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Review: 2002 Timpanogos Storytelling Festival

Well, I suppose all good things must come to an end. The three days of sunshine, mountain air, great music, beautiful scenery, and of course, stories are all past for another year. Now is the time for reminiscing, for looking back and sort of retasting everything. And what a delicious memory the 2002 Timpanogos Storytelling Festival has become.

The festival was started thirteen years ago as a means of raising money to build the beautiful children’s library in Orem, Utah. Today, 7 years after the library has been completed, a portion of the proceeds are still used to purchase new books. The remainder goes to the promotion of the art of storytelling and an endowment fund to ensure the continuation of the festival.

As a resident of Utah, I have had the pleasure of attending the festival for several years. This year was special for me however, in that I was invited to be a featured Regional teller along with Kitty de Ruyter and got to have the honor of sharing the stage with this year’s group of National tellers. And what a group it was; Willy Claflin, Donald Davis, Rex Ellis, Beth Horner, Jay O’Callahan, Laura Pershin, Barry Marshall and Jeri Burns of the Story Crafters, and Betty Anne Wylie were all there creating their own specific brand of magic.

It all began the last Thursday of August with Beth Horner, Donald Davis, the Story Crafters, and Willy Claflin all giving workshops in different approaches to storytelling. The seminars were held up in the mountains of the Provo Canyon near the Sundance resort, at the Ashton’s family retreat they affectionately call “Bear Wallow.” I missed the morning workshops because along with most of the National tellers, I was telling stories to groups of school kids that came by the busloads to the Olmsted park where the bulk of the daytime festivities were held. I did get to catch most of the Storycrafter’s afternoon workshop on tandem tellingthe art of sharing the telling of a story between two people. It was great. I learned a lot from the way these two very different personalities blend their differences into a wonderfully rich telling deepened by duel perspectives.

The second and third days of the festival began at 9:30 in the morning when local tellers and children who’d won storytelling contests warmed up the audience for the national and regional tellers who began at 10:00. There were five very large canopy tents set up all over the secluded Olmsted park which is nestled in at the foot of Mount Timpanogos and has two branches of a gentle river running through it. The tents served as the storytelling venues and had such lyrical names as the “Over the Bridge Canopy” and the “Forgotten Hillside.” This way, audience members always had a variety of storytelling styles to choose from. Between hour long sets there were half hour breaks where you could decide the next venue you wanted to attend, peruse the teller’s CD’s books and tapes available for sale, grab a snack at the many food booths all while listening to some great live music. All the tents seemed filled near capacity for most of the festival.

The only problem with being a teller yourself, is you don’t get as much of a chance to hear all of the other tellers. That is why I was eagerly looking forward to the evening performances when we would all tell in succession. The event was held at the Scera Shell, an outdoor amphitheater with a large sloping hillside of grass were the audience could sit on blankets and listen to stories under the stars. People began spreading their blankets out early to save a place and soon the entire hillside was covered with so many colors and patterns, it looked like a giant’s patchwork quilt. Within an hour of start time, the blankets were obscured from view as well, as the hillside filled to overflowing with over two thousand of lovers of story.

It was a great thrill for me to perform before such a large and enthusiastic crown and to be listed on the program with what I consider to be some of the best storytellers in the nation. The audience was more than receptive, their enjoyment and warmth were such a pleasure to those of us telling that before his story, Donald Davis complimented the crowd by saying, “you are getting the best from us because you listen the best.”

One aspect of the Festival that can best be observed from the perspective of a teller is the incredible accommodations and assistance provided by the Festival Staff. I feel confident all of this year’s tellers would agree that the food provided was superb and each member of the staff went out of their way to make all of us feel comfortable and appreciated.

Yes, all good things must come to an end and now, the 2002 Timpanogos Storytelling Festival is just a memory. But the comradery, beauty of the natural surroundings and the magic combination of great stories told by great tellers for eager audiences, will make this festival a memory I will revisit again and again.

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