The show must go on: Tejas Storytelling Association virtually held its annual storytelling festival

Article Originally Published by  on North Texas Daily

Article Originally Published by Daijah Peterson on North Texas Daily

The Tejas Storytelling Association did not let COVID-19 interfere with its annual show of storytellers. This year, the nonprofit organization virtually held its 36th annual Texas Storytelling Festival from March 11 to March 14.

Festivalgoers typically come from Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico to attend the event, but because of the digital platform this year, participants from across the country were able to attend.

Elizabeth Ellis, festival financial manager and Dallas resident, said each year the fest is more diverse, allowing the audience to listen to a variety of stories.

“We want everybody to know that it is a regional organization not just for the people who live here in our state,” Ellis said. “Choosing the name ‘Tejas,’ as for the association, is the way of saying everybody is welcomed, and this year, because it has not been a face-to-face event, being online [means] we can have people from all over the world attend the event. We have people from about 30 different states and five foreign countries, so we have a much larger audience this year.”

The festival had over 60 storytellers, featuring Heather Forest, Donna Washington, Eth-Noh-Tec and Sam Payne. Guests had the opportunity to participate in 17 storytelling events, seven workshops and social hours. The festival is not a competition, but Ellis said participants can get competitive depending on the event, such as the ‘Bald-Faced Lies and Other Outlandish Truths’ concert.

Ellis said the first thing the association looks for is excellence. “Storytelling is an art form, everybody can tell a story, but everybody could tell a better story if they worked at it,” she said. “After that, we’re looking for a balance of different styles. There [are as] many different ways of telling the story as there are making music. Some tellers focus on traditional folk tales, some tellers focus on telling stories from their own lives [and] some focus on historical stories.”

The first Texas Storytelling Festival was held at the Denton Arts Center in 1985, produced by storyteller Finley Stewart. A year later, after witnessing the impact on the handful of individuals who attended the festival, the Tejas Storytelling Association was founded. Since then, the festival and association have grown, drawing in more participants from surrounding states.

Bernadette Nason, Austin-based storyteller, author and actress, said after her first festival as an audience member, she has made it a priority to try to attend every year. Nason became a featured storyteller for the festival in 2009, which was held at Texas Woman’s University at the time.

“As a story listener, I look not only to be entertained but also be uplifted, inspired, educated and motivated, and I’ve never left a festival without those feelings,” Nason said. “I want our audiences to feel challenged to share their own stories with friends and families. It’s what brings us together — it’s what keeps society alive. I love to hear new stories, both folktale and personal, and enjoy witnessing new tellers, sharing a different or unusual style of sharing.”

David Claunch, Tejas Storytelling Association president and Houston resident, said meeting Ellis at Tennessee State University was the beginning of his work with the association.

“[Ellis] invited me and two other storytelling students to come to the Texas Festival and be part of the ‘Tellers in Schools’ program,” Claunch said. “We eagerly accepted, and so we began our annual Jonesborough, TN to Denton, Texas 14-hour road trip. The more active I became in the TSA leadership, the more aware I became of all of the work required to make TSA a wonderfully vibrant organization.”

Ellis said next year’s festival will be face-to-face, and she hopes first-time guests who are interested in attending will give it a chance.

 “We want to stimulate [participants’] imagination because that is such a vital aspect of human life, and so little of what happens in contemporary culture really stimulates the imagination,” Ellis said. “No matter how much our external difference may appear, there’s a colonel of the human experience where we have so much in common.”

Individuals interested in the upcoming events and next year’s festival can visit their website tejasstorytelling.com

Courtesy Tejas Storytelling Association

Source: North Texas Daily