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West Jordan Journal

Utah audiences captivated by the art of the story

Sep 24, 2018 11:46AM ● By Jana Klopsch

Donald Davis, a celebrated national storyteller from North Carolina, appeared at the Viridian Event Center for a free evening concert as part of the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. (Whitney Cox/City Journals)

By Whitney Cox | w.cox@mycityjournals.com 

In the words of Becky Harwood, first-time attendee of the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, “Captivating! They had you right there.” 

This year is the 29th annual Timpanogos Storytelling Festival and Conference held at Thanksgiving Point. It all started when founder Karen Ashton went to the National Storytelling Festival and was so struck by the art of storytelling that she wanted to bring it back to Utah. It began in her backyard and has grown to a world-renowned storytelling festival. 

“We just bring, really, the best storytellers in the world to the heart of Utah,” said Marilee Clark, Program Director of Timpanogos Storytelling. “It’s a great place to come and listen to stories. There’s a great sense of connection that’s involved in storytelling. It’s a great family activity. It’s a great time for friends to come and laugh and cry and feel together. It’s really a fun and meaningful experience.” 

As part of the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, each year kicks off with a free concert at the Viridian Event Center, featuring a few major storytellers. It really is the best-kept secret, as it is the only free concert in the festival. It isn’t the “opening act” material you would expect either. This year, two nationally renowned storytellers took the stage: Donald Davis and Sheila Arnold. 

“Donald is an icon in the storytelling world,” Clark said. “He’s been at this storytelling festival since the second festival in 1990. He’s really been instrumental in building this festival to what it is today.” 

Donald Davis did not disappoint. His story of his Uncle Frank, who “is in charge of bad decisions” had the audience laughing out loud. It’s obvious he has a natural gift, even if he doesn’t know how he first started telling stories. 

“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” Davis said. “I grew up in a big family where everybody just talked all the time. I didn’t even know it was stories. I would hear interesting things, and then I would go tell somebody else about it. And then people would say, tell that again, tell that again. Then they would actually have me come tell stories for programs, like for the Lions Club and stuff like that.” 

Davis has been telling stories professionally for 38 years and will be presenting in Vermont, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Tennessee in the next month alone. 

Shelia Arnold tells a similar experience when asked how she became a storyteller.

“I was raised around storytellers, so I’ve had storytelling in my life all my life,” she said. “Then I had a son, so I started creating stories and songs. That’s what I thought all parents did. Then I learned it wasn’t. So, I started doing it for his daycare, and his daycare took me to one person, who sent me to another to another, and eventually—I always visited all the schools—and eventually, I got to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. And there, they actually paid me to be a storyteller. It was lovely.”

Arnold is newer to the storytelling world; she began her career around 2004. She tells stories from history, folk tales, children’s tales and even does character roles and presentations, which are “a whole other kind of historical storytelling,” said Arnold. 

“I go to 398.2 in the library over in the kids’ section, Arnold said. “I take the books off the shelf, the ones that haven’t been touched since they were ever put on the shelf, and I read some of those stories.” 

The Timpanogos Storytelling Festival also has a second part: the conference, where aspiring storytellers can receive helpful tools for their craft from professional experts in the storytelling world. 

“It’s great as a performing art, but every one of us has the opportunity to sharpen the way we tell our own stories, and that has benefits for ourselves as individuals and for our families and our communities,” said Clark. “The process of telling a story, and listening is really a process of connection and building relationships. It has long-reaching benefits.” 

It seems only fitting to end with the reaction of Halene Draper, who attended the event at the Viridian for a girl’s night out. 

“This was my first time at a storytelling event,” Draper said. “When they were done, you couldn’t even believe how long it had been.” 

For more information about the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, see timpfest.org.