Tenth Mountain Storytellers Conference fosters community | VailDaily.com

Tenth Mountain Storytellers Conference fosters community

Kimberly Nicoletti
Special to the Daily

"Clueless but competitive."

It could be a cute phrase Tricia Rose Burt, a speaker out of Nashville, Tennessee, involved with nonprofit The Moth, tweeted.

She could have posted photos of the figure drawings she was practicing in art class, after quitting her high-paid corporate job, and viewers would've "liked" it and perhaps even felt jealous that Burt was finally living a life of freedom and being true to her spirit.

But, a lot would be missing in those little tweets and photos. She probably wouldn't mention how she cried every day because her Southern culture raised her to be just like everyone else — a cookie-cutter wife, painted in perfect makeup and dress.

“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”Native American proverb

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And, she certainly wouldn't have posted: "I'm not (just) in the wrong job or marriage; I'm in the wrong life," a quote she shared during a storytelling evening a few months ago in Avon.

The Art of Storytelling

Storytelling is making a comeback, said Don Donahue, producer of this weekend's Tenth Mountain Storytellers Conference today and Saturday.

With the prevalence of social media, "friends" are only seeing, literally, a snapshot of life. And, though they say a picture is worth a thousand words — seeing a castle Burt visited in Ireland tells you a little something — but it doesn't draw you into her grief over a broken marriage.

"Everything is digital, so people are craving that intimate experience, or live experience," Burt said. "Storytelling creates common ground. I may not know the situation you're in, but I know the feeling you're in. From common ground comes community, and then you get a different perspective of what's going on with you. Suddenly, different groups are talking to one another — even in a corporate environment, empathy kicks in, compassion kicks in, understanding kicks in — and that's not a bad thing."

Daniel Keith, event coordinator and millennial, fully immerses himself in everything digital, but he recognizes how brief the encounters are.

"A lot of times hearing people's stories (live) adds so much gravity," Keith said. "I think that this space is not occupied enough."

And that's exactly what storytelling is about: personal connection, community, a range of human emotion and, in the end, a sense that you're not alone in this journey.

"It's a different, deeper kind of connection," said Jessica Tuck, an actress, presentation coach and storyteller in Los Angeles, and tonight's host. "It's exciting. The stakes are higher, so there's energy."

Authentic and Raw

Of course, storytelling is the oldest form of communication (even if it occurred through "snapshots" of a buffalo carved into a rock). It's how our ancestors recorded history.

"Now, in spite of the fact that we can connect with each other faster and more immediately, that connection can be more superficial and distracted," Tuck said. "Storytelling helps us slow down and hover over a particular subject matter, and we get to really connect with one another. There's something very powerful about that — there's something more intimate."

Tuck finds that even young people are quite interested in face-to-face storytelling; she said they find it attractive because it's authentic. Through social media, people portray only what they want others to see of them. But in storytelling, people "are raw — just by the fact you're standing there in person and it's more long form," Tuck said.

And, you can't lie; a lot of people tied to social media find themselves in a "compare and despair" state, she said.

"I think we can all smell out what is me, and what I want you to see of me (in storytelling)," she said.

The storytelling conference will be "real," but it won't be all heavy and teary-eyed. In fact, even the "heaviest" stories string along hope and end with a variety of feelings, including tenderness, courage, faith and compassion.

"It's all a form of release whether you're laughing or crying or jumping for joy. … Look how much truth is revealed through humor (like in "Seinfeld" episodes). It's powerful," Tuck said. "You take a personal journey (with the storyteller), and at the end you have some small takeaway, a new awareness, new direction. There are little gifts of wisdom, pieces of humanity attached."

Join the 'Conversation'

Throughout the ages — and, certainly in literature — people have been "looking for answers" by reading how characters encounter obstacles and grow or change as a result. Modern-day storytelling parallels that kind of experience of reading a good book.

"People are looking for something of weight," Tuck said about storytelling. "There's plenty of fluff that flies around us every day. You can feel a good story. It leaves you thinking and reflecting on your own life because it may not be the same story, but likely, there are dynamics that resonate."

She explains how actively listening to a storyteller engages you in the "conversation" much more deeply.

Saturday's event begins with an optional early morning stretch at 8:30 a.m. The opening session, at 9:30 a.m., focuses on the story of the Tenth Mountain Army Division, because as Donahue pointed out, only two Tenth Mountain soldiers live on, so their pivotal, heroic story could fade away if not carried on through storytellers.

At 10 p.m., professional storytellers take the stage in both large groups, and smaller, more intimate breakout sessions.

The evening ends with a story slam — a friendly storytelling competition originally created by the nonprofit storytelling group, The Moth, in New York City. This is your chance to share your story, if you choose.

The conference ends with an envying of songs and stories, and laughs and camaraderie.

Jumping in, VIP style

Anyone at tonight's dinner can tell their story, based on a specific prompt, so it will differ from Saturday's event, which features professional storytellers. Today, you can share in a supportive setting (though Saturday evening, you'll have a chance to story tell, as well).

"We wanted to give voice to people who wanted to tell stories. It's liberating to tell your story," Donahue said. "When (new participants) tell their story, their body changes."

And so may their outlook on life.

"There's a certain experience to participating as a storyteller — and a (listener)," Tuck said. "You are both the teller and the listener. There's a particular experience to that — an opportunity to explore both sides of the storytelling experience in an intimate way.

"It heals, it inspires, it breaks people open in such a way that they may decide to make a shift in their lives," she added, promising not nearly every story is heavy or heartbreaking.

"One of the reasons I love storytelling so much is it helps make sense of all the things we experience in life," Tuck said.

And, for anyone nervous about telling their stories (and who's not?) Tuck reminds people it's best to become vulnerable, because "there's no way to go wrong when you're speaking the truth."

While Burt trudged to her corporate job, cleaned the house and tried to keep an unraveling marriage together, she said: "It felt like: 'If I do this for one more minute I'm going to die. So I went to Ireland for four years to get myself together."

That's when she began art school and literally created an entirely new life. It's when she began to let go of perfection, of right and wrong, and, instead, focus on the process. It's when she learned about letting go and, as a result, found her true voice.

If you go …

What: Tenth Mountain Storytellers Conference.

When: Friday, Aug. 18, 6:30 to 9 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 19, 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Cost: A variety of options exist. You can attend the Saturday conference (without lunch or dinner provided, or the master classes) Saturday’s tickets: $69, VIP pass (includes Friday dinner and Saturday’s events, $99.50, Friday night only, $75, Saturday evening performance pass only $29, master class with Tricia Rose Burt, $49)

Where: Nottingham Park Pavilion, Avon

More information: Visit http://www.tenthmountainstorytellers.com. This event is family friendly.