Tell Me a Story…

If you have never heard of the Lone Star Storytelling Festival, you are in for a treat. For the past 13 years, the Frisco Public Library has organized this event and the fourteenth year promises to build on the solid reputation and be the best one yet. The festival has three performances — one in the evening on October 13 and two times on October 14. 

The event came about after Shelley Holley, the library’s director, had the idea. It began with tents being set up outside of the library and has since grown and is hosted in City Hall. Ms. Holley and Myra Diaz, the assistant director of public services, have been involved since the beginning, and Ms. Diaz has taken on more responsibility over the years, including choosing the professional storytellers who perform for festival-goers each year.

There is also a big school event for the festival known as the Frisco ISD’S Field Trip Day. If you have had a child go through fourth grade, you are probably familiar with this event. If your little ones are younger, get excited! This is a big event where schools from all over Frisco go to Dr Pepper Arena to hear the best storytellers perform in a special event, just for kids.

This year, the festival will host two well-known professional story tellers, Don White and Kevin Kling. Mr. White is a storyteller, folk singer-songwriter, author, humorist and teacher. He has shared the stage with entertainers like Bill Morrissey, Christine Lavin and Jeff Dunham. Mr. Kling is a storyteller, author and playwright known for commentaries on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” 

The highlight, however, will be the Frisco students who auditioned and were selected to perform, then practiced and trained for weeks, finally getting to showcase their talents to their peers. Training includes a mandatory orientation, completing at least seven free coaching sessions, completing at least one free workshop on public speaking, improv skills and more. The students performing during the festival have worked hard and spent many hours carefully practicing and perfecting their stories for audiences.

What does it take to become a storyteller in the festival? First, an audition video, which can be submitted by DVD, CD or on YouTube (due back in May for this year’s upcoming October event). School librarians even offer to help students submit their auditions. A student must be between the ages of 9 and 18, as of October. Each year, the Frisco Public Library receives between 30 and 50 auditions, and they have between 10 and 14 spaces to award for the festival. The library staff has an established judging format, according to Jennifer Cummings, the youth services manager of the library.

Ms. Cummings acts as one of the coaches for the student storytellers. She says, “As much as everyone loves the professional storytellers, the students are my favorite. I cry every time because these kids are amazing. We get to see these young people grow in this program.” She adds that the festival attracts new students every year, but there are also several who come back to audition, year after year, so coaches get to see them not just for one year, but, in many cases, several years.

“Story telling is a wonderful way to build confidence, improve public speaking skills — the growth potential is amazing. To see a young fourth grader up on stage performing her story in front of 2,000 people is wonderful and we got to be part of that process with her. I think it is life-changing,” Ms. Cummings adds. “There is a discipline to it. You will not succeed unless you practice like crazy.”

In addition to the extensive training, student storytellers also perform in different places before the festival. “We have gone to the Senior Center and do a dress rehearsal at the Black Box Theatre,” Ms. Cummings says. It gives them practice being in front of a crowd before performing at the festival. Some kids come to the program with a drama background, but others start completely fresh. It is a wonderful mix every year.

Shree Balaji is a senior in high school this year and has participated in the storytelling program since she was in fourth grade. When talking about what made the program so interesting to her, she shares, “I loved reading. When I was in fourth grade, my librarian told me, ‘If you love reading, you will love story telling.’ That same year, I went to the festival.” Miss Balaji says the experience has helped her build her public speaking confidence, but has also helped lead her toward discovering what she wants to do as a career after she graduates. She also participates in teen court and says storytelling has helped her there. “I became an attorney in teen court and I was able to improv and, on the spot, give opening and closing statements. I want to go into that field now. This program has given me the confidence to speak in front of people. It does not matter if it is 5,000 people or 10.” She loves entertaining people and enjoys making them laugh. She says this is one of the best places where she can do both those things at once.

Katie Damm, age 12 and a local seventh grader, is now in her fourth year with the storytelling festival. She also started in fourth grade after seeing a sign in the library about attending Field Trip Day. She auditioned and had no idea what to expect, but thought it would be a fun thing to try. “I love hearing other people’s stories and I love hearing what other people love to do. I think it is a really cool environment.” She likes standing up in front of people and talking, but admits, it is scary. “This has helped me when I have to stand up in front of a class and has helped with my confidence in many ways.” 

Aparna Balaji, age 10 and a local fifth grader (Miss Balaji’s younger sister), says, “I feel like a bigger person in this because I have had a year of experience and I have seen how much my sister has laughed every time she has been with her storytelling friends. That made me want to do it. Last year, I loved the Field Trip Day because I got to speak in front of so many people I did not know.” She adds that she loves looking through books and reading more to find stories to perform. “It is a great way to express my feelings and how I experience things. Someone might tell a story very differently than someone else, and the story tells who you are as a person because they usually pick a favorite.” She enjoyed following in her sister’s footsteps, sharing, “I remember having the joy of getting to say that was my sister performing and now I get to say that it is me.”

If there is a student out there who wants to get involved, but might be scared to try, Miss Damm says, “It might seem scary or exciting, but, no matter what, you should go for it because you never know what is going to happen.” Miss Balaji says, “If you are not scared to just go out there and try your best, you can learn so much more. Have fun.” She even admits to messing up on stage before. “The thing to remember is that no one really knows your story but you, and when you practice many times, you can make it seem like that was how it was supposed to go,” she adds. Her sister says, “I have met people at the practice sessions and it becomes an instant bond. You become friends with everybody. The older kids have been really nice to me and very supportive.”

The Lone Star Storytelling Festival is a Frisco staple, and if you have not yet attended an event, tickets are on sale now. Concerts feature nationally-renowned professional storytellers and Lone Star Storytellers. You will laugh and you might cry, but you will leave impressed, not just with the professionals, but with every student who worked so hard to make their stories come to life. Get your tickets or learn more about this upcoming event at lonestarstories.org. See you there!

Christi Redfearn is a wife, mom and Aggie in search of that perfect lap time in her weekend race car.