KEARNEY — The stories of Regi Carpenter focus on several key ideas.
“Something that’s very important to me is the idea of belonging,” she said. “I teach storytelling at Ithaca College and I always tell my students that every story is about love and connection, even when it’s about the loss of love and the loss of connection.”
Not all of her stories feature a happy ending.
After 20 years of telling stories, Carpenter understands that belonging, love and connection hold special value.
“They are important in life and that makes them important in storytelling,” she said. “Aside from that, they are our most basic needs. A child could be fed and touched, but without love they won’t grow up to be well.”
Central Nebraska audiences can experience Carpenter’s storytelling skills as the Kearney Area Storytelling Festival wraps up with three performances today. The five-day festival, also featuring co-headliner Don
White, has included performances and workshops in schools, libraries and other venues since Tuesday.
Organizers of the event estimate that more than 4,000 adults and children will participate in the festival.
Carpenter, a resident of Ithaca, N.Y., looks at storytelling as an art form that can be learned.
“Storytelling, like any artistic skill, has a skill set,” she said. “It’s able to be mastered. That doesn’t mean that everybody is great at it, but they will know how the tools work. Storytelling is really about expression — vocal expression and facial expression — and image-driven language.”
A storyteller must rely on the spoken word to communicate.
“The only tool I have to make the pictures in my mind come alive in your mind is my language,” Carpenter said. “So I try to choose language that creates pictures in your mind. And the only way to learn storytelling is to do it.”
A family tragedy helped Carpenter better understand the power of storytelling — and also gave her the ability to give a TED Talk called “A Hush in the Room.”
“In 2005, my brother, Tim, was killed in a car accident,” she said. “When he was killed, I realized that stories are a lot more powerful than I thought. I felt like I was being pushed in a direction to go and tell stories to dying and grieving children.”
Her TED Talk detailed her experiences in working with children facing end-of-life issues.
“I understood how telling stories can connect us to something greater than ourselves,” Carpenter said.
When she started in the field, she had no idea that the concept of telling stories even existed.
“I never knew that someone could be a storyteller,” she said. “I was working for an arts and education program in upstate New York and David Novak was the featured teller that year. He came out on stage and proceeded to tell one story after another for over an hour. I just sat there totally gobsmacked.”
Carpenter went home and told her husband about the event.
“I said to him, ‘That would really be something to do with your life,’” she said. “And he told me to give it a try. I did and I was wretched at it. I was just awful.”
She wondered if she was missing something in telling stories.
“It was then that I really started to study stories,” Carpenter said. “I realized that stories were about so much more than just words. Stories were really about love and connection.”
She tried and failed and tried again until she began to have some success in sharing her stories.
“There’s no magic bullet here,” she said about learning how to tell stories.