Timpanogos Storytelling Fest returns with new venue at Thanksgiving Point
Todd Esplin and his 4-year-old daughter Olive, both of Provo, listen to Bill Harley during the 20th Annual Timpanogos Storytelling Festival at Mount Timpanogos Park in Provo Canyon in 2009.
Children react in suspense, and laughter soon after to the puppet show put on by Dal Pal’s Rigmarole during the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival in 2016 at Mount Timpanogos Park in Orem.
Emarie Thomas, a youth storyteller from Northridge Elementary tells stories at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival at Mount Timpanogos Park in Orem on Friday, Sept. 2, 2016.
Bil Lepp tells stories at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival at Mount Timpanogos Park in Orem on Friday, Sept. 2, 2016.
Donald Davis tells stories at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. Thursday, August 26, 1999.
Bill Harley tells musical stories at the Timpanogos Stoytelling Festival in 2015.
The audience laughs along to Bill Harley's musical stories at the Timpanogos Stoytelling Festival in Provo Canyon in 2015.
Professional storytellers and large audiences will convene again for the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival and Conference, this year for the first time exclusively at the various venues at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi.
The festival has been in several locations over the years — from a residential backyard in 1990 to the SCERA Shell in Orem and Provo Canyon locations. Executive Director Eliot Wilcox said the new location will provide optimum space for blankets, parking and bathroom needs.
“This is our fourth move,” Wilcox said. “Over the years, we’ve had to keep continuing to move in order to meet the growing demand of the audience.”
The festival will include 12 performers traveling in for the event year: Charlotte Blake Alston, Brenda Wong Aoki, Catherine Conant, Donald Davis, Carmen Deedy, Josh Goforth, Michael Reno Harrell, Bil Lepp, Tim Lowry, Sam Payne, Shonaleigh and Ed Stivender.
The festival has an educational component, with visiting storytellers visiting schools around the time of the festival, and Lepp said that he adapts his stories to the various ages that he visits, but he isn’t necessarily trying to teach morals with his performances.
“My stories don’t have overt lessons or messages,” Lepp said in a phone interview. “But on the other hand, I remember when I was a kid and having performers come into my school and thinking to myself, ‘Boy, wouldn’t I like to do that?’ … So it’s definitely showing the kids something that maybe they don’t see every day.”
Many of the stories told at the festival are true stories, but others are fictional, Wilcox said.
“We make a concerted effort to make sure that we have a variety of storytelling genres represented,” he said. “Storytelling is such a wonderful field. It goes everywhere from folk tales and fairy tales and traditional tales all the way to personal stories and personal experiences.”
With the tens of thousands of audience members that come to the festival each year, the power of storytelling is apparent, but Wilcox said scientists, too, have begun to quantify that power.
“Storytelling is an amazing art form because it is so powerful,” he said. “People tend to overlook it, but at the same time, there’s so much research going on out there right now that explains that, when somebody starts telling a story, for example, we understand it, we listen and comprehend it better, we remember it more. And part of it is because in our brain, literally the same parts of the brain light up as when we are experiencing something or doing something. So it makes sense, when we hear a story, in our brain we’re mentally participating and being part of that story.”
Unlike other forms of storytelling — like film or theater — live storytelling performance often uses no more than a microphone in terms of equipment. But each performance has a lot under the surface, Wilcox said.
“It’s deceptively simple,” he said. “Because storytelling is such a part of everyone’s lives, everyone thinks, ‘Oh, I could be a storyteller,’ and the performers make it look so easy, but really what that is is that’s thousands of hours of craft that are put in to developing those performances to make it appear that easy. Down the word, down the mannerisms, to make it appear natural, and make it so that they can connect at the highest level that they can.”
For Lepp, the extensive rehearsal process and fine-tuning he does still leaves room for some flexibility in each performance of a story.
“I’m not reciting it, because I want it be a conversation, and I always want it to look like I’m thinking of it right now,” Lepp said. “There are certain words that are in it every time I tell it, but you’ll never hear it exactly the same way twice.”
TIMPANOGOS STORYTELLING FESTIVAL AND CONFERENCE
Where: Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point in Utah
When: Thursday through Saturday
Tickets: $8-$135, depending individual events, day passes, entire event passes, etc.