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Reflections on this Year’s Timpanogos Storytelling Festival

IMG_3588 IMG_3582IMG_3590The Timpanogos Storytelling Festival – definitely one of the best parts of the year. On Friday I told at the “Timp Tellers” contest, a new feature in which five storytellers from throughout the nation compete for a chance to tell a twenty minute story with Donald Davis. I didn’t win, though I feel good about my performance and consider myself blessed to have been numbered among such talented people. Every teller was magnificent. The experience also gave me a gauge for how to win next year. Apparently the winning story needs a solid “Aww” moment and not just “Haha!” moments. The latter come naturally to me. The former … well, this will take some soul searching.

I heard through the grapevine that there was a tie between two of the contestants, which the judges had to figure out how to resolve. It’s certainly possible that I could have been one of those contestants (this happened at the National Storytelling Network Slam last year). It’s also possible that I had the lowest score. This paragraph is buying me nothing.

The best part about the whole affair was the food. I got to eat both breakfast and lunch with the national tellers, and the pastries were out of this world. One has not lived until one has had a real Danish. I also got to use the “storytellers only” bathroom, which was an honor in itself.

Teresa served as an emcee for a number of the tellers. She commanded the stage with her smooth, sexy voice. She probably won’t appreciate the former sentence.

Saturday began with an adventure. With the help of a good friend, I took the perilous 30 foot journey over flimsy galvanized roofing and up a wobbly latter onto the old roof of the Echo Theatre. There we fixed the improperly hanging banner for BUMS! the Musical … for the third time. Note to the wise: if ever hanging up a 10 × 15′ sign, make sure to thread the rope through every single hole. The first time. Believe me, it’s worth it.

Speaking of BUMS! the Musical, the show is coming along great. We’ve got a great director and a great cast, and I’m happy at how it’s all coming together. We open in less than two weeks … fifteen years after my first, little high school performance of it. These last two paragraphs have nothing to do with this post … but I wanted to record them anyway.

After Saturday morning’s rehearsal for BUMS!, my family returned to the festival, where Aspen, Ariah, and myself performed for the Utah’s Biggest Liar showcase. Four-year-old Aspen stole the hearts of the audience out of sheer virtue of her littleness and cuteness, telling about the time her baby brother fell into a chocolate cake and turned into a cake monster. Ariah (the first place and audience choice winner for the youth division) did fantastic with her story about a cheetah in ballet class. And I also felt good about my telling of my epic encounter with the Lady of Utah Lake and my discovering of Brigham Young’s beard card.

I’m going to list my favorite performances at the festival. First, Carmen Agra Deedy never ceases to blow me away with her storytelling. Her energy, characters, voices, and comedic timing are top notch. I want to be just like her when I grow up.

The most moving performance for me was by Eth-Noh-Tec, a husband and wife Asian-American duo. As one who’s usually not a fan of husband and wife duos, I was pleasantly surprised. They didn’t step on each other’s lines or digress to tedious banter (as I’ve seen with other duos) but told and acted out a beautiful and polished epic. Indeed, their performance, entitled “Red Alter,” was more than a story. It spanned many generations and characters in the legacy of a Chinese family who immigrated to California. Eth-No-Tec poignantly portrayed the characters’ dreams, struggles, prosperity, and long-suffering against European-American prejudice. The story reminded me of the book A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle (one of my favorite books) in the way it connected multiple generations into a single narrative. At the end of the performance, the wife revealed how the characters of the story were her ancestors. These brilliant storytellers illustrated, in perhaps the most human way possible, an important chapter of American history that often goes unacknowledged.

Bill Harley was a hoot, as always. For anyone who may have lost track of his childhood amid the soul-sucking duties of adulthood, I know the perfect cure: listen to Bill Harley.

The funniest performance goes to Donald Davis, hands down. He had everyone roaring as he told about his childhood confusion over the omnipresence and deplorable memory of the shopping mall Santa Clauses.

The spunkiest performance goes to Pippa White. That woman’s got style! Her plethora of dialects and characters, compounded by her unstoppable wit result in pure, unadulterated fun. (No one’s paying me to write this.)

I could go on, but I don’t particularly feel like writing all evening. Suffice it to say the festival is wonderful, and everyone needs to come. I believe that storytelling is such a profound art form because it is the pure transmission of intelligence from one brain to another. It doesn’t require a soundtrack, a set, special effects, or a budget. And because it’s such a cognitive activity, a brilliant listener is just as important as a brilliant teller. This is why storytelling isn’t as popular as, say, film. Film doesn’t usually require as much focussed attention from its viewers, making it easier on audiences. But for those who are interested in taking a mental journey, I believe there’s nothing quite as powerful as a good story.

One more thing: I was not trying to look like the Dread Pirate Roberts. Wearing all black when I perform has been a habit of mine for years for the reason that it better hides me as a puppeteer when performing behind  a black cloth. I’ve done it so much that it’s become my signature dress. The short mustache is for my role as the 1920’s American businessman, Mister Engerman, in BUMS! That being said, for my bio in the program, I wrote, “Stephen Gashler looks remarkably like Westley from the Princess Bride.” I did this in hopes that by beating others to the punch, they would spare me the tedium of comments such as, “Has anyone ever told you that you look like …” Boy was I wrong. To answer one and all, the answer is yes. However, while I’ve tried to be diplomatic, it’s time to set the record straight. I don’t, in fact, look like Cary Elwes. Cary Elwes looks like me.

P.S. Sorry the pictures are lousy. Teresa was obedient and turned off the flash. Someday I’ll convert her to the benefits of complete disregard for social propriety.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on this Year’s Timpanogos Storytelling Festival

  1. This is fantastic! I love your thoughts about storytelling and the events of the weekend. If there is any chance I can re-post this on the Timpanogos Storytelling Website blog, I would love to. Just let me know!

    1. Of course. Go ahead.

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