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.

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.

Cap’s Off to You!–Utah Presenters Network and Celebrating Story

The Utah Presenters Network is a “must” gathering at the annual Mountain West Arts Conference. We would meet across several tables and share thoughts and ideas as fellow producer of events. Little did I know until recently that the Utah Presenters Network has been around since 1991. For some time, the Utah Presenters Network has served as a nonprofit that sought to boost collaborations among producers while promoting the arts in the state of Utah and beyond. Then, during this crazy 2020 year, it was announced that the Utah Presenters Network would give a one-time COVID-19 relief grant. We applied and received $950, which was a relief considering some of our non-refundable costs due to transforming from a live to a virtual festival.

Besides Story Crossroads, the following organizations were funded:

  • Davis Arts Council
  • Egyptian Theatre
  • Friends of the Moab Folk Festival
  • Moab Music Festival
  • Mountain Town Music
  • Park City Performing Arts Foundation (Park City Institute)
  • Pilar Pobil Legacy Foundation
  • West Valley Arts (Utah Cultural Celebration Center/Harman Theatre)

For a long time, Wendi Hassan served as Executive Director of the Utah Presenters Network. She is the Executive Director of the Cache Valley Center for the Arts in Logan, Utah and has always been an active volunteer and supporter with the Utah Division of Arts and Museums.

Robin Wilks-Dunn is the new Utah Presenters Network Executive Director. She knows the theater world due to experience with the Salt Lake Acting Company and working with the Playwrights’ Lab. She serves on the National Advisory Committee for Kennedy Center Partners in Education.

The Utah Presenters Network has a closed/private Facebook group, which allows organizations to share a Google Drive and work out block booking of performing artists…including professional story artists.

Some topics of most importance to UPN:

  • Crisis Communications Best Practices
  • Keeping Audiences Engaged during all the Virtual Programming
  • Future Funding for Arts Organizations and Performing Artists
  • Best Practices in Communicating with Sponsors and Donors
  • Effective Advocacy Efforts

In many ways, the UPN is a “quiet” group with much happening through networking, emails, and phone calls. The performing artists get the stage, but producers–and this whole network of producers–takes care of the details to make sure that stage still exists.

Many thanks to what UPN has done for us as well as many presenting organizations throughout Utah.

So toss, tip, or take off your cap to the Utah Presenters Network!

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.

And…Spread the word about our upcoming live House Concerts (with recordings) and the All Things Story Virtual Workshop Series through Story Crossroads.

Cap’s Off to You!–Salt Lake City Arts Council and Celebrating Story

The Salt Lake City Arts Council has helped more than once…including a combination of spoken storytelling with visual and culinary arts from around the world. Then, in 2020, we had big plans to send professional story artists to the Glendale Library, the Blind Center, and two schools in Salt Lake City. Covid-19 happened…and we had to adjust. At least Story Crossroads Spectacular could provide virtual field trips. We wanted to do more. The grant from Salt Lake City Arts Council was the answer. We are thrilled to still work with youth at the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake City with proper distancing. 

Flashing back to 2016, we had the privilege of introducing storytelling to 25 youth with “Around the World: The Tellable, Edible Art Project” with collaboration of the Glendale Community Center and Bad Dog Arts including our presenters: Storytellers Janine Nishiguchi and Jan C. Smith, Visual Artist Kirsten Schiel, and Culinary Artist Elizabeth Montoya. The youth were a little shy as storytelling was not an art usually offered. Rather than focusing on individual stories, the facilitators had it be group storytelling that still expressed the structure of story and how engaging the whole experience can be.

Now we look forward to 20 youth with Story Camp led by Storytellers Cherie Davis and Ginger Parkinson. It will be different. We cannot have the youth gather up in a tight circle like before. Instead? We are using hula hoops as a visual reminder to space out for proper distancing. Masks are the new form of camp t-shirts. The fun will be the same.

All these storytelling ventures are possible because of the Salt Lake City Arts Council. They have their own festival every year.

Normally, the Living Traditions Festival takes place immediately after Story Crossroads. We are mid-May Wednesday with outreaches kick off the Monday before and on through Thursday. Living Traditions takes over the Friday through Sunday afterwards. We both spotlight multicultural art.

Due to the dancing and singing cultural groups, Living Traditions was postponed to 2021.

This is from the Salt Lake City Arts Council website:

Approximately 30,000 people participate in the Living Traditions Festival each year, including students, families, performers, exhibiting artists, volunteers and attendees. More than 70 different cultural groups are represented each year—from Bosnian stuffed pitas and West African samosas to Chinese dragon dancing and Scottish bagpipes. The sights and flavors of the Festival cannot be found at any other cultural event in Utah.

The Living Traditions Festival is dedicated to preserving Utah’s diverse cultural landscape, by supporting the varied artistic traditions and cultural perspectives that create and sustain a strong and vibrant community. We achieve this mission by collaborating with folk and traditional artists and community members in sharing languages, food, art, dance and educational activities. Through the presentation of both historical and contemporary customs, Living Traditions aims to facilitate thoughtful conversations about the unique qualities of various cultures, and the similarities of the human experience, while creating bonds among community members.

Besides this remarkable festival, the Salt Lake City Arts Council offers grants, has the Finch Lane Gallery, the Public Art Program, the Twilight Concert Series, and plenty of outreaches in the community.

So toss, tip, or take off your cap to the Salt Lake City Arts Council!

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.

And…Spread the word about our upcoming Story Camp for youth aged 8-17 in mid-August of two kinds: Limited-Sized/Proper-Distanced as well as Virtual.