Cap’s Off to You!-Syd Lieberman (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Syd Lieberman (Posthumously)

Storyteller, High School Teacher, Mentor

Syd Lieberman has been on my mind. A couple things have happened: I came upon an early picture of him on the cover of the November/December 2000 issue of “Storytelling Magazine” with the Storytelling World Awards; and then I read Sam Payne’s article for Story Crossroads combining outer space and storytelling. Syd Lieberman was the first storyteller commissioned by NASA to tell the stories of the scientists. Both of these things happened within the past month. I took it at a sign from the stars themselves that it was time to honor this incredible storyteller, teacher, and mentor.

I never had any one-on-one coaching from him, though it felt like it every time he was on stage. His personal stories are still vivid to me from baseball to World War I fighters to wishing to be Sean Connery. Amazingly, Syd felt it important for people to have access to his work. Even now, you can download entire albums from his website. You, too, can hear “I’m Sean Connery” and many more. At a time when many storytellers scrounged and hoarded their work from the online world–only wanting people at live venues to hear them–I respect Syd’s faith in the community of listeners.

So make that three things that have happened. The year 2020 was when Sean Connery died. Though I respected the actor in my thoughts, I automatically reflected on Syd Lieberman who passed away in 2015. I imagined the two of them hanging out in heaven: Syd, with humility, running some impressions of the actor in front of Sean Connery. The two would laugh. Then Sean sat and settled in for Syd’s entrancing way of telling stories. Perhaps Syd would choose one of his many works commissioned while on earth. Perhaps Syd created a whole new piece while there in heaven. Either choice, I delighted in this exchange.

Something else stuck with me–he said that even when he was commissioned to do a piece that he feared would having nothing he could love or grab onto, he searched hard until he was excited about the piece. When he did the story on World War I fighters, he hated the war. But, he thought of the pilot with a picture of his family in the cockpit. Family. Syd could love this part of the piece, and then everything transformed in the preparation and the telling of the piece.

After pondering a little more, I discovered that Syd had always been there in one way or another in my own storytelling journey. One of the first storytelling books I owned was entitled “The Storyteller’s Guide” written and edited by Bill Mooney and David Holt, published in 2000. Many storytellers shared advice on topics from finding the right story to copyright. Syd was one of several quoted within these pages. I started storytelling in 1994 but it was the year 2000 when the national and global levels of the art were realized.

Let’s think back before 1994. Syd was first a high school English teacher for three decades before coming to the storytelling world. He prided in having a classroom that did not look like a classroom. He took efforts to have soft chairs and a nontraditional set-up. Out there at Evanston Township High School in Illinois, students had the opportunity to have their minds blown, to think beyond the usual, to achieve what other people dubbed “impossible.”

I don’t have some big story of interacting with Syd. But they are big stories to me. I still remember listening to “Twelve Wheels on Mars” from the front row during the Weber State University Storytelling Festival. I got another front row seat for “Abraham & Isaac: Sacrifice at Gettysburg.” How can someone go back to the “real” world after experiences like these?

So I was flabbergasted when Syd attended my Fringe at the 2011 National Storytelling Conference. Front row. Center seat. This was for my “Family Famine: Hunger for Love” that delved into family relationships–the good and the bad–and combined traditional tales from around the world with, yes, the electric guitar for soundscaping by Joshua Payne and harmonizing singing with Holly Robison.

He didn’t have to say a word. His presence spoke wonders.

One time, when attending one of the Timpanogos Storytelling Conferences held at the Brigham Young University campus in Provo, Utah, the wind blew. I was walking to the next session and skirting about the crowds. I saw a hat fly off. I had no idea who belonged to that hat. Being an avid hat-wearer, this hat needed to be picked up. It rolled a bit, but I got it. I searched around for the owner. Syd Lieberman came to view.

