What We Learned from Timpanogos Storytelling & Virtual Offerings – Part 3 of 9

This is the third of nine parts on Rachel Hedman’s impressions of the Virtual Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. Although this happened in September 2020, Timpanogos as well as their Encore Offering in December 2020/January 2021. You can follow Timpanogos here.

9-Parts:

  • Part 1 – Pre-Recorded vs. Live – REVEALED
  • Part 2 – Inside the Program REVEALED
  • Part 3 – ASL & its Presence/Absence – TODAY
  • Part 4 – Emcees & “Making it Personal”
  • Part 5 – Use of the Screen by Story Artists
  • Part 6 – Art of Binge-Watching
  • Part 7 – Favorites from Featured Tellers
  • Part 8 – Featured vs. Guest Tellers
  • Part 9 – Use of Encore Offering

We love and honor the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival.

Please note that I learn from any experience including this festival in Utah that is cherished worldwide. Any and all of these posts within this series are impressions that are shared with respect despite some differences in opinion.

Timpanogos typically has American Sign Language interpretations for the evening concerts.

While the professional storytellers are wonderful and engaging, I always look forward to the American Sign Language interpretations. Yes, I happen to know one of the official interpreters for Timpanogos, Dale Boam. He is on the Story Crossroads Board over Translations and Academics and extremely amazing in how he interprets and has guided and taught so many other skilled ASL interpreters.

Timpanogos had to make hard decisions when adapting to virtual.

We had to make hard decisions in regards to interpretations for Story Crossroads. We normally offer ASL, Spanish, as well as Audio Descriptions for the Blind. By adapting to virtual, we decided that the easiest way to still offer interpretations was to do American Sign Language with a split screen while live-streaming.

Since Timpanogos chose the Bizzabo platform, I wondered if the videos–which were pre-recorded–would have a closed captioning option or if they would have some kind of split-screen. I did not expect it for each of the 118 sessions, but I figured that the “evening” ones would have something to still be accessible to the Deaf community. Having more than one language involved does require budgeting, though an important part for any festival or event to budget.

But here’s the trick. Normally you can buy many different tickets or packages for the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival.

The online festival meant they charged $25 for the whole package. You could not buy only the evening concerts. Thus, if you are part of the Deaf community or enjoy having the American Sign Language, you had no other choice but to buy the whole package and not have an $8 or $10 evening concert option.

My impression is that Timpanogos was confused on what to do about American Sign Language.

Even though the sessions were pre-recorded, Timpanogos gave the appearance of live-streaming for the normally-scheduled-evening concerts for the festival weekend known as “My Favorite Stories” (Friday night) and “Laughin’ Night” (Saturday night). These would take place on the largest stage of all at the Ashton Gardens in Lehi, Utah with a grassy amphitheater that could seat several thousands of people. A big screen was behind the storyteller for the audience to see facial expressions and gestures, though mainly to see the storyteller rather than the American Sign Language interpretations. The first couple rows are reserved for anyone needing ASL.

The Virtual Timpanogos Storytelling Festival still had sessions labeled “My Favorite Stories” and “Laughin’ Night.” Strangely, only “Laughin’ Night” had the ASL option. And it was listed twice. So people could choose to NOT have ASL or to have it with ASL. Yet, I don’t see ASL as something to turn on or off like closed captioning. I wished “Laughin’ Night” had one listing that included the ASL. Whether or not someone needs American Sign Language, I love all audience members–my family included–to experience other languages. Yes, you have to split the screen and “give up” some space for the videography aesthetics. Yet, I would gladly have dedicated screen space for American Sign Language. I know this is not the message that Timpanogos was saying by having two sessions of “Laughin’ Night,” but it bothered me so much to dedicate a whole blog post on American Sign Language. On top of this frustration, the one that was “featured” at the top of the screen to watch it “live” was the one WITHOUT ASL. You had to scroll to the bottom of 118 session listings to find the one with ASL…if you even knew to look for it. If you are going to premiere a show, please use the version that has American Sign Language.

When Timpanogos offered the Encore for December/January, as it was basically impossible to watch all 118 sessions during the first chance to view in September, I was anxious to re-watch the American Sign Language of “Laughin’ Night.”

Guess what? The American Sign Language concert was gone! I scrolled through all 118 listings that suddenly were 116 sessions. I double-checked with keywords with “American Sign Language” as well as “ASL” in the search bar. This search bar had helped me before for ASL in September. Now…nothing.

This made me more upset than having two listings of “Laughin’ Night” to separate American Sign Language from the one that did not have it.

Why, when it was already filmed and ready, would you take out the ASL version?

I truly would like to know the decision-making that was happening to remove it completely. Yes, that was one offering of ASL out of 116/118 sessions. That was still a bilingual offering.

So what can be done in the future?

I would recommend either more than one ticketing option or even a specific concert offering with the Deaf community in mind.

Even an unlisted YouTube with closed captioning and no American Sign Language would have been something. Or, that one concert with the ASL and split screen could have been available on a password-protected webpage on the Timpanogos website as an individual ticket and not part of the whole package. I could see the latter idea more likely for Timpanogos as the feeling of prestige is not what one gets through YouTube. Though, the benefit of YouTube is the ease of adding closed captioning.

Oh, please, anyone reading this far, please look at offering American Sign Language interpretations for your events and programming. You can expect having two interpreters for an hour show (to switch out, give breaks) and pay each about $40/hour. That is only $80 and then times that amount for any prep time or the actual length of time needed. Is this really so hard to budget? Then, to film and merge the ASL is affordable, too. Yes, interpreter rates can vary and you can have qualified ASL interpreter students with rates closer to $20/hour…but to at least give you an idea that this is something that any event of any size can do.

Let us aim to expand the accessibility of storytelling.

Coming next, in Part 4, we will talk about how Timpanogos had emcees be part of this virtual experience.

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See our already-streamed/recorded The Big Why Panel: Historical Storytelling meets Humanities. See our 5-video playlist from the Story Crossroads Spectacular by clicking here. Feel free to explore our All Things Story virtual workshop series.

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