Meet the Teller: Barbara McBride-Smith

Meet the Teller: Barbara McBride-Smith


Barbara McBride-SmithIt is my distinct privilege to introduce one of the storytellers coming to this year’s Timpanogos Storytelling Festival.  It is probably politically incorrect for a member of the Festival’s organizing committee to admit to having favorite tellers, but there you have it, I do.  Barbara McBride-Smith is definitely one of my favorites.  Since this is her fifth time telling at our Festival, she is also a favorite for many other Festival attendees.  If she is one of your favorites, you probably don’t need an introduction, but maybe a refresher would be fun.


Barbara was born and raised in Texas.  She learned the craft of storytelling from her family: from her parents who were the “natural born keepers of their family lore” and from her two deaf sisters who “communicated with their entire beings.”  She went to school in Boston and then moved to Oklahoma.


I admire Barbara’s energy!  She has managed multiple careers all at the same time.  She was an elementary teacher/school librarian for 44 years.  Just before retiring, she was honored as the “Elementary Teacher of the Year” by the Tulsa Public Schools.  She has influenced more than 25,000 children as she turned them to reading and story.  She has been a Seminary Professor for more than 20 years and is the author of several books.


She is also a master storyteller.  I can say that because in 2000 she was invited to enter the National Storytelling Network’s Circle of Excellence, which is given to artists who are recognized by their peers to be master storytellers who set the standards for excellence and have demonstrated over a significant period of time a commitment and dedication to the art of storytelling. She is a frequent featured teller at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, and when she’s not a featured teller, she is their best emcee—bar none.  And to top it off, she is a wife and a mother!


With her Texas drawl, she tells Bible stories full of humor that make me laugh.  Her personal stories connect me with my memories. Through all the years of listening, though, I have never heard her tell Greek myths.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that this year will end that drought!


She is a gracious, witty, and spunky lady who is fun to be around.  I hope you will join me in welcoming her back to Orem, Utah, and if you haven’t heard her before, be sure to catch her at this year’s Festival!

Meet the Teller: Syd Lieberman

Meet the Teller: Syd Lieberman


syd lieberman 2013I had arrived at my destination. It was a strange neighborhood, someone else’s home.  I parked on the street, turned off the car and sat, listening…listening, smiling, crying, and laughing. My drive may have ended but The Old Man and Other Stories, a cassette tape of recorded stories by Syd Lieberman, hadn’t. I had no choice. Physically I was in my parked car, but mentally I was soaring in a world of hope, surprise, and second chances I didn’t want to leave. I had to hear the last two stories.


This was my introduction to Syd Lieberman; a storyteller extraordinaire, a man who knows life is full of hard knocks but also knows hope is what makes the world beautiful and that you keep hope alive by opening your heart.


Syd’s stories have heart. He can’t help it. It is who he is. He is filled with the wonder of life and its tender mercies. Whether telling Jewish folktales, stories of growing up and raising a family in Chicago, the processes of scientific exploration and discovery, or giving voice to individuals long gone, Syd finds and shares elements demonstrating mankind’s potential for rising above the norm even if it is for only a moment. These moments, like Syd’s stories, build on each other offering us a new and brighter perspective.


But this isn’t all. With enviable panache, Syd tells classic literary tales of the macabre. From Beowulf to Chaucer to Poe, Syd can make your goose bumps pop and your breath gasp. The aura he creates during these stories is so powerful it was no surprise one year when all the lights at Mt. Timpanogos Park shorted out at the climax of his story during the Festival’s Shivers in the Night program!


Syd’s ability to find and share the soul of a story and of showcasing the story rather than himself is why Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the Smithsonian, the National Air and Space Museum, NASA, and the Van Andel Museum each commissioned Syd to tell their stories. Syd, and his wife Adrienne’s collaboration in creating stories about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Civil War, and the Gettysburg Address led to their current assignment of creating stories for the US Capitol Visitors Center with Syd teaching their 180 docents and volunteers how to tell those stories.


With four Notable Children’s Recordings awards from the American Library Association, three Gold Awards from Storytelling World Magazine, two Gold Awards from Parents’ Choice, Chicago’s Golden Apple Award for excellence in teaching, and opportunities to teach and perform on stages from Disney World to the Kennedy Center, Syd is the perfect example that it is possible to grow up without losing the magical awe and humility present in childhood.


This summer, enjoy the stories of Syd Lieberman. It will strengthen your heart.

Meet the Teller: Syd Lieberman

Meet the Teller: Bil Lepp


Bil Lepp

Bil Lepp is an amazing storyteller and an even better liar. I have listened to his stories for years, and every single time, he hooks me right from the very beginning. He gets on stage wearing blue jeans, a tucked-in t-shirt, and a ball cap. He’s an average all-American guy that looks like your brother or your next-door neighbor. He puts his hands in his pockets and just starts telling you about something that happened when he was young. Within the first few minutes of one of his stories, I will think to myself, “Well, this is believable. Maybe he’s actually telling a true story this time.” And then, a few more minutes into it, when he tells about he and his friend Skeeter dressing up in their homemade deer costumes during the deer hunt season, you quickly realize he’s tricked you again. And at that point, the lies become more and more outrageous by the minute, and you will find yourself laughing harder than you ever remember laughing.


I would be surprised if there were three people in this world who know Bil Lepp better than my children. They have grown up with him, whether it was listening to him in the shaded tents at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, reading his books as a family, or falling asleep to his recordings. Here’s what they have to say about Bil’s storytelling:


Janessa (17) “Saying that Bil Lepp’s stories are dull and unimaginative would be a big, fat lie… As are most of his stories.”


