Kim Phillips: Denton gears up for 29th Texas Storytelling Festival this week

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Atop of his doghouse, paws pounding a typewriter, Snoopy wrote, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

“Peanuts” fans are well acquainted with Snoopy’s escapades. As a lover of stories all my life, Snoopy the storyteller was perhaps my favorite of his personas. A comically passionate character, he pursued adventure and took risks. Afterward, he longed to capture those experiences and share them. Such is the essence of storytelling.

Our lives are permeated with story. Books, movies and TV are monster industries that define much of our culture. News, weather, advertising, photography, music and lyrics, they are all stories. Technology and social media evolved at lightening speed to become a forum for starring in our own stories before vast audiences and, conversely, being spectators to others’. Everyone has a story, but not everyone is a storyteller.

Shelly Tucker tells stories. She is an American Masterpiece Storyteller, a pro who has wrapped her passion for research and local Denton history and lore into ghost tales that chill and delight. On Friday and Saturday nights, Shelly waits at Jupiter House for her willing victims. She leads tour groups around a dark downtown weaving a narrative spell that resurrects the past, uncovers buried secrets and dusts off forgotten mysteries. “People come to Denton and never want to leave .... ever!” she exclaims.

Shelly’s “Ghosts of Denton Tours” have emerged into a regular Denton weekend attraction. Her stories haunt imaginations of every age. It is no surprise that she will spin her yarns as part of this year’s Texas Storytelling Festival set for this Thursday through Sunday at the Denton Civic Center. She’s conducting special late-night tours following the regular 8 p.m. treks this Friday and Saturday only in conjunction with the festival. Check out www.ghostsofdenton.com for details and tickets.

This will be Texas Storytelling Festival’s 29th year in Denton (www.tejasstorytelling.com). The Tejas Storytelling Association produces the event. A nonprofit organization based in Denton, the association’s mission is “to foster the appreciation of storytelling as an oral tradition, a performing art and an educational tool.” The name Tejas was given to express founder Finley Stewart’s grand vision of creating an organization that would bring listeners and tellers together from all over the state. Through the years, Tejas’ reputation grew, drawing tellers and fans from neighboring states. Storytelling workshops were integrated and nationally acclaimed storytellers headline listening concerts.

Festival attendees come to Denton for original, independent reasons. Many come simply to listen. Who doesn’t love a good story? These tellers are some of the best. They have mastered their craft to sweep audiences into their stories. We see what they saw. We feel their feelings. We laugh, cry, shudder and revel with them because we are in the story with them. We are terrified, tickled, moved and impassioned. With them and through them, we are participants in the ageless art of story, the basis of all communication since the dawn of mankind.

Some come to tell their own stories. Liars contests, story swaps and tale-spinning parties invite tellers and teller-wannabes to get in on the action. Still others come for the workshops, to hone their storytelling art. They learn how to find stories through experience and develop their voices, their inner selves, to tell them in captivating ways. They learn to craft stories that convey meaning, emotion and connection.

While my family tree lacks tellers of the professional kind except for preachers here and there, reunions are our own storytelling festivals. As kids, we sat spellbound for hours listening to our elders reminisce. Their stories layered upon each other adding depth and color. Like when Granddaddy told about the time his boat bumped a tree of moccasins during a fishing trip. A great story. But Dad notched the tale to excellence when he picked it up. The snakes were in the boat, and he hooked Granddaddy’s neck during their struggle to throw the serpents overboard.

Stories are important. Through them, we came to know our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles in a more three-dimensional kind of way. Their memories became ours and we now tell those stories to our children. Granddaddy and many others are gone now, but their stories live on, having bound us together across time as only stories can do.

We all are characters in little stories, and we are collectively characters in the grand story of this world. So, what’s your story? Celebrate storytelling this week. Spin a tale of your own or loose yourself in someone else’s.

KIM PHILLIPS is vice president of the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau at the Denton Chamber of Commerce. She loves promoting Denton’s original, independent spirit through the city’s sense of place and cast of many characters. She can be reached at kim@discoverdenton.com.


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