“You saved my hat!” He beamed, took my hands, and gave a kiss on each cheek. From then on, I was “hat girl” whenever we crossed paths. Years went by, and still that was “my name.” So Syd is Sean Connery. Call me “hat girl.”

Thank you for your influence and kindness, Syd! Please share your own experiences. If you have yet to enjoy Syd’s work–or need to reminisce, please go to his website where you can find audio and video. What a mentor.

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Syd for the influence of yesterday, today, and forever in storytelling and his way of finding the delight even in what seems to be a difficult situation. Thank you, Syd.

Syd still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.

What We Learned from Timpanogos Storytelling & Virtual Offerings – Part 1 of 9

This is the first of nine parts on Rachel Hedman’s impressions of the Virtual Timpanogos Storytelling Festival. Although this happened in September 2020, Timpanogos is in the middle of their Encore Offering so that people can view 60+ hours of material from December 26, 2020 to January 3, 2021. You can still purchase your ticket until December 30, 2020 though still ending on January 3, 2021.

9-Parts:

  • Part 1 – Pre-Recorded vs. Live – TODAY
  • Part 2 – Inside the Program
  • Part 3 – ASL & its Presence/Absence
  • 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.

When we faced this Historic Time of 2020, all of us had to make some quick decisions and pivot including Timpanogos.

This storytelling festival is used to 30,000+ people in attendance in Lehi, Utah. That…cannot happen with proper-distancing and masks unless we could take over the city.

Instead, Timpanogos took over the screen.

We were all in crash-course mode and had to figure out the platform(s) to use. Timpanogos, being a prestigious and sophisticated festival, steered clear of the typical and user-friendly Zoom for something with a little “flash”: Bizzabo.

As a result, Bizzabo housed the prerecorded performances. Before Timpanogos, most virtual storytelling events focused on individual storytellers using their Zoom screen and telling in that moment. Seeing Timpanogos use recordings felt as if permission was granted to the storytelling community for experimentation to occur.

And Timpanogos had done their homework.

While March-May 2020 were times that people craved in-the-moment performances, Timpanogos had sources say that people now wanted the appearance of live storytelling but with higher quality videography.

However, the words and verbiage that Timpanogos used to describe their programming often had “live” connected to it. I felt misled in the beginning though impressed by the overall package of this virtual storytelling festival. I was still glad to experience the storytelling, but I was consuming this art form in a different manner than when I clicked to buy the virtual ticket.

“Live? What do you mean live?”

Well, Timpanogos really meant pre-recorded on a set schedule for certain concerts. Even within the Bizzabo platform, the red dot and “live” would show. You could click on the “live” performance title and start at the beginning while your friends in their homes could be mid-way through the session.

Our lingo evolved in regards to virtual events.

Now, at the end of 2020, we are at the point where one must be clear if you mean “live” as in-person (proper-distanced/masked), or “live” as in broadcasted live for the first time, or “live” as in still-living people are performing these pieces. Yes, usually the first two meanings of “live” is what is meant by the hosting organization or individual. If it is a pre-recording, the proper word would be “this pre-recorded concert will premiere at so-and-so time and time zone.”

For the first day of viewing the Virtual Timpanogos Storytelling Festival, I thought I needed to “arrive” on time with my device to view the evening concerts. I got on 20 minutes late due to unforeseen circumstances and was relieved that I could still view the entire piece. I had stressed in that 20 minutes, and I could have been worry-free.

I prefer for advertising to be upfront about the experience. A one-word description is usually not enough, especially during this year of pivoting and adapting of events. I do not expect a lot of words on a digital flier, but the verbiage on the webpage or website itself needs to be more detailed.

Now our vocabulary can include the following:

  • broadcasted live
  • premiered recording
  • interactive experience while streamed
  • multi-streamed
  • virtual workshop versus webinar

Need more?

Check out this article Virtual Event Lingo: 23 Terms to Know by Event Leadership Institute (came out June 18, 2020).

Did the prerecording experience work?

