Wednesday, March 19, 2014
“Summerville loves storytelling.”
So says Tim Lowry, a professional storyteller who lives and works in town.
The entrepreneur has been touring the Lowcountry, state and region for 14 years, telling tales of American history and folklore.
“Storytelling is the oldest art form. People have been telling stories as long as there have been people,” he said.
It may seem like an obscure occupation, but Lowry said in the digital age he finds people are craving old-fashioned human interaction.
“There’s been a rise in interest. The more society gets plugged in the more people miss real person-to-person contact,” he said. “In-person communication has become more valuable to people as of late.”
Lowry’s work is diverse; he tells at schools, churches and private parties. In Summerville he regularly performs at the Timrod Library as the resident storyteller, at local events like the Junior Service League’s Ghostwalk and on the Sweet Tea Trolley as a tour guide, a “challenge” he says he enjoys.
But of all his performances, Lowry said he’s most proud of performing at storytelling festivals, a market he’s only recently broken in to.
Last October he was a featured “new voice” during the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee.
He said working the festivals has helped give him national exposure. For example, Travel South USA profiled him as a “Southerner to know” in its 2014 Travel South Tour Planner.
His audiences are about as diverse as the venues where he performs, but Lowry said there are many surprises about the people who gather to listen to his tales.
“They all have their charms,” he laughed. “With children, the feedback is immediate. ... Adults are more polite, they will sit and listen, but just never come back.
“But a good story carries across all audiences. I have not met one person, from the ages of 5 to 95, who does not thrill at a good Briar Rabbit story.”
Lowry draws on a variety of stories for his performances – some are classic pieces of literatures, some are historical accounts of events, some are stories of his experiences as a schoolteacher (his profession for five years before becoming a storyteller) and some are old legends and folklore.
“I have a large pool of knowledge I draw from, and then I can pick and choose what best suits the moment.”
He has about 100 stories in his “ready repertoire,” he said, but the storyteller can recite hundreds more if given the chance to brush up.
A typical set for Lowry lasts one hour and will normally include two good folktales and one personal narrative.
To him the stories never get tiring or repetitive.
“Every time I tell my stories to somebody different, so it’s not the same thing over and over. I bring this story, you bring your story, which creates a very unique story in that moment.”
He gave an example in seasonal favorites.
“I fight the Civil War every April because that’s when third and fourth graders learn it. So I always say every April I visit with my Civil War friends. And of course at Christmastime I do ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Those characters are like dear friends.”
In addition to oral speaking skills and having confidence on stage, Lowry said it’s also important for storytellers to study language. He’s an avid reader and a self-described people person, which is undeniable to anyone who meets him. His playful personality is conveyed in his jolly laugh and his whimsical sense of style (a multi-colored bow tie characterizes Lowry perfectly).
When performing, Lowry said keeping it simple is best, although he does occasionally use props, voices and costumes during his performances.
He has nine CDs in print and hopes to one day write a children’s book. But no matter what he does, Lowry said the “burning desire to connect” is at the heart of his work.
“To be a person is to have a story to tell. It fulfills a very basic human need to have a sense of place in time and space, a sense of kinship… belonging. Stories let you know who you want to become. Without that it’s just a bunch of bullet points.”