Harrison (14) “Storytelling is one thing. Sucking the audience into hilarious stories, true or false, and making them roll on the floor laughing like crazy is quite another. That’s the kind of storyteller Bil Lepp is.”


Nathan (11) “I like Bil Lepp for sharing his ingenious ideas, like JELL-O balloons, and teaching us new ways to use the library.”


If you haven’t ever heard Bil Lepp tell his tall tales, the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival is the best place to see him in action. Our listeners adore him, and he always brings his newest and best stories to share with our audiences, which consist of fans that range from young to old. Make sure you arrive at his tent early because most of his hours are standing room only!


Meet the Teller: Syd Lieberman

Meet the Teller: Andy Offutt Irwin


Andy Offutt IrwinIt was a lovely October day in Jonesborough, Tennessee, several years ago when my Timpanogos Storytelling friends and I attended the National Storytelling Festival. We wandered into a tent where Andy Offutt Irwin was making his debut on the national storytelling scene. There he stood—a tallish, youngish, lanky fellow with straw-colored hair spinning stories about the crazy antics of his elderly, southern Aunt Marguerite, who also just happened to be a doctor. We were charmed as we sat through story after story, one more impossibly funny than the next. We watched as crowds followed him from one performance tent to another throughout the festival. He made a big hit with the Jonesborough storytelling audiences who had come to appreciate and understand good storytelling through the years. And Andy, we concurred, would be a big hit with the well-seasoned storytelling audiences of the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. So we invited him to be one of our feature tellers at the next Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. That year a new favorite teller was born at Timpanogos!


Andy evokes a sort of Robin Williams’ flair for the spontaneous and outrageous, taking a seemingly simple story to a most unexpected outcome. He surprised all of us in one of his storytelling sets by bringing a group of children on stage and working them into his act by using his remarkable whistling ability while bonking them on the head with a toy mallet. Surprises? Andy is full of them!

Meet the Teller: Syd Lieberman

Meet the Teller: Liz Weir


Liz Weir is not only a storyteller, or seanchaí (pronounced shan-uh-kee, which is Irish for storyteller/historian) , but she also runs a hostel in Northern Ireland called Ballyeamon. I was lucky enough this summer to visit her hostel located on the Antrim coast near some of Ireland’s most stunning landmarks. Liz met me and my family with a warm smile, helped us get settled into her cozy “camping barn” and then took us to her favorite restaurant IMG_2030n the nearby village of Cushendall. Along the way she told us stories about the fairy trees, shared local legends, and told us about the famine cemeteries and crystal clear water of the Glens of Antrim. Liz’s love of the land, the people and their stories  was apparent and her hostel is a direct reflection of that love. Ballyeamon is unique among the many hostels on the Emerald Isle in that there is a session room lined with books and musical instruments where locals and tourists meet regularly to share stories and music. Liz has created a place where people can come together to rest from their weariness and share their stories.


This gifted storyteller and author has been bringing people together since she landed her first job as Children’s Librarian for the City of Belfast in 1976. At that time “The Troubles” were at their height. “The Troubles” refers to the three decades of violence between elements of Northern Ireland’s Irish nationalist community (mainly self-identified as Irish and/or Roman Catholic) and its unionist community (mainly self-identified as British and/or Protestant). This conflict has had terrible consequences, with more than 3,500 deaths since it began. In a recent newspaper article Liz was quoted as saying her work as a librarian “was a great opportunity to work with people of all ages – not just children, but their parents, their carers, their teachers, and show them they could be children at a time when life was forcing them to grow up very quickly.”


“In 1985 I started an adult storytelling group at the Linenhall Library called The Yarn Spinners, and I had a dream that one day there would be story telling groups all over Ireland. That dream has sort of come true; there are now the Tullycarnet Yarn Spinners, the Dublin Yarn Spinners, the Cork Yarn Spinners, there’s a group in Castlerock now as well.”


 “When we started off the Troubles were at their height, and somebody would get up and tell a story about an Orange Lodge dinner, and somebody else would tell a story about going to Mass. The fact was we were all listening to each other’s stories, and respecting each other’s stories, and I think that’s very important. If you listen to someone’s story, you’re giving the utmost respect.” The people of Northern Ireland have been trying to leave their troubles behind, so to speak. Peace has come in recent years through people finding common ground and setting aside their differences. Stories play an important role in healing and in finding peace. Liz has created a place where these stories can be shared and healing can continue.


Along with her work as a storyteller and hostel owner, Liz also works with a number of organizations, including  The Early Years Organisation in which she conveys important messages to children, such as anti-bullying, racism, respect for the elderly, and more. She has written 15 books for use by the Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, and her latest book, When Dad Was Away, addresses the feelings of children whose parent is in prison. She also works with The Alzheimers Society. In fact, her work with this group would be taking her to Derry the day after our visit, where she would tell stories to Alzheimers patients as they traveled by train. She told me that she loves this work and the opportunity it gives her to reach out and help.


Liz has seen her share of troubles, as many of us have, but she has found a way to leave them behind by creating a life in which she can bring people together through story. IMG_2033Her hostel, Ballyeamon, shares its name with a traditional Irish lullaby which begins, “Rest tired eyes a while. Sweet is thy baby’s smile. Angels are guarding and they watch o’er thee.” It is a place where a weary traveler can rest their tired eyes and find comfort and a shared humanity in stories and song.  Liz is the Angel watching over them all.

 (Some quotes taken from Belfast News Letter, May 13, 2013