Yes, once I understood what the look and feel of this virtual festival would be.

I highly recommend virtually attending. In fact, I attended virtually in September and also purchased the Encore. I got through about 80 sessions out of 118 the first time. I aim to see them all.

I will go in more detail about the different elements. In Part 2, I will compare the Bizzabo versus the Zoom experience as soon as I “enter” the platform. What are those pros and cons? How did Timpanogos use the features?

Become a member with Story Crossroads with exclusive content and connections.

Find our E-Newsletter and Email List Sign-Ups.

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.

Join us for our proper-distanced house concerts such as with Katherine and David Hurley featuring Karl Behling in Murray, UT on December 28, 2020…or get the recording afterwards.

Cap’s Off to You!-Bill Higley (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Bill Higley (Posthumously)

Storyteller, Pantomime Extraordinaire, Friend

Bill Higley gained the status of “Treasured Teller” for the Weber State University Storytelling Festival and was a recipient of the Karen J. Ashton Award for his service with storytelling. Being a Treasured Teller has only been given to a handful of people in the almost-25-year history of this festival.  After seeing him perform, you would have no doubt.  Part of the “perk” of being “Treasured Teller” was that he was invited every year to perform without needing to take part in the annual auditions.  Yet, year after year, when I helped to run those auditions, he would sign up for a spot anyways. None of us completed judging ballots, though we sat back and enjoyed what made him so great. His specialty was in pantomime with one of his most famous pieces being “David and Goliath.”  When I heard of his passing, it felt as if the earth rumbled when Goliath fell. That was July 15, 2014. He was 74 years old. I cherished all the memories and all the people he inspired.

I loved being in the front row for any performance that he did. Nothing can compare to how he stretched his face or had his hands move just so. He created fantastic butterflies with a flit of a his hand or how he moved his feet to make me feel like he–and I–were high above in the sky.

Besides his pantomiming, one of his other signature tales that comes to mind would be “Clay Boy” that you can find as a picture book. This crazy boy made of clay–of course–kept growing bigger and bigger. The way he puffed his cheeks while telling the story made me laugh every time.

He mentored many youth tellers including some of our top youth with the Weber State University Storytelling Festival. He was the perfect one to guide for anything to do with body language and gestures or even specifically with pantomime itself.

He often volunteered at the library in Ogden and told stories galore. That alone would mean his impact would be in the thousands. Some people bring up his love for films. While teaching at Weber High School, he developed a club consisting of “Film Appreciation” students. He was always drawn to the classics and always preferred the original pieces rather than any kind of remake.

I wished I lived closer to Ogden so I could have experienced Bill’s performances more. He did many ParticiPlays at the Treehouse Museum, which is known for families to “step into a story” through hands-on displays and toys as well as the regular storytelling performances. When it came Christmas time, he often portrayed Santa there. However, some kids knew his voice so well at the library from his storytimes that many parents had to have ready-and-quick answers if there was any doubt with whose lap they sat upon.

Bill was as jolly as Santa, and someone we will love always.

Do you know a Story Artist who has passed on and want others to remember them? Memories? Pictures? You can submit names and memories of Story Artists who have passed on through our online form. 

I appreciate Bill for the influence of yesterday, today, and forever in storytelling and his way of being youthful and wise at the same time. Thank you, Bill.

Bill still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.

Cap’s Off to You!-Anneliese Konkol (Posthumously) and Celebrating Story

Featuring:  Anneliese Konkol (Posthumously)

Storyteller, Actress, Friend

Anneliese Konkol has been on my mind lately. She was one of the first names I honored when we shared different Story Artists who have passed on during a recent video chat on Discord. I was honored for her daughter to grant me with a whole bin of props and items that she used when telling stories on stage. The sister promised me that Anneliese herself wished me to have these things when she was fading in the hospital. While she lay there, I was given the room alone. I sung the song “Barges” as my parting gift to her as she already had given so much to mean with her friendships, many one-on-one chats in Wendy’s and a burger, and planning of the Weber State University Storytelling Festival.

