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Storytellers and audience reunite at annual festival

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“This is the perfect venue, the perfect area for a storytelling festival. It will meet our needs forever,” said RobbiannSorensen, one of the original members of the Timpanogos Storytelling Institute (TSI) Board. Sorensen and five other women, including festival founder Karen Ashton, were all young mothers when they started holding the storytelling event in Ashton’s backyard in 1989. 

Even with minimal publicity, the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival kept outgrowing venues as the years went by. After Ashton’s yard, it was held at the Olmsted property at the mouth of Provo Canyon. Next, Orem City was in the process of building a major park, Mt Timpanogos Park, in the canyon and got input from the festival board to accommodate the national event. In 2017, the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival moved once again, this time to Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point.

“This year we just hoped people would come after having to do online-only in 2020,” said Sorensen. The pandemic was still a concern for 2021, so this is the first time the storytelling was available online and in person. “We have the technology and we figured it out last year, so we thought, ‘Why not?’” she continued.

The Timpanogos Storytelling Festival attracts close to 30,000 people each year. For professional storytellers, it is the holy grail. They’ve been out of practice because Covid-19 shut down their usual performances, so tellers and audiences were all happy to be back. Legendary storyteller Donald Davis from Ocracoke, North Carolina, told members of the TSI board, “You need to know that tellers want to get here, and once they get here, they feel like they’ve arrived.”

Die-hard storytelling fans sat on camp chairs and blankets on the grassy amphitheater by the waterfall in Ashton Gardens on Friday night for Bedtime Stories. Some were soaked from the brief downpour minutes before the performances were to start, but stayed seated and listened intently to Davis’s story about finding his conscience as a young man competing in the “roadeo” driving contest in North Carolina. 

“It’s really been a blessing to get to work with this caliber of people and to build these friendships for the last 30-plus years. I wanted to serve my community and this just kind of fell in my lap,” Sorensen explained. “It’s really satisfying to see so many families enjoying this wholesome entertainment together every year. This has become an event my whole family gets involved in. It’s been part of our lives for so long – we love it.”

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