express my stories better; Susan Klein helped me explore the depth of my stories, and Susan O’Halloran helped me to believe my stories needed to be told.

What are you passionate about outside of storytelling?

Faith and Justice are a focus of much of my storytelling, but also what I am passionate about outside of storytelling. My faith, as a Christian, is to grow in my relationship with God and to share the hope of Christ with others through words and mostly through action. I am also passionate about justice and speaking up and out about places where we as people, as a community, and as a country can and should be better. I love teaching parents and teachers. I am adamant about history and getting history to people, and learning from history. I am passionate about my grandson, Brooklyn, six years old and has stolen my heart away. And I LOVE to read.  I am not a fast reader but I usually have 2-3 books going on at a time.  

Where does storytelling go from here? How do you see it’s influence on society?

Storytelling is absolutely essential. I have seen the power of a story change the life goals of a person, awakening in them a hope or a dream that they never had. I have seen my stories allow people to grieve, to want to live, to decide they will be a part of the change in our society. I believe stories teach and inspire us, and we need so much more. I think historical storytelling needs to be happening more and more, allowing us to really hear the stories of the past.

I do think that sometimes our stories are too focused on the personal, which really only have one cultural basis and are good for a limited time, before you have to explain too much of the story because times change. However, folk tales (and fairy tales) are cross-cultural and cross-time frame (“Once upon a time”), and should be encouraged, as well as used and modified for us today. The more stories we tell, the more time we spend talking with one another. We need more of that.

What fictional place would you most like to visit?

Narnia!

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Come see Sheila at the 2018 Timpanogos Storytelling Festival on September 6-8 at the Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, Utah. Tickets are available at timpfest.org.

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