The following interview is thanks to fellow Storyteller and Story Crossroads Board Member Laurie Allen that took place many years ago. Some of this has been on display during the Weber State University Storytelling Festival.

As Laurie Allen explained –

Anneliese Konkol was a premier storyteller in the Ogden and northern Utah area for many years. She learned the art of storytelling from her mother and an aunt in her native Germany. Story was used to help keep the children calm while spending time in the air raid shelters during World War II. Anneliese was also a professional actress on the stage in Berlin and taught at Weber State University.

Laurie: What would you say is the important skill for beginning storytellers to learn?

Anneliese: Make sure to pick one story and know it inside and out. You should know it to perfection. If you do this and know the sequences, the battle is half won. Then tell it to yourself; tell it to your kids, your husband, the kids at the park, your cat or your dog.

Laurie: How do you go about preparing a story?

Anneliese: There is a difference between just preparing a new story and preparing for a particular audience or event. First, I choose an appropriate story for the audience. Then I tell it to myself day and night. I tell it in front of the mirror to see movements and mannerisms. I check some of the phrases with different voices for characters. I watch people in stores and other public places to create characters. Then I imitate their voices and actions.

Laurie: How many stories should be in a teller’s repertoire?

Anneliese: I have about 73-76 that I have total control over.

Laurie: What is your favorite part of being a storyteller?

Anneliese: The results are my favorite part, when I meet children afterward and they tell me they like the stories, or when the audience doesn’t want me to leave.

Laurie: What advice do you have for storytellers?

Anneliese: I feel that you should encourage others to be storytellers; know your story to perfection; make sure your story really address your particular audience; and look like a storyteller. You should have something that sets you apart from everyone else. It has to be individual. Tune in to your listeners. Watch your audience and listen to what they say. What stories do they want over and over? Then you can pick stories that are similar.

There is a lot more to storytelling than just standing up there and telling a story. Voice is important. You need to catch your audience’s attention. You need to project. Your voice needs to be pleasant to listen to. It should be varied for different characters. Try getting in front of a mirror and being that character for a few sentences. There is such an intimacy in storytelling. You need to find your place, your voice.

Anneliese Konkol and Laurie Allen have been involved with the Ben Lomond chapter of the Utah Storytelling Guild for many years and have told at many of the same events throughout Northern Utah. Laurie and everyone in Utah and beyond have enjoyed having Anneliese as a mentor, coach, and friend. Now more people beyond Utah can get to know her a little better.

Anneliese died on February 20, 2012. While at the “Celebration of Life” on March 2, 2012 – this was touching on the program: In lieu of flowers, the family wishes donations be made to the Weber State University Storytelling Festival.

As for me, I will always connect the Gunny Wolf story with her. I will always imagine the different colored flowers that the girl picked. I can hear her voice. I can feel her hug. Oh, I miss her. I am glad I will see her again after my earth journey has ended.

I appreciate Anneliese for the influence of yesterday, today, and forever in storytelling and her way of engaging kids and adults alike with those words “Good night, stars. Good night moon. Good night, boys and girls.” Good night, Anneliese.

Anneliese still has a story.  You have a story.  We all have stories.

What We Learned from Proper-Distanced Events – Part 5 of 5

This is the fifth of five parts on setting up proper-distanced events. While focusing on storytelling, the information applies to any performing arts or proper-distanced event. Our blog as well as our proper-distanced house concerts with rental of recordings are wonderful sources of information and entertainment.

5-Parts:

  • Part 1 – Distancing & Spacing – REVEALED
  • Part 2 – Sanitation & Other Safety Measures – REVEALED
  • Part 3 – Test Runs & Early Set-Ups – REVEALED
  • Part 4 – Relief to Potential Audience – REVEALED
  • Part 5 – Audience Isolation Behaviors – TODAY

You have an event…and the audience arrives. Nervous for how the audience will react after being in isolation or limited social contact?

