For 19 years the Timpangos Storytelling Festival has been a staple of Utah County and a renowned event for story tellers everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. This year’s bardic talent includes a humble but exaggerated personality born and raised in Japan. A woman from Boston. A woman from Cuba. The list goes on.
And these people aren’t just from a variety of backgrounds–they are all good (extremely good) at what they do. Their tales are not limited to the art of language. They go beyond that and become their characters through body language, music, vocal intonations, and so much more. And Utah’s Provo Canyon provides the perfect backdrop for these tales.
The festival officially started yesterday (August 28) with some scheduled writing workshops, but today has been the first day that I’ve been able to go. I left work as soon as I could. My pulse was racing as I walked the distance from my work to the bus-stop–a good distance away. I wanted to be at the festival by 1:30. I had read the author bio for Motoko and her title “Now and Zen” sounded like something I’d be interested in. I wanted to be at the bus stop by 12 o’clock, and I’d left a little late from work. Work can catch up with you at the worst of times! But make it I did. I went into the gas station to buy water (and get at least $2 in change for bus fare) and ended up leaving the water. But I had my change. From the UTA I ended up in front of a church in an area near the base of Provo canyon, and then found a shuttle up to the park where the festival was held. Such beauty is indeed a wonder to behold. One could sit there on a day like today with a notebook and pen and find endless inspiration in the beauty of nature. Not to mention from the people that had gathered. Young. Old. In between. And during sessions with the storytellers, it was hard *not* to feel how absorbed the audience had gotten. And the storytellers delivered to their audiences.
I made it by 1:30 and found Motoko to be, as a word borrowed from the shuttle bus-driver-a riot. Her delivery is simply incredible. Motoko was raised in Japan and she trained in rakugo–the Japanese art of comical storytelling–and her training paid off. She tells a story with both action and words. When a character climbs-she climbs (think mimes…but in a good way. She pulls it off :-), when a character dives into the water and is swimming around, coming up for air, she pantomimes the action perfectly. When a character is hanging by a single branch and is being told by someone else to let go of the branch with one hand, you can see the panic and struggle as the character does as told.
Her stories range from traditional to biographical and all are told with a distinct sense of lyricism. There is a definite rhythm to her words, a rhythm infused not only with great stories but wisdom and humor.
I definitely went to the “Fanfare” tent (where all the merch is sold) just before I went home and bought her CD “Zen and Now.”
After that I wandered around a bit, took some pics, and went back to the same tent I had been in before, this time for a different tale by a different bard. This one was Megan Hicks. Her tale “What was Civil About that War” was underattended–possibly due to the fact that it was a historical theme, and only certain people have a taste for that–but elegantly told. She soon captured me in what turned out to be a ghost story of sorts where she ‘met’ people from the Civil War and got to hear about it in their perspectives. Her voice captured the characters personalities as she weaved their stories into a seeming reality. It’s like reading a good book–you’re easily transported into a new world. One of snow. Death. Devastation. And a simple kindness (based on the “Angel of Fredricksburg“). When she was done, she had a bit of time left so she took us to an entirely different place altogether. She brought the stories she’d heard from her mother growing up to us, and it was impossible not to be overwhelmed by the fact that this woman would share such beautiful tales with us. Hicks has definitely mastered the art of storytelling.
And for the final act of the day, I decided to leave the River Trail tent for the next one over, “Cliff View.” There I witnessed a program featuring Susan Reed–who likes to add a little acoustic guitar or banjo to her stories–as well as the aforementioned Motoko. What can I say, Motoko has definitely reeled me in. I’m pretty sure I’m going to make her sign my CD tomorrow. And get a picture. Unfortunately, you’re not supposed to take pictures of the performances. I might just try some sneakiness when I go back tomorrow. We’ll see.
So. Ms. Susan Reed was something else entirely. I knew I’d have to be prepared for something a little tamer (Megan Hick’s presentation had been preceded by an “If you are faint of heart, you may want to leave because the details may be graphic” kind of warning). Kids peppered the audience. She was right at home with the audience as she painted us a portrait of three brothers who just couldn’t get along-they were constantly trying to one-up each other. She followed it with a song and then we got to the sing-a-long portion. It was fascinating because some of the people in that audience could sing. (disclaimer: I was not one of them.)
And after Reed, Motoko took the stage. And again she shone. Tomorrow one of her presentations is entitled “In Ghostly Japan”. I’m thinking I’m going to go. And I definitely want to see one of the storytellers, Rex Ellis. His stories seem to deal a lot with the history of the civil war, slavery, and overcoming those barriers. His bio reads: “As a firm believer in the power of story to break down barriers and unite individuals, Rex Ellis tells tales that are both intriguing and educational…” I’m up for all of that. So, yay for tomorrow.
I am done for tonight, however, and will certainly will be reporting back tomorrow night (or Sunday…) about my second day at the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival.