It is not an easy task to keep the attention of a roomful of energetic elementary school children — unless you’re Tim Lowry, of course.
Lowry of Summerville has been a storyteller for more than 20 years and travels around the state and country captivating children and adults alike with folktales and narratives from his personal life.
Next week, he will make his national debut in front of an audience of about 1,500 people at the 40th annual National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn. He will perform in an event called Exchange Place, where only six storytellers around the country are selected to tell their best stories.
“It’s a catalyst for the storytelling renaissance,” he said about the festival.
Susan O’Connor is the director of programs for the International Storytelling Institute that puts on the festival every year.
She said Exchange Place is a “highly respected event” that is always standing room only. Potential performers are either recommended by the storytelling community or apply.
“Tim’s work is quite fine, and we have known about him and have heard about him for some time,” O’Connor said.
Lowry received the invitation to perform at the national festival at the beginning of the summer. He said performing at the festival was always something he strived for.
O’Connor said the festival organizers look for storytellers who are seasoned and would be comfortable on stage in front of a large crowd. They also look for “diversity in style, geography and generation.”
At the event, Lowry will tell one 12-minute story about the warm welcome he received after walking into an African-American church in the Confederate uniform he wore while driving carriage tours.
“I heard beautiful singing outside, and they were singing hymns that reminded me of home (Kentucky),” Lowry said.
Lowry, who was still in the uniform because he just got off work, was overcome with emotion. A member of the church saw this and welcomed him inside.
Lowry, a Kentucky native, moved to Charleston in 1993 and began work as a carriage driver downtown. After that, he taught for five years: first, English at Goose Creek High School and then drama and English at Berkeley Middle School. He has been performing professionally for the past 13 years.
Lowry said being a teacher helped him learn how to effectively incorporate curriculum standards into the stories he performs at schools. It also taught him about the human experience, he said.
“It’s a great learning lab,” he added.
Many of his stories are based on folktales from around the world and events in history. He has a collection of books in his library that he studies to find inspiration.
He also has a file cabinet with stories that are organized by month. For example, stories about new beginnings are under January. Love stories and African-American history are under February. October, one of the largest files, has ghost stories.
When creating a story about an event in history, Lowry said he likes to read biographies and works told through the subject’s eyes.
Lowry studied theater at Bob Jones University in Greenville and was inspired by professional storytellers at the Stone Soup Storytelling Festival in Woodruff. It was there that he decided to pursue storytelling as a career.
“That’s where I fit. It’s just a natural thing for me,” he said about discovering his calling.
Since then, he has been sharing his passion with others from a festival in Connecticut to a conference in California to name a few.
Locally he has performed at events like Piccolo Spoleto, the Kiawah Island Artist Series, North Charleston Arts Festival and the state storytelling festival.
He also visits many schools across the Lowcountry and said students who are now adults recognize him from time to time.
“My job as a storyteller takes me many places,” he said to students at Westview Primary School before telling a story he prepared for a Pakistani wedding.
At Westview Primary, two weeks before the festival in Tennessee, he taught second-graders about context clues with a captivating story dotted with Yiddish words. He also took the students’ imaginations to the Middle East and showed them on a globe where the region was located.
After he competes, he plans to expand his business by performing at more festivals and working with corporations, where he plans to fuse storytelling with marketing to “help them communicate who they are and what their goals are.”
Lowry said he feels blessed to be able to practice his craft professionally because he knows there are only a handful of professional storytellers in the country.
He said the best advice he has not just for storytellers, but for everyone, is to “tell the story you need people to hear — not the story you think they want to hear.”
For information about the National Storytelling Festival go to www.storytellingcenter.net/festival.
For information about Lowry go to storytellertimlowry.com.
Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.