Every audience is different. That has stayed the same during this Historic Time.

You must be ready to “warm up” the audience.

You need an energetic emcee. The emcee needs to prove that safety measure were made for this proper-distanced and masked event while giving permission for people to express themselves through laughter, sighs, cries, and applause.

Some people will say, “No! The audience cannot laugh! At least not as much.”

True, when people laugh, more water droplets are expelled. Thus the need of masks. You already worked out proper-distancing and had 15 or more feet from the microphone to the front row. If you are worried that the audience responses will be a danger, then increase the distance of the microphone to the front row.

Before Halloween, I was invited to a live event to perform. I already explained what I expected so to feel safe as a performer. When I arrived, they doubled the distance between me and the front row. It was 30 feet–at least. I did not move that front row. I was plenty happy.

Now, I knew that distance could make a difference in the audience response. This is where the performer can help warm up the audience even before the emcee. I welcomed people–while wearing my mask and being at least 15 feet away–and did a type of informal survey of where people were from or how many times they had attended this type of event. Being talkative psychologically told the audience that people did not have to be “hush, hush” when it came time for me to perform.

I have seen the extremes in audience behavior at the Story Crossroads proper-distanced events.

Our Story Camp held at the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake City, Utah had a quite bunch of youth. We spanned a wide area despite limiting our group to no more than 20 people (we ended up having 15 youth and 3 adults). When our two professionals led them in songs or story activities the youth held back. They looked around to see how loud the other kids reacted. The camp was in August while the quarantine had occurred from March until that moment. Five months. Five months of limited or no social interactions besides their families.

We still had wonderful interactions and growth and learning…but the energy level was much lower than any other youth gatherings I have seen with storytelling–or any arts or topic.

Why is that? Hmmm.

Then I saw the starved audience member. When we resumed our house concert series in August 2020, I asked for much applause and whooping to celebrate live art while doing so in a safe manner. For many, it was the first live performing arts event for them since March 2020. They were ready to celebrate!

These are some comments shared with permission from our audience members–

“Be honest, I did not know what to expect so I came totally open. I just had a wonderful time. It was wonderful to get out and be around like-minded people, lovers of stories….My husband commented that it really lifted his mood to participate in that evening.” – Elizabeth, Utah

“We do appreciate your dedication to proper distancing. Thank You!!!” – Lenore, Utah

“I believe it would be well to implement the same safety measures as does Hale Center Theatre. If a a “group” of two or three people come together–or wish to sit together–they seat them together. It is up to the people involved to determine what they feel safe with in that regard. Much the same as in CDC restaurant guidelines: ‘Change restaurant and bar layouts to ensure that all customer parties remain at least 6 feet apart (e.g., marking tables/stools that are not for use).’ Emphasis on the word ‘parties.’ Other than that, the safety measures were lovely–plenty of space–markers to remind people to be distanced and to wear masks.” – Karla, Utah

The trickiest time was when two different households of the same family attended an event.

These groups were hard to remind and enforce to keep the distancing. I had to be more firm and diligent in those situations. I learned it was best to remind of the “different household” rule as people checked in…all while saying it with a smile.

I searched around for articles connected to audiences – for live or digital events:

You can make this live event happen. Think with logic and love. Enjoy the energy from a proper-distanced event. Thank you for joining in this particular blog series.

Besides our usual “Cap’s Off to You!” series, we will be doing a 9-part blog series soon called “What We Learned from Timpanogos Storytelling Festival & Virtual Offerings.”

Become a member with Story Crossroads with exclusive content and connections.

Find our E-Newsletter and Email List Sign-Ups.

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.

Join us for our proper-distanced house concerts such as with Katherine and David Hurley featuring Karl Behling in Murray, UT on December 28, 2020…or get the recording afterwards.